Pinnacle Lake — Pretty little lake perched on a shoulder of Mount Pilchuck

Quick Facts:

Location: Mountain Loop Highway, near Granite Falls

Land Agency: Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest; Washington State Parks

Roundtrip: 4.2 miles

Elevation gain: 1,100 feet

Green Trails Maps:  Mountain Loop Highway 111SX

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

Notes: access road is rough, high clearance vehicles recommended.

Access: From Granite Falls follow the Mountain Loop Highway east for 15.6 miles turning right onto FR 4020.  Follow this gravel road for 2.7 miles to a junction then bear right onto FR 4021 and continue for 3.0 miles to trailhead.

Good to Know: exceptional old-growth; exceptional berries, Bear Lake is kid-friendly

Massive cedars at trail’s start.

Pinnacle is a pretty little backcountry lake perched in a rugged basin on a shoulder of Mount Pilchuck. The hike is short. However, it isn’t easy! It is steep and rooty in places. The good news is that there have been some good improvements to the trail over the past few years. The first section to Bear Lake is ideal for kids and makes for an easy short hike. Note that these lakes lie directly in the Puget Sound Convergence Zone, one of the wettest spots in the Cascades. Snow often lingers late here well into June. Marvel at the girth of the trees, lushness of the forest understory, and presence of species usually found at higher elevations. There are some impressive yellow cedars on this trail.

Start by taking the very short Bear Lake Trail. On good tread pass through a gateway pair of massive cedars and in no time come to a junction. The short level path right leads to placid Bear Lake. Ringed with ancient forest and lined with skunk cabbage, horsetails, and huckleberries; Bear is far from bare when it comes to vegetation. It’s a nice place to introduce young children to the wilds.

For Pinnacle continue hiking left, crossing Bear Creek on a well-constructed bridge (thanks to the Washington Trails Association); then begin climbing steeply. Be careful not to go astray where several users paths branch off to nowhere. After a mile of difficult going, the climb eases and the tread improves. Now along a ridge crest head due west for the lake. Gaps in the forest allow limited but good views north to Three Fingers, Liberty, Baker, and other impressive peaks. After 1.8 miles a small pond is reached in marshy meadows.  Keep hiking following a muddy path along a creek for 0.1 mile to Pinnacle Lake sitting pretty beneath a prominent point on Mount Pilchuck. Rocks and ledge near Pinnacle’s cascading outlet creek provide good resting and admiring points. There’s some good exploring to be done here, too—but it’s rough. Perhaps a better plan is to just relax by the lake before returning.

For information on lodging and other attractions near the Mountain Loop Highway visit

Seattle NorthCountry

For more detailed information on this trail and many others nearby, check out my best-selling

 Day Hiking North Cascades Book.

Cooney Lake–larches at the edge of the North Cascades


Come October, Cooney Lake lives up to its Golden Lake status.

Location: Sawtooth Ridge Roadless Area

Land Agency: Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest

Roundtrip: 16 miles

High Point: 7,300 feet

Elevation gain: 3,800 feet

Difficulty: moderate

Green Trails Maps: Prince Creek, WA- No. 115

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

Notes: Northwest Forest Pass Required

Access: From Twisp follow SR 153 south turning right onto Gold Creek Loop Road.  After 1.5 miles, turn right onto County Road 1034. Drive 1.0 mile to a junction and continue straight onto FR 4340. Follow for 4.0 miles turning left at Foggy Dew Campground onto FR spur 200.  Continue 3.7 miles to road end and trailhead.

Good to know: Dog-friendly, kid-friendly, exceptional summer wildflowers, exceptional views, exceptional autumn larches, excellent backpacking, open to mountain bikes and motorcycles


Cradled in a high cirque in the lofty serrated Sawtooth Ridge on the eastern edge of the North Cascades, Cooney makes for a wonderful weekend adventure or as a good base for days of exploring some of the other surrounding high-country lakes. One of the famed “Golden Lakes;” a named coined by pioneer guidebook author Harvey Manning for the area’s larches—October is prime time to see this tree’s glowing display.

Cooney Lake from ridge above.

Start on the Foggy Dew Trail following the delightfully named Foggy Dew Creek. At 2.5 miles admire Foggy Dew Falls plummeting into a narrow cleft. Eventually the trail parts ways with the creek and steepens. At 5.0 miles reach a junction with the Martin Creek Trail. Head right on it gently rounding a ridge. The thick pine and spruce forest soon thins allowing occasional viewing east. Pass a small pond before crossing a creek and boulder field. At 7.7 miles in a small saddle at the edge of a big meadow come to a horse camp and junction with the hiker-only Cooney Lake Trail.

