Gifford Pinchot National Forest

Indian Heaven Wilderness

Indian Heaven Wilderness is 20,600 acres of broad, rolling country, straddling the crest of the Cascade Range with subalpine meadows and 175 small lakes. Originally known to the Indians as "Sahalee Tyee," the area has been and is culturally important to Native Americans. "Indian Heaven" offers visitors wildlife and panoramic views, as well as wildflowers and huckleberries, in season.

Indian Heaven Wilderness was created in 1984 as part of the Washington Wilderness Bill. Located between Mt. Adams and the Columbia River Gorge, Indian heaven is situated on a high plateau with numerous open meadows, forested areas, and more than 150 lakes. Many of the lakes are stocked to provide good fishing for anglers.

The natural scenic beauty of Indian Heaven is enhanced by several interesting volcanic formations such as East Crater and Lake Sahalee-Tyee. Lemei Rock is the highest point in the area, at 5,927 feet, and provides majestic views of the Cascades and Wapiki Lake.

Snow melts away in the area about mid-July. Fall is a good time to visit, with brilliant colors flourishing, and the mosquito season nearly over. There are nearly 42 miles of trails providing a variety of backcountry travel experiences.

Who Passed This Way?

For almost 10,000 years, Native people have been traveling to what we now know as Indian Heaven Wilderness. Archaeological evidence and historic records tell us the area provided a wealth of resources for Northwest Tribes.

The Sawtooth Berry Field in the northern part of Indian Heaven Wilderness is world renown for its wealth of huckleberries. The area was burned in the late 1890's and again in the Great Fires of 1902. The fields were subsequently maintained by later fires, which may be attributed to Native Americans whose berry-dry8ing fires would escape. From 1902 to the mid-1920's, the area served as a famous summer gathering place for Northwest Tribes. Much festivity, trading, and ritual surrounded the annual huckleberry feast. The tribes would pick and dry huckleberries, race horses, play games, make baskets, dry meat, tan hides, and fish in many lakes. The local tribes included the Yakima, Klickitat, Wishram, Wasco, Cascade, and Umatilla. Tribes from as far away as Montana and Wyoming also participated.

A council in 1932 between the Yakima Nation and the Forest Service resulted in a handshake agreement, thereby designating part of the Sawtooth Berry Fields (east of Road 24) as an area of exclusive use to the local Indian peoples.

The annual huckleberry harvest is still an important part of Native American tradition. Please observe the signs reserving part of the berry fields for the local tribes.

Huckleberry Legend
A Traditional Yakima Indian Legend

Long ago, this world was inhabited only by animals. The animals could talk and understand each other, and they were just like we are today. One day the Creator called everyone together and said, "There are new people coming to live on this earth. You must make room for them by selecting new names and identities. You have the choice of what you want to be in this new world, and I will help you."

The animals all declared what they wanted to be in the new world. The Creator asked each one to perform certain feats in order to qualify for their new identity. If an animal failed to perform the feat he had to choose something else for which he was better qualified.

Coyote, as usual, monopolized all the best choices, but each time he could not perform the feat. First, he wanted to be the eagle, but he was unable to fly high in the sky, and did not have the keen eyesight the eagle must have. Next, he wanted to be the salmon, but he could not swim well enough. At last, the only position he could qualify for was the plain old Coyote, which he is today.

Every time an animal qualified for what he wanted to be, the Creator took part of his body and placed in the new creature. For this reason, the Indian people respect everything that has life, be it plant, animal, or human, because they are all part of the Creator.

When the Creator was finished with his work, he looked and say that he did not have any berries in the mountains. The only part of his body that was left were his eyes. So, he took his eyes and put them into the ground in the mountains. The veins in his eyes bled into the earth and become the roots. The roots became the plant, and the berries sprouted and became the huckleberries.