Location: White Chuck River Valley, Mountain Loop Highway
Land Agency: Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
Roundtrip: 18.6 miles
High Point: 5,983 feet
Elevation gain: 4,800 feet
Green Trails Maps: Mountain Loop Highway no. 111SX
Contact: Darrington Ranger District: Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest (360) 436-1155
Access: Take Exit 208 off of I-5 following SR 530 east for 32 miles to Darrington. Then head south on the Mountain Loop Highway proceeding 9.0 miles turning left onto FR 23. Drive 5.8 miles turning left onto FR 2700. Continue for another 2.4 miles to trailhead.
Good to know: Dog-friendly, exceptional views, backpacking possibilities. Exceptional wildflowers, solitude, wilderness rules apply
The hike to Circle Peak is long and arduous. Strong hikers can make it a challenging day hike, while most folks will want to overnight at Crystal Lake before or after tackling this peak. The peak however, is worth it with an unobstructed 360-degree view and over one mile of flowering meadows. Plus, you’ll probably have the entire mountain to yourself!
Begin by following an old road bed, climbing a couple of hundred feet then losing most of it. The beginning of this hike as well as the adjacent trail to Meadow Lake utilizes logging roads that were decommissioned in the 1970s and 1980s. At 1.5 miles, reach a junction. The trail right heads towards Meadow Lake and Meadow Mountain, destinations worthy of a return trip to this area. For Circle Peak, take the trail left. The grade is fairly easy for the first two miles on the old road bed. Then it gets brushy and muddy approaching an old cut. The way then gets insanely steep marching up an old fire line. Cascading Crystal Creek alongside the trail should help soothe you a little.
The grunt thankfully is short lived. Once above the old cut, the trail resumes on a saner grade and enters beautiful old growth forest and soon afterward, the Glacier Peak Wilderness. At 4.5 miles reach the outlet of 4,485-foot Crystal Lake. Its meadowy shores and good camps invite spending some time here.
For Circle Peak, cross the creek below the outlet and pick-up a well built trail. The way circles back above the old cut and makes a fairly level run through old growth forest along a high ridge. The trail is in excellent shape despite its light use. However there is a small slide that needs to be negotiated. Take your time and you should be fine. The way eventually drops about 350 feet to the Circle Creek valley coming to a junction with the short spur leading from closed FR 2703. This is an alternative approach that can be mountain biked to making the hike shorter.
Now start climbing again crossing a small old cut and reentering old growth. Cross Circle Creek on a bridge and skirt a beautiful marshy meadow. Then back in to the forest before emerging in meadows. The way then steeply winds one mile through some of the finest wildflower alpine meadows in the area. At 9.3 miles, reach the old lookout spot. The final pitch to the summit requires a small catwalk that is narrow and exposed and potentially dangerous. There’s no need to go all the way, as the views from where you are standing are grand. Look across the Suiattle River Valley to Green Mountain and its controversial lookout. Look out to Mount Baker in the distance and Glacier Peak just a ridge away. And look too to Washington’s “three Matterhorns;” White Chuck, Pugh, and Sloan. Indigo Lake sparkles below—one of many hidden gems in this lightly hiked section of the Mountain Loop Highway area.
For information on lodging and other attractions near Circle Peak visit www.snohomish.org
For more information on hikes in and around the Mountain Loop Highway consult my best selling Day Hiking North Cascades Book