Maple Pass — Lofty North Cascades Loop lined with larches and long ranging vistas

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Lake Ann sits below snug in a deep cirque.

Quick Facts:

Location: North Cascades Highway –Rainy Pass

Land Agency: Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest

Roundtrip: 7.2 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Elevation Gain: 2,000 feet

Green Trails Maps: Mount Logan, WA- No. 49, Washington Pass, WA- No. 50

Access:  From I-5 north (Exit 230 ) in Burlington, head east on SR 20 (North Cascades Highway) for 98 miles to Rainy Pass near Milepost 158. Turn right into the Rainy Pass Picnic Area for trailhead.

Contact:  Methow Valley Ranger District: Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest

Notes: Northwest Forest or Interagency Pass required

 

Good to Know: dog friendly, kid-friendly, exceptional wildflowers in season. Exceptional autumn colors

 

Among all of the supreme hikes on the breathtaking North Cascade Highway, the Maple Pass Loop is perhaps the absolute best! In just seven non-repeating miles you’ll traverse majestic old-growth forest, resplendent alpine meadows, and enticing open ridges granting stunning North Cascades vistas. And if you love wildflowers, Maple Pass’s annual floral show is one of the finest in Washington.

For a gentler ascent, hike the loop counter-clockwise. Start by steadily gaining elevation through a stately ancient forest of fir, spruce, and hemlock. DSC09671Huckleberry bushes crowd the understory, tempting you to join resident birds and ground squirrels for a snack.

At 1.4 miles reach a junction. The trail left leaves for an easy 0.6 mile to Lake Ann tucked in an open cirque beneath towering rock walls laced with cascades. It’s a beautiful side-trip. The loop continues right. Enter subalpine forest and work your way around the cirque cradling Lake Ann.

At 2.5 miles reach Heather Pass where a rough path branches right to Lewis and Wing Lakes. Continue left along the cirque rim through heather and dazzling rock gardens.  Lake Ann glistens 1,000 feet straight below. The trail eventually crests an open ridge draped with alpine larch, coming to 6,600-foot Maple Pass at 3.5 miles. There’s still more climbing to do, however. Continue upward topping out on a 6,900-foot shoulder of Frisco Mountain. Now savor sublime views of the serrated and icy skyline before you.

The trail then rapidly plunges off the ridge to a hanging valley, but not without traversing yet more glorious meadows and flower gardens. Rainy Lake, 1,700 feet below soon comes into view. So does Frisco’s glaciers. It’s then a quick descent through hemlock, heather, and huckleberry to the paved Rainy Lake Trail. Follow it left for a half mile back to your start.

 

And for detailed information on this and other area hikes, consult my best selling Day Hiking North Cascades, which contains 125 hikes complete with maps and lots of other important information.0486

 For information on nearby family friendly lodging and things to do, consult Northwest TripFinderNWTFmasthead_layers15

 

 

Gothic Basin and Foggy Lake — Spiraling peaks, buttressed ridges, and a hauntingly beautiful landscape

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Gothic Basin seen from a shoulder of Del Campo Peak.

Quick Facts:

Location: Mountain Loop Highway near Granite Falls

Land Agency: Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest Service and Washington Department of Natural Resources

Roundtrip: 9.0 miles

Elevation Gain: 2,900 feet

Green Trails Maps: Sloan Peak, WA-No. 111; Monte Cristo, WA- No. 143

Access:  From Granite Falls follow the Mountain Loop Highway east for 31 miles to Barlow Pass. Hike begins by walking up gated Monte Cristo Road.

 Contact:  Darrington Ranger District: Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest

Notes: Northwest Forest or Interagency Pass required; trail is a rough scramble in spots and should not be attempted by young children; campfires prohibited; when exploring the basin, travel only on rock and snow to protect fragile rare alpine plants

Good to Know: backpacking option; historic, basin in WA DNR Morning Star Natural Resources Conservation Area 

 

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Foggy Lake on a sunny autumn day.

The name alone of this rugged and spectacular basin should lure you in for a hike. Located high above the Sauk River valley near the old mining district of Monte Cristo, Gothic Basin is one of the most stunning destinations off of the Mountain Loop Highway.

Is it Gothic? Perhaps, for this stark and mysterious basin harbors hidden tarns and disappearing waterways, and is surrounded by spiraling peaks. Once the domain of hardscrabble miners, it was these fortune seekers who built the path to it over a century ago. It hasn’t been upgraded much, so count on an adventure.  It’s a challenging hike on steep and rocky terrain.

            Start by hiking the gated Monte Cristo Road for one easy mile coming to the Weden Creek Trail just before the Twin Bridges. Take this trail right into old-growth forest. After paralleling the South Fork Sauk River, reach a tributary (which can be tricky to cross during high water), and begin to steeply climb.

Toil up slopes shrouded in scrappy forest. Then after a mile of serious ascending break out onto a spectacular ledge complete with a waterfall crashing down a cleft. In early summer lingering snow can make crossing this cleft dangerous. It should be smooth sailing by late summer, however.

