Snoquera Falls — A touch of the Yosemite Valley in Washington

 

DSC00867Quick Facts:

Location: White River Valley

Land Agency:  Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Roundtrip: 4.2 miles

Elevation Gain: 750 feet

Contact: Snoqualmie Ranger District, Enumclaw office

Green Trails Map: Greenwater no. 238

Notes: Northwest Forest Pass or Interagency Pass required; Dogs permitted on leash

Access: From Enumclaw, follow SR 410 east for 28 miles. Turn left onto Camp Sheppard access road and reach trailhead in 0.1 mile.

Good to Know: kid-friendly, dog-friendly, impressive waterfall

 From high on Dalles Ridge, Snoquera Creek plunges more than 400 feet down a sheer rock face. Resembling a scene straight out of Yosemite Valley, Snoquera Falls are indeed a sensational sight. But there’s a catch. If you do this hike late in the summer after a long dry stretch, the falls appear as a mere trickle. Fed primarily by snowmelt, Snoquera Falls are best witnessed in the spring and after periods of heavy rainfall.

Starting from the Camp Sheppard Trailhead, head east immediately coming to an outdoor amphitheater used by the adjacent DSC00872Boy Scout Camp. Here the beautifully built (by the Scouts) Moss Lake Loop Nature Trail circles around for 0.6 mile. Since the hike to the falls is fairly short, definitely consider adding the Moss Lake Loop to your hike. A good portion of this trail traverses an impressive grove of ancient cedars via boardwalks. Moss Lake is actually a large wetland fed by several tumbling creeks, among them Snoquera Creek.

The main trail crosses Snoquera Creek and climbs to a junction. Here the White River Trail runs north and south for miles through thick timber paralleling SR 410. You’ll be returning on the White River Trail section to the left. So continue hiking straight on the Snoquera Falls Trail. Beneath a cool emerald canopy the well maintained trail steadily ascends. Stay left at an unmarked junction where a trail leads right to SR 410.

Continue climbing making a couple of sweeping switchbacks. Pass a few big old growth giants along the way before reaching forest’s edge at the base of a large wall of sheer cliffs. Look up! Pummeling over that vertical rock for more than 400 feet is Snoquera Creek. The first tier of the falls is nearly 300 feet with water plunging straight down. The second tier of the falls has the creek fanning out. If you’ve hiked in the Yosemite Valley, these falls look like they could be right out of that iconic California national park. But cast a glance westward across the White River and you’ll see Sun Top and its radiating verdant ridges—classic Cascade Mountains.

Work your way across rockier tread and cross the creek. You’ll need to rock hop or get your feet wet here as there is no bridge. If the creek is too intimidating to cross, return the way you came. If you can negotiate the crossing you’ll soon come to an unmarked junction. Sure-footed hikers may want to take the very rough and steep trail right which toils its way to the base of the falls. Use extreme caution on this route, as it is laden with loose rocks and when wet can be downright hazardous.

The loop continues north across a decade-old rockslide. The footing may be a little difficult here, but it shouldn’t pose any major problems for most hikers. The way then descends more gently than the approach—traversing beneath high cliffs and making a few switchbacks. At 2.6 miles reach a junction once again with the White River Trail. Now turn left and head up valley on the White River Trail. Hike 1.2 nearly level miles through quiet forest skirting Camp Sheppard and returning to a familiar junction. Then head right to return to your start. If you saved Moss Lake for the return divert onto that loop and savor the serenity before hitting the road to head home.

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High Hut — Snowshoe to a heavenly hut in the shadow of Rainier

 

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What a front window view!

Quick Facts:

Location: Mount Tahoma Trails near Ashford

Land Agency: Washington DNR and Mount Tahoma Trails Association

Roundtrip: 8.6 miles

Elevation gain: 2,400 feet

Contact: Mount Tahoma Trails Association MTTA

Map: Mount Tahoma Ski Trail System (MTTA)

Notes: Sno-Park Pass required; Reservations required for overnight stays in hut

Access: From Elbe head east 10 miles on SR 7 turning right onto Kernahan Road (2.5 miles east of Ashford). Continue 1.4 miles south on Kernahan (which eventually becomes Skate Creek Road FR 52) bearing right onto Osborn Road (signed for “Paradise Estates”) then immediately turning left onto FR 85. Continue for 1.5 miles turning right onto dirt DNR Road No. 1. Follow for 2.1 miles turning left at a junction after crossing Catt Creek. Then proceed for 3.1 miles to trailhead at lower Sno-Park.