Now head left soon reaching gorgeous 7,300-foot Cooney Lake set in a larch flanked basin beneath the cloud-snagging Sawtooth Ridge. Good camps can be found near the lake’s outlet. Good roaming can be found in the meadows east. Good high-country adventure can be found by continuing up the steep trail beyond the lake to the Angel’s Staircase Trail. Enjoy the golden aura emanating from the basin whether you come for a few hours or a few days.

For more detailed information on this hike and loop extensions and other incredible multi-day trips in the area and beyond; consult my best selling Backpacking Washington guidebook.

For information on where to play and stay in the Methow Valley, consult Northwest Trip Finder.

Silver Lake─Precious body of water above old mining district

Quick Facts:

Location: Mountain Loop Highway near Granite Falls

Land Agency: Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Roundtrip: 13.0 miles

Elevation Gain: 2,100 feet

Green Trails Map: Mountain Loop Highway 111SX

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.

Note: Northwest Forest Pass or Interagency Pass required

Contact: Darrington Ranger District: Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest

Good to Know: dog-friendly, historic, wilderness rules apply, backpacking opportunities, tricky river crossing, practice Leave No Trace principles

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 (but not easy) to hike to, but it still involves a trek of 13 miles roundtrip. You can make the journey a little easier by mountain biking (although the road is rough in a few places) 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. The first mile of the road has been eaten away by the river in spots-so you’ll you’ll be on trail a couple of times bypassing washouts.. At 0.7 mile pass the new trailhead for Gothic Basin. Shortly afterward, 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 August 2018, one was still in place.


Remains of the old Monte Cristo town site.

Beyond the river, continue another 3.0 miles enjoying excellent river and mountain viewing along the way. Pass part of a recent 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 or so 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 (No bikes, drones allowed). 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 2.4  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. If you are planning to spend the night, use one of the several established campsites and be aware that fires are not allowed here.

For information on lodging and other attractions near Silver Lake, visit

For more information on this hike and many others along the Mountain Loop Highway, consult my best selling Day Hiking North Cascades (Mountaineers Books)0486

Bedal Basin–Lonesome and beautiful basin beneath awe-inspiring Sloan Peak


Bedal Peak rises behind rugged Bedal Basin.

Location: Mountain Loop Highway

Land Agency: Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Roundtrip: 5.2 miles

High Point: 4,650 feet

Elevation gain: 1,900 feet

Difficulty: challenging

Green Trails Maps: Mountain Loop Highway No. 111SX

Contact: Darrington Ranger District: Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest

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 for 17.2 miles, turning left onto FR 4096. Follow FR 4096 for 3.0 rough miles to trailhead at road end.

Note: Second half of road is extremely rough, steep and brushy. Consider driving 1.4 miles to road bend with parking (start for Bedal Peak scramble route) and walking the rest of the road (which gets rougher) 1.6 miles to trailhead.

Good to know: solitude; exceptional wildflowers, historic, off-trail travel skill required, wilderness rules apply, Practice Leave No Trace principles.


Legendary mountain guide, Harry Bedal helped build this trail back in the 1920s to access his mining claim on Sloan Peak. Grandson of a Suiattle Indian Chief, Harry is perhaps best known for working with forester Harold Engles to construct the Three Fingers Fire Lookout; one of the most notorious lookouts in the Northwest. Harry also built a cabin in the high basin now bearing his name. Nature claimed his cabin some sixty years ago and has continuously taken swipes at it trying to reclaim this trail as well.

The trail receives limited maintenance and has some tricky sections requiring route finding and rock hopping. It is one of the loneliest trails off of the Mountain Loop Highway. It isn’t an easy hike, but its solitude and wilderness rewards justify any discomfort. It traverses magnificent primeval forest on its way to a boulder-strewn basin beneath Sloan Peak’s sheer southern face. The second half of the way can be tricky requiring a .4 mile slog up a steep rocky creek bed and steep forested slope.

