North Fork Sauk River — Walk among ancient giants


Quick Facts:


The trail soon enters the sprawling Glacier Peak Wilderness

Location: Mountain Loop Highway

Land Agency: Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Roundtrip: 11.6 miles

Elevation gain: 900 feet

Green Trails Maps: Mountain Loop Highway Map 111SX

Contact: Darrington Ranger District: Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest

Guidebook Resource: Day Hiking North Cascades (Mountaineers Books)

Notes: NW Forest Pass or Interagency Pass required

Access: From Darrington, follow the Mountain Loop Highway for 16 miles to a junction with FR 49 (signed for North Fork Sauk Trail). Turn left following FR 49 for 6.4 miles to a junction signed for Sloan Creek Trail. Turn left reaching trailhead and primitive campground in .1 mile.

Good to Know: exceptional old-growth forest;  Glacier Peak Wilderness, wilderness rules apply, dog-friendly. kid-friendly, backpacking opportunities, Prace Leave No Trace principles

The North Fork Sauk Trail makes for a lovely late fall jaunt into the sprawling Glacier Peak Wilderness. Following a glacier fed river deep into a remote and dramatic valley, the trail traverses some of the grandest and oldest trees in the North Cascades. The trail is mostly used by backpackers to access the Pacific Crest Trail. But a day hike of a mile or two or ten will satisfy. And this trail is often pretty quiet in the fall and spring.

The trail immediately begins in a grove of giant cedars. After a couple hundred feet the trail for the Red Mountain lookout (a nice side trip) departs left. The lookout was removed in 1967, but the site still provides some decent views of the Monte Cristo Range. Continuing up valley, the North Fork Sauk is frequently out-of-sight but always audible. At 2.1 miles reach a junction with the Pilot Ridge Trail heading right to glorious high-country meadows. It’s a strenuous journey that begins with a potentially challenging ford of the river.

White Pass-Red Pass 722

Barely standing–you may want to rely on your tent instead for shelter.

The North Fork Sauk Trail continues through more impressive groves of ancient conifers. In fall, vine maples add touches of gold. In late spring the forest floor is lined with yellow violets, purple bleeding hearts and white and pink trilliums. At 4.5 miles reach a backcountry camping area near crashing Red Creek. This is a good spot to turn around, but you can easily continue farther.

Cross raging Red Creek on a steady bridge and after passing through a large brushy avalanche zone reach the still standing Mackinaw Shelter in big timber at 5.8 miles.  Forget about staying in the shelter unless you like Hantavirus. There are plenty of good campsites around the shelter. Spend the night or start heading back. The trail continues, eventually reaching the Pacific Crest Trail and some excellent backpacking destinations.

For information on lodging and other attractions near the North Fork Sauk River, visit Seattle NorthCountry (Snohomish County Tourism)

For more detailed information on this hike and many others nearby, consult my best-selling  Day Hiking North Cascades book.

For a good cup of coffee, great conversation and a place to purchase one of my guidebooks, stop in before or after your hike at the Mountain Loop Books and Coffee.

Northern State Recreation Area- A favorite haunted hiking haunt

Quick Facts:

Location: Skagit Valley

Land Agency: Skagit County Parks

Round Trip: more than 5 miles of trails

Elevation Gain: up to 150 feet

Contact: Skagit County Parks and Recreation

Guidebook source: Urban Trails Bellingham (Mountaineers Books)

Notes: dogs permitted on leash; trails shared by mountain bikers

Access: From Exit 232 on I-5 drive Cook Road 4.3 miles east to SR 20. Then head east on SR 20 for 2.8 miles and turn left onto Helmick Road. Continue 0.4 mile to trailhead.


Good to Know: dog-friendly, disc golf course, historic, haunted, kid-friendly

Wander for a couple of miles on old roads converted into grassy trails through what was once a large dairy farm for the Northern State Hospital. Farming ceased in the 1970s and 723-acres of the hospital farm became a Skagit County Park. There’s plenty of history here with barns dating back to the 1920s. And there’s a lot of natural wonderment here too. And the area is full of mystique, including claims of hauntings adding a little excitement to your adventuring and making this destination perfect for a Halloween hike.

spooky barns

From the parking area trails lead north to some large yellow barns on a bluff. In 1909, the Northern State Hospital was built just to the west here. It was designed by the Massachusetts-based Olmstead Brothers, an influential landscape architectural firm responsible for designing many highly acclaimed projects; among them Portland, Oregon’s and Seattle’s park systems, as well as scenic drives in Acadia, Yosemite, and Great Smoky Mountains national parks.

