Barlow Point–Little known lookout site on Mountain Loop Highway


While the forest is growing in around Barlow Pass, there are still some decent views to be had from this old lookout post.

Location: Mountain Loop Highway near Granite Falls

Land Agency: Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Roundtrip: 2.5 miles

High Point: 3,222 feet

Elevation gain: 850 feet

Difficulty: moderate

Green Trails Map: Sloan Peak, WA- No. 111

Contact: Darrington Ranger District: Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest 

Note: Northwest Forest Pass or Inter-agency Pass required

Access: From Granite Falls, follow the Mountain Loop Highway east for 31 miles to Barlow Pass and trailhead located on your left.

 Good to know: Dog-friendly, kid-friendly, historic,

Are you interested in a nice little leg stretcher off of the Mountain Loop Highway sans the crowds? Check out Barlow Point, a little knob of a peak just above Barlow Pass and just below Mount Dickerman. Straddling the the Sauk-Stillaguamish Divide, this little summit hosted a fire lookout form 1935 to 1964. Much of the surrounding forest went up in flames in 1905, sparked by a locomotive heading to the mines of Monte Cristo. Large fire-scarred snags and a uniform forest a century old attests to this004 past event. And while the surrounding forest has been recovering nicely since that conflagration, Barlow Point’s rocky summit still remains semi-open providing some pretty nice views of an impressive wall of surrounding peaks.

From the 3,222-foot pinnacle, take in good close-ups of Sheep Mountain, Twin Peaks, Mount Dickerman, Stillaguamish Peak, and Big Four Mountain. Enjoy too a perspective of Bedal Peak, Spring Mountain and Mount Pugh. And while you’re on Barlow peering at the peaks, be sure to peek down at the rocky ground at a profusion of penstemon. This little showy flower resembling pink and purple trumpets, adorns Barlow’s ledges.

The hike starts from the parking area at Barlow Pass, once the site of a Forest Service Guard Station and now the site of a kiosk. A side trail immediately branches out left to follow the old railroad grade that once connected Monte Cristo to Everett. A quarter mile farther, another trail branches left, the old Government Trail. Both of these paths make for good rainy day walking and they can be hiked as a loop. The Barlow Point Trail continues right climbing steeply under a cool canopy of evergreens. It’s a short climb, and before you know it, you’ll be sitting on the point soaking up those aforementioned views. Good chance too, you’ll be soaking them up alone—a pretty rare occurrence off of the busy Mountain Loop Highway, but not on this oft forgotten trail.

For information on lodging and other attractions near Barlow Point visit www.snohomish.orgSnohomish-NEW

For information including maps on more than 100 nearby hikes, consult my best-selling and trusted Day Hiking North Cascades (Mountaineers Books)0486

Green Trails Maps available in Granite Falls at Granite Falls Ace  Hardware and Mountain Loop General Store.

Pyramid Lake–A puny lake, but monumental surrounding forest


Impressive old growth forest

Quick Facts:

Location: Ross Lake NRA, North Cascades Scenic Highway

Land Agency: National Park Service

Roundtrip: 4.5 miles

High Point:  feet

Elevation gain: 1500 feet

Difficulty: moderate

Contact: North Cascades National Park 

Green Trails Map: Diablo, WA- No. 48

Notes: Dogs permitted on leash.

Access: From Marblemount follow the North Cascades Highway (SR 20) east for 21 miles to trailhead located on your right; park on left side of road.

 Good to know: Dog-friendly, kid-friendly, exceptional old-growth



Pyramid Creek

Calling this tiny body of water a lake is definitely an overstatement. Pond, maybe. Pyramid pool  is more like it! Don’t do this hike anticipating a grand body of water at the end of the trail. Do it for the trees! An impressive cathedral of ancient forest lines the way to Pyramid Lake. This hike is definitely more about the journey than the destination—and it is quite a journey through a forest that has stood in place for centuries.

And while the lake isn’t much, this easily accessible trail gets a fair amount of hiker traffic as it makes for a good spring conditioner or a late fall snow-prober. Trail starts right besides Pyramid Creek. Catch its cool breezes—then immediately get to work climbing. Under a thin canopy of lodgepole pine, work your way up a ledge. It’s slow going here with roots, loose rocks, and tread-choking salal. Hang in, it gets better.


Pyramid Lake

Marching up a rib above the crashing creek, periodically peer over your shoulder through the sparse forest-cover for glimpses of Davis Peak and Sourdough Mountain across the Skagit Valley. After about a mile the pine and fir forest transitions to mature hemlocks. Come to a branch of Pyramid Creek and hop across it to a beautiful cedar grove.

Now alongside the babbling waterway continue climbing. Towering ancient cedars and Douglas-fir soon humble your stature. Make one final grunt. Cross the babbling creek once more and arrive at Pyramid Lake shortly afterwards. Not much huh? Actually there is if you look at this body of water through ecological eyes. Rough-skinned newts thrive here. Look for them floating near the surface and hiding in the detritus, And those big ole logs floating in the lake harbor scads of sundew, an omnivorous plant. No need for you or the newts to worry though, they prefer puny insects.

