If you're coming from Portland Oregon it is about 2 hours to campers bivouac. From Longview WA it is about 1 ½ hours and Seattle is about 3 ½ to 4. Your best bet is to head to Woodland WA (North of Portland, South of Longview/Seattle) and take the Cougar exit 21 and head East on 503. For complete instructions see..Maps.
A permit is required to climb the mountain. The ins and outs of this is covered pretty well at the permit home page faq (permit faq). Some things not mentioned are as follows...
How Long Does It Take To Climb The Mountain?
From campers bivouac an average person can make it up and back with some time at the top in about 8 to 10 hours (summer time) round trip figuring in time to hang around the rim. The climb is about 4 miles one way. If you go during heavy snow fall you are adding 3 to 6 miles to your trip and should be thinking several days to make the trip.
What Is The Climb Like?
From campers bivouac there is a little over 2 miles of steep forest trail. After that it is a steep rock path, marked by poles, of about 1 1/4 miles. The last half mile or so is ash mixed with rock. This is summer time, for winter add a lot of snow. I have never climbed it in the winter but I have been told that it is easier to climb the rocks when they are covered with snow.
What Does It Take To Get Up The Mountain?
I am a fairly in shape middle age man and it tires me out every time I go. I have seen out of shape young people make it up and back and swear they are never going to do it again.
Best Time To Go?
I like the end of August. Usually it is nice and sunny then although I have been up at that time when it is overcast and cold. We usually don't have our summer until after July 4th then it is usually pretty nice until October. I have been up in late October, sunny and warm one day and then snowy, rainy and just plain miserable the next.
What To Take?
The forest service has a pretty good list... essential items. In summer time bring plenty of water and something like gator aide is good. Even in August it can go from hot to cold so dress in layers. Our summers (what they are) are pretty dry but any other time well, it is the Pacific Northwest so dress for the wet. I like to take stuff like trail mix, jerky and chocolate to get me to the top and some unsalted sunflower seeds for the fat chipmunks. Take something with calcium for cramps, Tums will do the job. I like to bring hiking poles also bring some gloves (work gloves will do) for the rocks. I like to climb in shorts (less restrictive) but you run the risk of cutting your legs.
I like to stay at campers bivouac the night before (use permit included with the climbing permit). This is for tent camping, the camp site is nice and well kept. There is no running water there but there are composting toilets (not bad really). With 100 permits each day the camp fills quickly so get there early.
There are some places for rvs and rooms in cougar (about 10 min., 15 miles from campers bivouac a really small town) and other lodging most notably the Lone Fir Resort where you pick up your permits (left hand side as you are coming into Cougar heading towards the mountain). The best nearby restaurant burnt down (Jack's), I now like to eat at the Cougar Bar and Grill (Across the Hwy and diagonal from the Lone Fir). The Lone Fir also has food. There is also the Cougar Store (mini mart, gas) across the road from the Bar and Grill. Further away (45 min) there is Woodland with all the amenities, The Oak Tree is a good restaurant.