The old pumphouse

The hospital treated patients with mental illnesses and was generally regarded as one of the better facilities in the country at the time. Although lobotomies and other practices now deemed barbaric were performed here. The hospital had its own farm worked by patients providing its own food and clothing. After the hospital closed, the farm became a park, while the hospital grounds with its beautiful Spanish Colonial Revival architecture provided office and facility space for several operations. It is closed to the public and is currently being assessed for rehabilitation and new uses.

There is plenty to explore here, but stay out of all buildings, as they are historic landmarks and unsafe due to deteriorating conditions. You can walk an old road-trail west passing the old slaughterhouse. If you’re looking for solitude—and perhaps a bear (be aware) and elk (especially in the winter months) continue toward the creek. Here a bridge once stood—as the road once went to the Northern State Hospital. Go right here on another old farm road—now trail.

Follow this grassy path lined with Himalayan blackberry bushes slowly ascending and passing more farm structures falling into disrepair. Take a path heading right passing along a field edge granting good views of Lyman Hill hovering above. This path ends in .3 mile at the old pump house—which indeed looks creepy and like it belongs in a 1970s horror flick. If it doesn’t give you the creeps, nothing will! Happy Halloween!

 For more detailed information on this park, including many others in the Skagit Valley and Western Whatcom County, consult my Urban Trails Bellingham guidebook. The book also has detailed information on all of the trails in the Chuckanut Mountains. Get your copy today!


Surprise and Glacier Lakes—A surprisingly nice pair of alpine lakes near Stevens Pass

Quick Facts:

Location: Stevens Pass area

Land Agency: Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Roundtrip: 11.0 miles

Elevation Gain: 2,800 feet

Contact: Skykomish Ranger District: Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Notes: Northwest Forest Pass required; Dogs permitted on leash; Wilderness rules apply

Access: From Everett follow US 2 east to Skykomish. Continue 10 more miles turning right (just after the Iron Goat Interpretive Center) into the old railroad community of Scenic. Turn right after crossing the railroad tracks and follow a dirt road .3 mile to the trailhead.

Green Trails Map: Alpine Lakes Stevens Pass No. 176S

Good to know: dog-friendly, backpacking opportunities, Alpine Lakes Wilderness



Beyond Glacier Lake, an old trail leads to Surprise Pass and Surprise Mountain.

Hike to two gorgeous alpine lakes flanked by towering evergreens and slopes of shiny granite ledge. But even more spectacular than these backcountry bodies of water is the surrounding forest. It’s one of the finest tracts of old-growth along the US 2 corridor.

Begin by walking a short distance up a service road before turning left onto real trail. Now, on good tread, sturdy stairs and solid planking head up the narrow Surprise Creek Valley through a magnificent forest of ancient cedars and giant hemlocks. Soon enter the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

At about 1.0 mile the trail crosses cascading Surprise Creek on a big log before skirting beneath some avalanche slopes. Then undulating between patches of brush and groves of primeval forest the trail continues up the valley climbing more steeply. At 4.5 miles, after winding around talus and ascending steep forested slopes reach a trail junction just shy of Surprise Lake. The trail left climbs briskly towards Trap Pass connecting with the Pacific Crest Trail. Continue right across a marshy meadow and a precarious creek crossing to the lake.


The view of Glacier and Surprise lakes from Surprise Mountain is–Surprise-Gorgeous!

A popular destination, treat it well. Find a quiet shoreline ledge or boulder to soak rays or feet. While away the afternoon here or continue farther to bigger and prettier Glacier Lake by continuing south along the trail climbing a rib above Surprise Lake to a junction with the PCT. After passing a big talus slope locate an unmarked trail heading right and take it, dropping steeply 50 feet or so to granite bound Glacier Lake. No glaciers, but lots of granite. Surprise and Glacier are also known as the Scenic Lakes, and I can’t argue with that moniker.




 For more information on where to stay, play , shop, and eat in the Skykomish Valley visit

Seattle NorthCountry.


Surprise and Glacier Lakes are one of the 125 featured hikes in my Day Hiking Central Cascades Book (Mountaineers). For more details on this hike and many others in the region, pick up a copy of this handy guide today!

125 hikes from Everett to Wenatchee!

125 hikes from Everett to Wenatchee!

For places to stay and other places to play along the US 2 corridor check out Northwest TripFinderNWTFmasthead_layers15

Bald Eagle Peak — Old-growth, stunning views, and solitude


Quick Facts:

Location: Henry M Jackson Wilderness

Land Agency: National Forest Service

Round Trip: 13.0 miles

Elevation Gain: 2800 feet

Contact: Darrington Ranger District, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Green Trails Maps: Mountain Loop Highway 111SX

Notes: FR 49 is rough in spot requiring a high clearance vehicle; Northwest Forest pass required; dog-friendly, exceptional old-growth, wilderness regulations apply

Access: From Darrington, head south on the Mountain Loop Highway 16.0 miles turning left onto FR 49. Follow for 9.4 miles to Bald Eagle Trailhead.

