Location: Mountain Loop Highway near Granite Falls
Land Agency: Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
Roundtrip: 12.0 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,100 feet
Green Trails Map: 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
Good to Know: dog-friendly, historic, wilderness rules apply, backpacking opportunities, tricky river crossing
High in the craggy peaks surrounding the old mining town-turned ghost town Monte Cristo, are several large lakes. Most require some considerable effort to reach. Silver Lake is one of the easier to hike to, but it still involves a trek of 12 miles roundtrip. You can make the journey a little easier by mountain biking (although the road is rapidly deteriorating making it a tough ride) the old road to Monte Cristo, and then hiking to the lake from there. The downhill return trip from the old mining town will be much less demanding on your bike!
From Barlow Pass, start by hiking or mountain-biking the closed-to-vehicles road to Monte Cristo. You’ll need to negotiate some fairly new washouts. At about one mile and just after passing the trail to Gothic Basin and its spectacular Foggy Lake, reach the South Fork of the Sauk River. It usually must be forded, which usually isn’t too difficult later in the summer. There is always the possibility of a log crossing nearby–and as of July 2016 one was still in place.
Beyond the river, continue another 3.0 miles enjoying excellent river and mountain viewing along the way. Pass part of a continual clean up of the old mining town. Then pass a campground, cross the river on a foot bridge and enter the site and remains of the once booming Monte Cristo. Linger around the old mining town for awhile or get heading to the lake. If you came by bike, find a bike rack near the town’s standing half dozen buildings.
Find the trailhead for Silver Lake near the edge of a grassy flat (once the rail yard). Cross Sunday Creek passing through a white-picket fence welcoming you to the “76” building. Then start working your way towards Sunday Flats following an old water line and passing the ruins of an old concentrator. At .25 mile from the town site reach a junction at the Sunday Falls overlook. Continue right on refurbished tread. The old trail was a curse-inducing steep rocky bed. The newer trail will be pleasing to your boots.
Winding through groves of big old trees enter the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness. After a little more than a mile from Monte Cristo, cross Sunday Creek. The way then steepens as it approaches 4,350-ft Poodle Dog Pass. After crossing a small scree gully, pleasurable walking returns. At the pass, reach a junction with the Twin Lakes Trail. Those beautiful lakes are a couple of rugged miles away, so head to Silver Lake instead, a mere quarter mile away. Drop an easy 100 feet through tarn-dotted heather and huckleberry flats to the glistening lake set in a rugged cirque beneath Silvertip Peak. The setting like the metals that were extracted from the surrounding slopes is precious.
For information on lodging and other attractions near Silver Lake, visit www.snohomish.org
For more information on this hike and many others along the Mountain Loop Highway, consult my best selling Day Hiking North Cascades (Mountaineers Books)