With views opening up to the Monte Cristo mélange of mountains, continue upward. Cross two more clefts complete with cataracts (both potentially dangerous if snow covered).  Encounter more creek crossings and a few ledges requiring use of hands. Pass ruins of the Consolidated Mine. Here ore was transported to the valley floor via a tramway.

Now continue hiking over scoured rock and ledge and through heather meadows to the basin. At about 4.0 miles from Barlow Pass, the trail ends at a small tarn. Explorations however, have only just begun Follow sketchy tread northwest to ledges and polished rock for another half mile to gorgeous Foggy Lake (el. 5,200 feet). Flanked by Gothic and Del Campo Peaks and denude of any shoreline vegetation, Foggy is a starkly beautiful alpine lake. But only when not shrouded in murky mist—then it’s just stark!

 

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And for detailed information on this and other area hikes, consult my best selling Day Hiking North Cascades, which contains 125 hikes complete with maps and lots of other important information.0486

Spider Lake─Best “web site” on the Olympic Peninsula

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Placid Spider Lake.

Quick Facts:

Location: Olympic National Forest, Hood Canal District

Land Agency: National Forest Service

Roundtrip: 2.0 miles

Green Trails Map: Mount Tebo, WA No. 199

Elevation Gain: 200 feet

Contact: Hood Canal District, Quilcene 

Good to know: Dog-friendly, Kid-friendly, snow free winter hike

Access: From Shelton, head north on US 101 for 7 miles turning left onto the Skokomish Valley Road. Follow for 5.5 miles bearing right onto FR 23. Continue for 9.3 miles to a signed junction. Bear left continuing on FR 23 for 7 miles to a pullout on the right. Trail begins on the opposite side of the road.

 

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One of the three well-built bridges on this little loop.

In the mid-1990s trail builders resurrected here a portion of an old trail that once traveled up the Cedar Creek Valley and constructed brand new tread to form a 2-mile loop around little Spider Lake. Trailblazing aficionados may find the loop’s three bridges noteworthy for their durability and aesthetics. Bird watchers will enjoy the wildlife-rich lake.

Starting from an unassuming trailhead immediately enter cool old growth forest. In 0.1 mile, come to a junction. Turn right or left and hike a 1.9 mile loop around the lake. Climb above the lake on the east shore and along it on the west shore. Pass big trees and good fishing spots along the way. Gaze up at the surrounding ridges. The intensively logged surroundings offer quite a contrast to the virgin groves surrounding the lake. At the south end of the lake is a junction where a trail steeply climbs a short distance to an alternative trailhead.  Stay awhile and enjoy one of the more quiet spots in the south eastern corner of the Olympics.

For more detailed information on this trail and 124 others around the Olympic Peninsula, pick-up a copy of my detailed and revised best-selling  Day Hiking Olympic Peninsula BookDay Hiking Oly Book

Dishpan Gap—Awesome autumn foliage from the headwaters of the Sky!

Dishpan Gap-where you'll enjoy being in the red!

Dishpan Gap-where you’ll enjoy being in the red!

Quick Facts:

Location: North Fork Skykomish River Valley

Land Agency: Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Roundtrip: 19.0 miles

Elevation Gain: 3,100 feet

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

Green Trails Map: Monte Cristo- No. 143, Benchmark Mtn- No. 144

Special Note: Northwest Trail Pass required; wilderness rules apply

Access: From Everett head east on US 2 for 50 miles to Skykomish turning left onto the Beckler River Road (FR 65). Continue north for 15 miles and just after crossing the North Fork Skykomish River come to a junction. Turn right onto FR 63 and proceed 4.3 miles to road’s end and trailhead.

Good to Know: Dog-friendly, Backpacking, exceptional autumn colors, Henry M. Jackson Wilderness

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Spectacular vistas and stunning fall colors along the PCT near Dishpan Gap.

While lovers of resplendent autumn foliage usually look east to the Appalachians for deciduous delights—or at least east of the Cascade Crest for larches that light up in gold—along the Cascade Crest at the headwaters of the North Fork of the Skykomish River a most beautiful fall color fest can be enjoyed. For it is here at Dishpan Gap, a 5,600-foot notch in the Cascades and for miles south and north along the mile high divide separating eastern Washington from western Washington that a luxuriant carpet of blueberry bushes annually sets the ground afire in crimson.

Up and down the Cascade Crest where sprawling meadows that once danced with a dazzling display of brilliant wildflowers under the summer sun has now been overtaken by a crimson tide. Streaks of scarlet stretch across alpine meadows and parklands; complimented by touches of yellow of varying degrees from an assortment of accompanying shrubs. What are you waiting for? This resplendent showing is for a limited time only.

The trek to Dishpan Gap is long and beyond what most people can comfortably hike in a day. But meadows wait short of the gap and the destination is perfect for a one night sojourn into the wilderness. Start by following an old road and immediately enter the Wild Sky Wilderness. After about 1.4 miles the way transitions to bona fide trail; and in another half mile you’ll enter the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness. Just an administrative change, as the surrounding old growth forest continues and you won’t notice any differences from wilderness to wilderness area! At 3.2 miles bear left at the Pass Creek Trail junction, hiking farther up valley passing wetland pools, giant trees and nice riverside lounging sites. At 6 miles you’ll need to ford the North Fork Skykomish River—intimidating early season, usually just a rock hop this late in the year.