For more information on this hike and others in and around the North Cascades national Park, consult my Day Hiking North Cascades book.0486

For information on other things to do in the area and where to stay and dine-consult Northwest TripfinderNWTFmasthead_layers15


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White Chuck Cinder Cone — Coolest volcanic cone north of Lassen

Quick Facts:


A backpacker admires the White Chuck Cinder Cone as Glacier Peak hovers in the distance.

Location: Glacier Peak Wilderness,Mountain Loop Highway near Darrington

Land Agency: Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Roundtrip: 24.0 miles

Elevation gain: 5,200 feet

Green Trails Map: Silverton, WA- No 110, Glacier Peak- No. 112

Contact: Darrington Ranger District: Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest (360) 436-1155

Notes: NW Forest Pass or Interagency Pass required

Access: From Darrington, head south 16 miles on the Mountain Loop Highway. Then turn left and follow FR 49 for 6.4 miles to Sloan Creek Trailhead.

Good to Know: old-growth; seclusion; Glacier Peak Wilderness, Pacific Crest Trail; backpacking, exceptional wildflowers

Located at the headwaters of the White Chuck River within the shadows of snowy showy Glacier Peak; it’s a long hike to the White Chuck Cinder Cone. But, what a hike to one of the finest—and most remote cinder cones in the Cascades. Cinder cones are simple volcanoes that develop from particles and congealed lava ejected from a single vent. These cones usually form a circular or oval cone with a bowl shaped crater. Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California contains a great example. Wizard Island in Crater Lake National Park and Pilot Butte in Bend are great cinder cones too—and easily accessible.

The White Chuck Cinder Cone, first discovered in 1934, requires at least a two day backpack to reach and explore it. The shortest route to it is via the North Fork Sauk River Trail accessed from the Mountain Loop Highway. From the trailhead, immediately enter the sprawling Glacier Peak Wilderness, and follow alongside the North Fork Sauk through majestic primeval forest.


Autumn adds a red hue to the White Chuck Cinder Cone.

At 5.8 miles, good campsites can be found near the Mackinaw Shelter. The trail then climbs steeply gaining 3,000 vertical feet up hot southern exposed slopes stripped of shade thanks to numerous avalanches. At 9.0 miles, reach the Pacific Crest Trail and head left traversing high windswept meadows where only the wide reaching views are more impressive than the dazzling wildflower display

After cresting 6,450-foot Red Pass, descend into a barren high basin where snows often linger long. Melt water cascades and alpine breezes break the stillness. At about 11.5 miles, a faint path leads left to a small tarn beneath the nearly 200-foot White Chuck Cinder Cone. Good but exposed camps can be found east of the tarn. The cinder cone can be scrambled from the west. The view of Glacier Peak and the White Chuck basin from it is breathtaking! Excellent campsites can also be found another mile down the PCT in the parkland Glacier Peak Meadows. Stay for awhile.

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

 For more information on this hike and many others weekend and week long backpacking trips in Washington, consult my Backpacking Washington.Backpacking Book cover

 For information on things to do in Darrington, click here!

Twin Lakes (Monte Cristo) — Follow an old miner’s path to a remote and rugged basin

Quick Facts:


Misty morning at the Twin Lakes.

Location: Mountain Loop Highway near Granite Falls

Land Agency: Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Roundtrip: 17.0 miles

Elevation gain: 3,900 feet

Green Trails Map: Silverton, WA- No 110, Monte Cristo, WA- No. 143

Contact: Darrington Ranger District: Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest  

Notes: Northwest Forest Pass or Interagency Pass required; pack plenty of water as some water in the basin has been contaminated with heavy metals. A major washout at the Twin Bridges requires a ford of the South Fork Sauk River–difficult and dangerous early season and in periods of heavy rain. Dangerous snowfields sometimes linger on ridge to lakes. No fires allowed near lakes. Wilderness regulations apply.

Access: From Granite Falls follow Mountain Loop Highway east for 31 miles to Barlow Pass.

Good to Know: old-growth; seclusion; historic mining region and ghost town; Henry M. Jackson Wilderness area


Set against a backdrop of towering snow-laced spires, the Twin Lakes are tucked in a remote, rugged and enchanting basin. Once the domain of hardscrabble prospectors, the Twins are now claimed by hardy hikers seeking stunning scenery.

Start by hiking (or mountain biking) the 4.0 mile Monte Cristo Road, closed to vehicular traffic (except for a handful of permit owners) since 1980. At 1.0 mile arrive at the Twin Bridges (no longer spanning over the South Fork Sauk). Locate a log crossing or safe place to ford; then continue along the delightful road.


Monte Cristo town site.

