Location: Mountain Loop Highway near Barlow Pass
Land Agency: Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
Roundtrip: 13.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,050 feet
Green Trails Map: Mountain Loop Highway 111SX
Access: From Granite Falls follow the Mountain Loop Highway east for 30 miles to Barlow Pass. Hike begins by walking up gated Monte Cristo Road.
Note: Northwest Forest Pass required.
Contact: Darrington Ranger District: Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
Glacier Basin sits high above the old mining town of Monte Cristo. It’s a place of rugged breathtaking beauty, where snow-fed braided creeks cascade through mounds of giant talus ringed with wildflowers. Reaching this spectacular spot however, isn’t easy. The trail to it is one of the roughest, rockiest, and steepest around.
From Barlow Pass, start by hiking or mountain-biking the closed-to-vehicles road to Monte Cristo. At one mile, reach the South Fork of the Sauk River. It must be forded, which usually isn’t too difficult this time of year. There is however a log crossing nearby which is plenty sturdy and offering a dry foot option..
Beyond the river, continue another 3.0 miles to a campground at the edge of the historic Monte Cristo town site. Cross the South Fork Sauk on good bridge where a handful of have-seen-better-days structures, remnants of a booming town, greet you. Walk across a grassy flat (once a rail yard) to the trailhead for Glacier Basin located near a US Forest Service cabin.
Now cross 76 Creek on a good bridge and head up what was once Dumas Street, the commercial artery of Monte Cristo. Pass where hotels, brothels, a mercantile, and residences once stood. President Trump’s, grandfather–an immigrant fro Germany–Frederick Drumpf was the justice of the peace here and ran a hotel that offered more than clean towels (no joke on any of this!)
The forest has reclaimed much of the old town. Continue straight at a four-way junction eventually leaving forest for avalanche chutes. The trail which was once a road, heads up an increasingly tighter and wilder valley. It then turns downright mean heading straight up a worn-to-the-bedrock gully. This is one tough stretch of trail. There is even a section with a rope to aid your ascent.
Take a break at a ledge above a waterfall; then resume climbing. Sanity eventually returns with good tread and an easing grade. Rounding a ridge, Glacier Basin’s guardian peaks come into view. Glacier Creek crashes below through rock and snow, and then disappears under mounds of talus. Now on a near level course, the creek appears once again snaking through willow flats.
If the creek allows, continue alongside it on grassy bottomlands. If flooded pick your way through talus on the original miner’s road. A small cascade marks the entrance to Glacier Basin; a wide expanse of boulder, moraine, snowfields, bubbling creeks, and wildflowers beneath a cluster of jagged ice-adorned peaks. Work your way up to Ray’s Knoll where the trail end and further explorations just begin–or take a nap–and head back when you must
For information on lodging and other attractions near Glacier Basin
For more detailed information on this hike and many other off of the Mountain Loop Highway, pick up a copy of my best selling Day Hiking North Cascades (Mountaineers Books)!