From the trailhead, veer left onto the Bedal Creek Trail immediately entering magnificent old-growth and soon afterwards, the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness. On an easy grade, the trail undulates between towering trees and brushy avalanche swaths; Bedal Creek always nearby. After crossing a side creek (tricky in high water) soon come to Bedal Creek at about 1.5 miles. Carefully cross the creek–here a trenched rocky channel; then work your way up a forested wedge between creek flows. Soon afterwards the trail ends at a post near the base of a huge rocky outwash. This is a good spot to turnaround if you are now comfortable with off trail travel. Otherwise continue off trail for 0.4 mile.

Head straight up the steep rocky creek bed. As it approaches the current creek bed, look for a small cairn and opening in the alders on your right. Follow this discernable way along the creek bed edge coming to a cascading creek on your right. Carefully cross that creek and head straight up a steep forested slope keeping the creek on your left nearby. As you approach the creek’s origin bubbling from the ground look for faint trail tread. After locating it–head right soon entering Bedal Basin.

Big boulders and rocky outwashes adorned in wildflowers decorate the basin floor. It’s rugged and beautiful. Sloan Peak shadows the basin floor. Stare straight up its 2,700 feet of sheer rock face. Bedal Peak rises to the left. Mount Forgotten is seen in the distance. The remains of Harry’s Cabin are hidden between some boulders. Marmots look after it. Roam the basin or just sit and listen to the voices in the wind.

For information on lodging and other attractions near Bedal Basin, visit

For more detailed information on this hike as well as many other hikes off of the Mountain Loop Highway, pick up a copy of my best selling Day Hiking North Cascades (Mountaineers Books)!

Chokwich Trail─Chock full of solitude

Enjoy a pretty waterfall on a quiet hike near busy Goat Lake.

Enjoy a pretty waterfall on a quiet hike near busy Goat Lake.

Quick Facts:

Location: Mountain Loop Highway near Darrington

Land Agency: Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Roundtrip: 7.0 miles

Elevation Gain: 900 feet

Green Trails Map: Mountain Loop Highway no.111SX

Note: NW Forest Pass required

Access: From Granite Falls follow the Mountain Loop Highway east for 31 miles to Barlow Pass and end of pavement. Continue for 3.5 miles turning right onto FR 4080 (From Darrington, follow Mountain Loop Highway 19.5 miles). Follow FR 4080 for 0.8 mile to road end and trailhead.

Contact: Darrington Ranger District: Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest

Good to know: dog-friendly, solitude, waterfall

While Goat Lake is one of the more popular destinations off of the Mountain Loop Highway, almost everyone who has hiked there has never veered off onto the Chokwich Trail. That’s all the better for those looking for a little solitude in this increasingly busy area. You won’t find a big mountain lake on the Chokwich Trail, but you will see a pretty waterfall and some decent views of the Sauk River Valley. You’ll also have to deal with some brush and blowdowns–this trail sees little maintenance. But if it is peace and quiet you desire–and a little adventure–check this trail out,

From the Goat Lake Trailhead follow the trail heading left. Utilizing an old logging road, the going is easy, climbing a mere 300feet in one mile. At one mile the trail to Goat Lake makes a sharp turn right. Here the Chokwich Lake veers left. Take it. You will probably be the only one to do so. The Forest Service originally designated this trail for mountain bike use and they are still allowed on it. However with all of the downed timber, no sane mountain biker would currently consider this trail an option.

Now enjoy a near level mile on an old road bed traversing forested slopes beneath Sky-piercing Sloan Peak. As you approach Chokwich Creek, forest silence transitions to the sounds of crashing water. The trail crosses (without aid of a bridge) below an attractive waterfall—and one all the more impressive during late spring runoff. Admire the impressive cataract careening down a damp rock flume.

If you don’t mind getting your feet wet, you can continue on the trail for another 1.5 miles. Tread gets lighter—covered with mosses and grasses attesting to the fact that very few hikers and mountain bikers come this way. Thinning forest and breaks in the canopy along the way reveal some decent views north across the Sauk River Valley to prominent Mount Pugh.

At about 3.5 miles and after climbing about 500 feet, you’ll come to Bedal Creek—also sans bridge. Bedal however is not an easy ford, and can be near impossible to ford in early season. The trail only continues a short distance beyond anyhow, linking with the Bedal Creek Trail and FR 4096.

For information on lodging and other attractions near Chokwich Falls visit

For more information on this hike and many others off of the Mountain Loop Highway and throughout the region, consult my best selling Day Hiking North Cascades (Mountaineers Books) 

Get your copy today!