Then climb to a hanging valley of crimson berry patches shadowed by craggy Skykomish Peak. A steep climb follows through meadows and subalpine forest delivering you to the Pacific Crest Trail at Dishpan Gap. Foliage is wonderful—alpine views better! Savor horizon spanning views of waves of jagged peaks and rows of gently rolling ridges. Then saunter north or south seizing the season! Consider loop options returning via the Bald Eagle and Quartz Creek trails or the Pass Creek Trail or West Cady Ridge Trails.

For information on lodging and other attractions near Dishpan Gap visit www.snohomish.org

For detailed information on this hike, loop options, and other nearby long-distance treks, pick up a copy of my best selling Backpacking Washington guidebook. Backpacking Book cover

Lake West and Lake Helen – Seldom visited lakes within the shadows of Mount Rainier

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Tranquil and rarely visited Lake West.

Quick Facts:

Location: Glacier View Wilderness

Land Agency: Gifford Pinchot National Forest

Roundtrip: 8.4 miles

Elevation gain: 1,600 feet

Green Trails Map: Mount Rainier West, WA no. 269

Contact: Cowlitz Valley Ranger Station (Randle), Gifford Pinchot National Forest

Notes: FR 59 is rough in spots but is passable for passenger cars. Wilderness regulations apply. Free day permit required—sign in at trailhead

Access: From Elbe, follow SR 706 east (passing through Ashford) for 11 miles. Turn left (north) onto graveled Copper Creek Road (FR 59) and follow for 8.6 miles to road’s end and trailhead.

Good to Know: dog-friendly, kid-friendly, Glacier View Wilderness; backpacking possible

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Flowered slopes on the way to lakes Helen and West.

Hike to two tiny and remote lakes close to Mount Rainier, but far from the crowds. And despite having an uphill return, the hike to Lake Helen and Lake West isn’t too long or too difficult. Set deep within old-growth timber on a high ridge above the crashing glacier-fed Puyallup River—the lakes are as wild as any area within the adjacent national park. But unlike most of the lakes within the park, you’ll probably be sharing these little bodies of water with no other hikers. Deer, elk, and bear however may pay you a visit.

This hike starts from the main trailhead leading into the Glacier View Wilderness, a small (3,080-acre) but significant tract of virgin timber, small rugged peaks, and several subalpine lakes. In the heyday of logging in this region in the 1970s and early 80s, this area was threatened with being completely clear cut. The 1984 Washington Wilderness Act with its strong bipartisan support afforded permanent protection to this ecologically rich tract along with many of other prime wildlands across the state.

Sign in at the kiosk and immediately enter old forest.  Pass a small wetland, enter the Glacier View Wilderness and come to a junction. The trail right leads to Mount Beljica, Goat Lake and Gobblers Knob within Mount Rainier National Park. You want to turn left and follow the Glacier View Trail steadily climbing along the saw-tooth like ridge making up the western boundary of the wilderness. Skirt a pointy knoll, one of many along the ridge crest. Then descend slightly before steadily climbing again reaching a small gap. Now dart across a wildflower-bursting slope beneath the rocky summit of a 5507-foot unnamed summit, the highest peak in the wilderness area.

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The view of Rainier from Glacier View is breathtaking.

Traverse more steep slopes before reaching at 1.8 miles the ridge crest and a junction. The trail left leads 0.3 mile to 5450-foot Glacier View, the site of an old fire lookout. The views of Mount Rainier from it are breathtaking. Definitely consider making a side trip here now or on your return from the lakes. Now continue straight on a trail that gets considerably less use and maintenance. There are a few brushy spots and a couple of trees to climb over, but it’s in fairly decent shape and route finding is not an issue. Through gorgeous old-growth forest, the way switchbacks down from the ridge coming to a junction at 2.4 miles.

For Lake West bear right and head west 0.5 mile descending to a creek crossing before briefly climbing to Lake West (el. 4582 feet). The lake is set in a deep bowl completely surrounded by thick old timber. There are some nice camps if you want to spend the night. Mosquitoes can be a little troublesome the first half of summer.

For Lake Helen, head left on an even less trodden but still decent trail. Leave the wilderness and enter the 890-acre Deer Creek Roadless Area. Conservationists would like to see this tract of old-growth forest embracing Lake Helen permanently protected by adding it to the Glacier View Wilderness. The trail passes through a small marsh before slowly descending through attractive forest reaching pretty little Lake Helen (el. 4612 feet) in 1.3 miles. From the lake’s south shore there are good views of 5,404-foot Puyallup Point rising above the lake. Near the lake’s outlet (a tributary of Deer Creek) are some small camps. A handful of impressive old Alaska yellow cedars grace the lake’s shores too adding to the beauty of this setting.

Cherish the solitude and when you must leave, retrace your steps back to the trailhead.

 

For more information on this hike and many others in and around Mount Rainier National Park, check out VisitRainier.com. For some excellent overnight hiking suggestions in Mount Rainier National Park and throughout the state, consult my bestselling Backpacking Washington Book.

Backpacking Book cover