The trail begins with a 0.8-mile descent to the Clear Fork of the Cowlitz River. By late summer, the river should be easy to ford, though you may need to try upstream. The river is the wilderness boundary, so looking for the Goat Rocks Wilderness sign after crossing can help you find where the trail picks up on the other side.
The trail climbs for another mile to the junction of the Clear Fork Trail. There is a sign attached to a large log in the center of the intersection pointing out the directions of both trails. You’ll also find the partially collapsed Skeeter Shelter where the trails diverge.
At about 3.5 miles you’ll come to an unmarked intersection. Take the path right to Lost Hat Lake. At mile five, the trail comes to a narrow meadow where it can sometimes be lost. Follow the meadow to the right and the trail will reappear on the right-hand side as it climbs to an exposed side hill. The views during this part are excellent, as are the mountain huckleberries. At the top of this climb is Lost Hat Lake, a great place to camp and restock on water.
The trail makes a steep ascent to a former lookout site where you can see Mounts Rainier, Adams and St. Helens. Dropping back down, the trail intersects with the Packwood Lake and Bluff Lake trails.
Taking a right puts you on the Bluff Lake Trail through an old ridgetop burn boasting meadows and wildflowers. After mile 10, the trail begins a short but steep drop down to Bluff Lake then a comfortable 1.5 miles to the trailhead. Find your car shuttle here, or hike down the road to the Purcell Creek washout and meet your ride.