Good to Know: overnight huts, great backcountry skiing, some trails groomed

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A group of happy snowshoers and skiers on the MTTA trails.

The crown jewel of the Mount Tahoma Trails Association’s four backcountry huts, High Hut sits on a 4,760-foot perch teetering over the Nisqually Valley with a full-fledged knock-your-wool-socks off view of Mount Rainier! The view will take your breath away; and so will the hike getting there. Reaching High Hut is no walk in the park! It’ll cost you 2,400 vertical feet. But a well-groomed trail helps ease the climb. And knowing that a warm hut waits for you should provide enough of an incentive to keep moving.

Back in 1989, a bunch of folks from the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR), National Park Service (NPS), United States Forest Service (USFS), Champion Timber Company, and members from the local business community met to establish a network of cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails near Mount Rainier. Their meetings resulted in the establishment of the non-profit MTTA which would go on to build and maintain more than 50 miles of trails, along with four huts and one yurt open to the public for both day and overnight use. Touted as North America’s largest no-fee (although there’s a reservation fee for staying overnight) hut-to-hut cross-country ski trail system, the MTTA network is open to skiers and snowshoers of all ages and abilities. If you plan on staying overnight in any of the huts, reservations are mandatory. If you are coming up just for the day, no reservations are necessary, so feel free to bring along some hot soup and drinks to prepare in the huts’ fully stocked kitchens.

The way starts climbing immediately. At .35 mile, come to a junction with the Anderson Lake Trail. This junction like most of the junctions is well-signed. However, some of the mileages posted aren’t quite accurate, often understating the distance.  Continue straight on the Outer Loop Trail, the main arterial for MTTA’s south district. You’re sure to meet plenty of fellow snowshoers and cross-country skiers along the way on this popular path. Prepare to exchange friendly salutations and be sure to snowshoe to the side of the wide trail staying out of any ski tracks.

Steadily climb. The way is lined with thick forest, but occasional gaps in the green cloak reveal window views of jagged Sawtooth Ridge just to the east. At 1.2 miles reach the Middle Sno-Park (el. 2,900 feet), used when snow levels are high. Enjoy a respite from ascending—then it’s up, up, up once again! At 1.9 miles come to yet another Sno-Park (el. 3,400 feet), used when the snow levels are even higher. Here is also where the MTTA stores some of their grooming equipment.

After passing a tumbling tributary of Catt Creek, the trail switchbacks through cool evergreens and comes to a junction with the Lower Yurt Trail. Save that long and lonely adventure for another time. Continue straight to High Hut! At 2.6 miles reach a low saddle on a high ridge and yet another junction. The Outer Loop Trail continues left along the ridge heading to the Snow Bowl Hut, the Yurt, and beyond. You are heading right with still almost 1,000-feet of climbing left to subdue.

While it is still a steady ascent, emerging views south to Mount St Helens and Mount Adams should help to distract you from your snowy slog. At 3.2 miles, come to another junction; this one with the ungroomed trail to Anderson Lake (an alternative return not recommended for beginners). Turn right and march up the spine of the ridge.

En route you’ll pass yet another junction—this one with the Ben Jones Loop Trail, which allows for you a slightly different and highly scenic short alternative descent from the summit. And speaking of the summit from which you have worked so hard to attain—you’re almost there. Crest the windblown high ridge housing the hut, and it soon becomes apparent why you worked so hard to make this trip. The Views! Take a break and begin reaping your visual rewards. Peer straight down to frozen Anderson Lake. Look northward all the way to Puget Sound. East to the Olympics and the Rockies—not the Colorado Rockies, but the obscure peak east of the hamlet of Mineral sharing the name of that western mountain range. Stare south to America’s most famous recently-erupted volcano. Then east to America’s grandest volcano—Mount Rainier!