At 4.0 miles reach the Monte Cristo campground at road’s end. Cross the South Fork Sauk on a good bridge and enter the old mining town turned ghost town, Monte Cristo where about a dozen structures still stand. Now cross Sunday Creek passing through a white-picket fence welcoming you to the “76” building. Then begin working your way upwards. Soon after passing the Sunday Falls overlook, enter the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness. Steadily climb through groves of big old western hemlocks and Alaska yellow cedars. After crossing Sunday Creek the way steepens, twisting up a small gully to Poodle Dog Pass reaching a junction.

The trail right drops 100 feet in .25 mile to glistening Silver Lake tucked in a cirque beneath Silvertip Peak. For Twin Lakes continue left climbing a knoll with good views of Silver Lake, before dropping into a small saddle. Skirting ledges and steep slopes continue up a rugged ridge. After dropping to avoid cliffs the way regains the ridge crest growing steeper and increasingly more difficult heading up heather meadows and granite ledges. Expect to use hands in spots and consider turning around if snowfields persist and/or bad weather threatens. Going astray here could lead to a fatal fall.

Continue along the narrow ridge crest swinging right to avoid a wall of rock. Then traverse a steep flower field before emerging at a precarious pass. Behold the Twin Lakes twinkling 700 feet below! Using extreme caution continue along a narrow cleft before steeply dropping to the larger Twin in an open boulder-strewn basin beneath glacier-capped towering 7,172-foot Columbia Peak. Here find good camp and picnic sites. Better ones can be found on a knoll at the lake’s outlet reached by continuing on a rough and tumble half mile trail. Here beside a waterfall crashing into the smaller Twin enjoy views across the North Fork Skykomish River to Spire Mountain.


From Poodle Dog Pass, the trail travels over a steep and narrow ridge.

For information on lodging and other attractions near Twin Lakes, visit

 For more information on this hike and many others weekend and week long backpacking trips in Washington, consult my Backpacking Washington.Backpacking Book cover

Happy Panther Trail–Take a joyful catwalk in the North Cascades


Enjoy a spectacular view of Jack Mountain above Ross Lake.

Enjoy a spectacular view of Jack Mountain above Ross Lake.

Quick Facts:

Location: North Cascades Scenic Highway

Land Agency: Ross Lake National Recreation Area, National Park Service

Roundtrip: 12.4 miles

Elevation gain: 550 feet

Green Trails Maps: Green Trails, Diablo, WA- No. 48, Mount Logan, WA- No. 49

Contact: North Cascades National Park complex

Notes: Dogs must be leashed

Access: From Burlington follow SR 20 east to Marblemount. Then continue on SR 20 (North Cascades Highway) east for 29 miles to large parking area on your left for Ross Dam Trail.

Good to Know: kid-friendly, dog-friendly, historic


Trail starts from the Ross Dam Trail.

Most hikers prefer not to run into a panther on the trail at all. But if you were to encounter one of these big cats, a happy one is preferred over a hungry one! This trail in the North Cascades actually derives its name not from a content cougar but from the two creeks that flow near its east and west ends—Happy Creek and Panther Creek. And this trail, part of the Pacific Northwest Trail was once an old pack trail used by miners and prospectors long before the North Cascade Highway was built.

A perfect time to hike this trail is in the spring before the North Cascade Highway is open allowing for a much quieter and wilder experience than in the summer and fall. Start by following the Ross Dam Trail descending to Ross Lake. Soon cross Happy Creek. Let its captivating cascades put a smile on your face. At .6 mile, come to a dirt road. Left leads to Ross Dam, a good objective for those seeking a short trip. You want to head right, coming to the Happy Panther Trail just before the dock for the Ross Lake Resort.

Head right on the Happy Panther hugging the shoreline of manmade Ross Lake. Soon come to a scree slope providing a breathtaking view of Jack Mountain, one of the most prominent peaks in these parts. The trail then works its way on ledge, under ledge and through mossy carpets fringed with lichen. Undulating between fir forest-pine forest-and hemlock forest the path pulls away from water’s edge. Hard to believe that highway 20 is just a short distance away. The surrounding forest is so peaceful.


Walk the road back and take time to read roadside displays on Ross Lake and Jack Kerouac.

Cross several cascading creeks. The trail continues through a landscape shrouded in green, crossing crashing creeks on sturdy bridges from time to time. At 5.0 miles Rudy Creek makes its presence seen and heard. The last mile of trail brushes up against highway 20 and you may want to turn-around at this point. Otherwise continue on the Happy Panther to its happy ending, reaching the East Bank Trailhead 6.2 miles from your start. If the highway is closed, you may want to consider returning on it for a loop. Yeah—it’s a roadway—but pretty scenic offering some nice views over Ross Lake.

For more information including maps on this hike and 124 other nearby hikes, check out my Day Hiking North Cascades Book.0486

For more information on things to do and places to stay and eat near Ross Lake and the North Cascades, consult Northwest TripFinder.NWTFmasthead_layers15