Good to Know: dog-friendly, Wilderness rules apply; Practice Leave No Trace Principles, backpacking opportunities, old-growth


The hike starts on a long decommissioned logging road. Cross Sloan Creek on a good bridge and proceed about 2.5 miles on an old road bed through old cuts. The forest is returning nicely. The trail can get a little brushy, but was maintained in the summer of 2018. The way crosses several cascading creeks along the way. Eventually leave the old road for real trail and old-growth forest. You will immediately see and feel the difference.

Now saunter through a beautiful forest of ancient giants. The way soon traverses wet meadows and pocket meadows along a small creek. There are a few good campsites tucked in quiet forest groves along the meadows. Good views too of the Monte Cristo Peaks to the west. The trail enters the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness and soon afterward reaches a junction at Curry Gap.

Here the Bald Eagle Trail turns left and begins a steep climb. The way is mostly timbered keeping you well shaded. As the trail approaches the ridge line it breaks out of forest to cross a large meadow granting sprawling views of the Monte Cristo Range, Sloan Peak and a slew of peaks to the south. The trail then reenters forest and climbs a little higher along the ridge before cutting across the north facing open slope below the summit of 5668-foot Bald Eagle Mountain.

This section of trail is often covered with steep hard-packed snow well into summer and should be avoided when it is. Late in the season however, it is safe to traverse. Enjoy excellent views north to Pilot Ridge and Glacier Peak. Find a good place to sit down. Then soak up the view and refuel for the return hike. The trail continues offering long distance hikers and backpackers lots of surprises. But for most day hikers, this spot is far enough.


For information on lodging and other attractions near the Mountain Loop Highway,

visit Seattle NorthCountry

For detailed information on this trail and other great hikes in the state, consult my

Backpacking Washington guidebook.

Longs Pass- Short and steep hike to in-your face views of Stuart

Quick Facts:

Location: Alpine Lakes Wilderness

Land Agency: National Forest Service

Round Trip: 5.8 miles

Elevation Gain: 2100 feet

Contact: Cle Elum Ranger District, Wenatchee-Okanogan National Forest

Green Trails Maps: Aline Lakes East –Stuart Range no. 208SX

Notes: Northwest Forest Pass or Interagency Pass required; Dogs-prohibited

Access: From Seattle take I-90 to exit 85 and follow SR 970 east 6.5 miles. Turn left onto Teanaway Road and drive north 13 paved miles. Bear right onto gravel FR 9737 and follow for 9.7 miles to trailhead.

Good to Know: summer wildflowers, alpine views, wildlife watching; practice Leave No Trace Principles

Mention classic hikes in Washington and Lake Ingalls instantly comes up. One of the most popular hikes in the Teanaway Country, Lake Ingalls is a gorgeous place indeed. But it also can be one of the most crowded trails in the region. Consider escaping the crowds and opting for nearby Longs Pass. It’s a lot shorter—but steeper, and will give you a great workout. And this 6250-foot pass gives you one of the best views of Mount Stuart.

resident mountain goats

The pass lies directly south of 9415-foot Mount Stuart, one of the highest non-volcanic peaks in the state. From the barren pass, stare across the Ingalls Creek Valley at the massive mountain.  Start you hike by heading north on the Esmeralda Trail, an old mining road-turned trail. At .3 mile, come to the Lake Ingalls Trail.  Take it heading right and steadily ascending switchbacking through open forest. Cross an old jeep track several times—a remnant scar of the area’s mining history. Soon reach meadows and views west into the Esmeralda Basin.

At 1.7 miles comes to a junction. This is your exit from the crowds. Head right and steeply climb. You’ll cross the old jeep track—made in the 1930s to access mines and claims. The climb is relentless, but there are views all along the way. Stare west across the Esmeralda Basin and try to image the fury of mining activity that once went on there. Scars on the land and whispers in the wind are mostly all that remain of the area’s mining boom.

The slopes leading up to Longs Pass are pretty barren. But a few pines and larches tenaciously cling to survival in this harsh environment. Come late September the alpine larches glow a brilliant yellow and help add some color to the bleak ridges. At 2.9 miles reach the pass-and—BAM—in your face views of Stuart. A trail continues steeply down the northern slopes from the pass. It’s used primarily by climbers to access the big mountain before you. Kick back and enjoy the view—and perhaps a mountain goat or two will saunter by as you revel in this alpine beauty.

For detailed information on Lake Ingalls and many other great hikes in and around Snoqualmie Pass, pick up a copy of my best selling 100 Classic Hikes Washington (Mountaineers Books). Get your copy today and start exploring some of the best trails in the state!