The Mountain forms a spectacular backdrop for High Hut, appearing close enough you swear you can feel its icy breath blowing down on you. More than likely though a chilly breeze will be blowing upon you, so get yourself inside the warm and inviting hut. From the kitchen, make yourself a cup of hot cocoa, sit back, and stare out the big windows to Washington’s iconic mountain. If you’re spending the night, sit in awe captivated by the alpenglow on the massive volcano; and watch a dark shroud blanket the Nisqually Valley below as daylight yields to starlight. If you’re here just for the day, you now know what to look forward to on a return overnight visit to this highlight of the MTTA’s outstanding backcountry trail and hut system.

For great summer hiking ideas in and around Mount Rainier National Park, consult my best-selling 100 Classic Hikes Washington (Mountaineers Books)9fe142a9-db8e-4f6f-aaec-ce9adf30c1e0

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Sun Top — snowshoe to a historic lookout in the shadows of Mount Rainier

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Sun Top on a bluebird winter day.

Quick Facts:

Location: White River Valley

Land Agency: Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Roundtrip: 11.0 miles

Elevation gain: 3,050 feet

Contact: Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Green Trails Map: Green Trails Maps – Greenwater no. 238

Notes: Sno-park Pass required. Route is non-groomed and shared with skiers (do not snowshoe on groomed ski trail). Beyond the upper gate the road route crosses an avalanche area that should be avoided during moderate to extreme avalanche warnings and during and after heavy snowfall.

Check avalanche conditions (Northwest Avalanche Center) before departing and know safe backcountry snow travel techniques.

Access: From Enumclaw follow SR 410 for 24.6 miles turning right (just before The Dalles Campground) onto Forest Road 73. Continue for 1.4 miles to Sno-Park.

Good to Know: dog-friendly; exceptional views; historic fire lookout

In summer and fall, the historic fire lookout perched atop 5271-foot Sun Top Mountain is easily reached via a well-graded dsc09523gravel road. But once winter drapes its frosty white shroud upon this peak just north of Mount Rainier, the lookout makes for a challenging and invigorating snowshoeing destination. Depending on how low in the valley the snow falls—and this year it is low—the trip to Sun Top can be up to 11 miles roundtrip with more than 3000 vertical feet of climbing.

Not an easy feat. But it’s worth every frosty pant and calorie burned to stand atop this peak above the White River and bask in sweeping jaw-dropping views of deep emerald valleys, craggy frosty summits, and of course “The Mountain.” On a clear crisp day, Rainier steals the scenic show here. You can practically feel its icy breath upon your Jack Frost kissed cheeks. And Sun Top’s 1933-built fire lookout will captivate you as much as Washington’s iconic mountain.

Throughout the winter and spring months, Sun Top’s summit road is gated in the valley below. And the road is closed to snowmobilers making it strictly the domain of intrepid skiers and snowshoers. Starting from the Sun Top Sno-Park, strap on your snowshoes, pass the gate and come to a junction. The road straight ahead is a near level route through old-growth forests along Huckleberry Creek. It makes for a much easier dsc09575adventure and a great place for kids and neophytes to snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. But, the stellar views and heart-pumping workout is left—so head up Forest Road 7315 and immediately commence to climb. Note that Sun Top is a popular skiing destination, too. Be sure not to snowshoe on ski tracks. And keep your dog from mucking up the tracks too. The way is wide enough to accommodate all.

Wind around a Forest Service nursery undulating between old cuts and patches of mature timber. The route steadily climbs, never too steeply, but never letting up either. At just past two miles, you’ll come to a gate and a spur road leading right which may tempt you to explore. But unless the weather is less than ideal with no promise of views from above—save this spur for another day and save your energy and keep marching forward and upward.

After making a sharp turn the route begins wrapping around the peak heading for a saddle on its southern ridge. Occasionally look back and catch a glimpse of the semi-open summit. At 5.0 miles, come to the 4,750-foot saddle. Here the road dissects the Sun Top hiking trail (a great long distance route coveted by mountain bikers and trail runners when snow free) and a spur road continues west to a broad shoulder. If avalanche warnings are in place, do not continue toward the summit and consider instead snowshoeing on the spur for limited views.

If the snow is stable, continue a short distance on the Sun Top road soon coming to yet another gate. Do not continue straight on the road as it crosses a steep open slope prone to avalanches making it very dangerous to traverse. Instead, locate the hiking trail leading left and follow its route switch-backing up the southern slopes of the peak. Plod through open forest granting gorgeous views. Reach the summit road at a sharp bend near a solar panel. Then head right on it for a short distance traveling across the broad open summit taking in spectacular far-reaching views.

At 5.5 miles your journey culminates at the historic fire lookout cabin (one of the few remaining in this region) perched atop the mile high mountain. Now, turn around and face south. Wow! Mount Rainier is right in your face. On a sunny day, its icy façade is nearly blinding. Look east across the deep White River Valley to Crystal Mountain, Castle Mountain, Norse Peak, Pyramid Peak and Kelly Butte. Then face the west admiring the Huckleberry Creek Valley. Beyond its patchwork of logged hillsides are a series of mountains draped in virgin forests protected within the Clearwater Wilderness. Look northward now and sweep the horizon from left to right locating the Olympic Mountains, Mount Stuart and Mount Baker. Finally, if the sun is out, savor it on this summit whose name is solar inspired. There’s nothing like being kissed by the sun on a frozen summit surrounded by a winter wonderland.

For snow free hiking in Western Washington, pick up a copy of my Winter Hikes of Western Washington Card Deck (Mountaineers Books)! It features 50 of the finest snow free trails from the Columbia River Gorge to the British Columbia border.

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For information on where to stay and on other things to do near Sun Top, check out Northwest TripFinderNWTFmasthead_layers15

 

 

 

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.

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Sourdough Ridge — Enjoy sweet views of Mount Rainier from this easy ridge hike

                                                                                               Quick Facts:

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Great views of Mount Rainier and Yakima Park from Sourdough Ridge.

Location: Sunrise, Mount Rainier National Park

Land Agency: United States Park Service

Roundtrip: 8.0 miles

Elevation gain: 1700 feet

Green Trails Maps: Mount Rainier Wonderland Map 269S

Contact: Mount Rainier National Park

Notes: Park entrance fee; Dogs prohibited

Access: From Enumclaw follow SR 410 east for 37.5 miles turning right onto the Sunrise Road. Continue for 12.7 miles to trailhead at Sunrise Point.

Good to Know: exceptional views, kid-friendly, exceptional wildflowers

 

Named for the sour tasting bread favored by miners who once prospected this long and lofty ridge within the shadows of Washington’s grandest mountain; Sourdough’s views are among the sweetest in the park. Follow a well groomed trail along the crest of a 7,000-foot plus ridge darting around craggy knolls and traversing flowered meadows; all while savoring sweeping views of Mount Rainier and hundreds of other peaks far and near.

While this trail skirts just above Sunrise and can be accessed from that popular park gathering spot; start from Sunrise Point instead. This option will allow you to hike quiet sections of the trail, and for you to do the entire four mile trail facing the magnificent mountain. When you can force your eyes away from Washington’s iconic peak, scan the horizons north and south to other prominent peaks, including Mounts Adams and Baker.

From the 6,100-foot trailhead, head west and steadily climb taking time to admire sparkling Sunrise Lake below and the glistening glacier fields of the Mount Rainier across flower draped Yakima Park. Relish the relative serenity of this path as you parallel above the busy Sunrise Road. At 1.2 miles be sure to take the short side trip to 7,006-foot Dege Peak from where you can survey the entire ridge with its numerous pyramidal peaks.

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Great views too of Huckleberry Basin from Sourdough Ridge.

Marvel at thermal riding raptors, sniff fragrant blossoms, and delight in watching scurrying ground squirrels kick up dust across the trail. Continue along the ridge rounding Antler Peak, and perhaps spotting several sets of antlers on the resident deer that frequent the high meadows. At 2.4 miles a trail diverges left to Sunrise. Stay right and now with more company continue across open terrain ignoring another trail to Sunrise and one to Huckleberry Creek. At 4.0 miles the trail ends at a busy junction near appropriately named Frozen Lake. Do an about face and enjoy the trail and the views all over again—this time with the Mountain to your back allowing you to notice some of the less prominent but equally beautiful surrounding peaks and ridges.

For more information on hiking at and around Mount Rainier National Park, check out Visit Rainier

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For family friendly trips you can take around Mount Rainier, check out Northwest TripFinder       

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