Dalles Ridge — Wintering Elk and Sublime Alpine views

Quick Facts:

Location: Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Land Agency: US Forest Service

Round Trip: 8.2 miles

Elevation Gain: 1900 feet

Green Trails Map: Greenwater no. 238

Contact: Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Notes: During periods of low snow levels, parking may be difficult.

Access: From Enumclaw follow SR 410 for 13.6 miles turning left (shortly after passing Mather Memorial Highway sign) onto FR 72. Drive two hundred yards or so to parking area before gate. If road is snow-covered, park on SR 410 well off of shoulder and being careful not to obstruct travel.


Good to Know: kid-friendly, dog-friendly, practice Leave No Trace principles


The way to Dalles Ridge is via a gated forest service road. The grade is gentle and avalanche concerns are low. But, surprisingly you won’t encounter too many other folks on this route. Most snowshoers and cross-country skiers overlook it, heading instead farther up valley to more popular and publicized destinations. This leaves Dalles Ridge all for you—and the scores of elk that call it home.

Your trip starts low in the White River Valley. Depending on how low the snow level is—you may have to walk with snowshoes in tow for a short distance. No worry about encountering a vehicle though as the road is gated from December 15th to May 1st. This is to protect wintering elk that are prolific along these slopes and the White River Valley.

Elk are crepuscular (active in low light). If you start your trip early or stay late in the day, you may see some of these majestic members of the deer family. If you do, always view from a safe distance and use your telephoto lens to capture that perfect image. You are sure to see copious tracks left in the snow by them; and you’ll probably stumble upon some of their pits dug in the snow. They like to feast on grasses year round, so they’ll often dig up snow to reach it.

Gently climbing, the way passes through managed forest blocks in various ages. The younger forest and recent cut areas as well as older tracts all favor elk for browsing, birthing, and shelter. At .3 mile stay right on the main track. At .7 mile pass a recent cut providing a good view of Sun Top Mountain across the valley.

Plenty of creeks flow down from Dalles Ridge and most of them flow beneath the road in culverts. But Lightning Creek flows over the roadway at about 1.2 miles. It shouldn’t prove problematic to cross. The road soon switchbacks and you’ll cross Lightening Creek once again—but this time via a culvert. At about 2.0 miles you’ll come to your first sweeping viewpoint (el. 3,000 feet).

Stare straight across the White River Valley to conical Sun Top guarding the south side of the Huckleberry Creek Valley. Big, beautiful Mount Rainier looms in the background over a ridge of patchwork cuts. To the south hovering over the viewpoint is a blocky peak of the long Dalles Ridge. Now continue a little farther along and watch Slide Mountain and Brown Peak come into view.

This spot makes for a great lounging and turning around spot if you’ve had enough climbing for the day. Otherwise continue up the road to even better viewing areas. At about 2.2 miles you’ll skirt beneath a large talus slope. Except for periods of heavy snowfall, the threat of avalanches here is minimal. Just a little farther a spur road leads right into the talus. Stay on the main route and enter old growth forest. Here beneath a thick canopy that regulates for a much lighter snowpack on the forest floor, elk often seek shelter. Aside from signs of elk, look for cougar tracks too as they are fond of this big deer.

At 2.7 miles reach another sweeping viewpoint (el. 3500 feet). Sun Top and Rainier still dominate the horizon west, but from this spot the excellent viewing is north down the White River Valley. Trace the river to its bend at Greenwater beneath long ridges sporting white and green patches. This spot should satisfy your scenery cravings, but if you want to continue farther, carry on.

At about 3.2 miles the way travels a short distance below an open slope that could be prone to avalanches, so only proceed if conditions are safe and stable. The way then reenters old growth forest and crosses pretty Boundary Creek. At 4.1 miles the road reaches an elevation just shy of 4,000 feet beneath a series of small sunny ledges. The viewing here is also good with the Clearwater Wilderness peaks now revealed and an added bonus of  being able to look back at all of the terrain you just trekked up.

This is a good spot to turn around. Beyond this point the road descends a bit to wrap around Dalles Ridge before cresting it and climbing higher. There are more views—lots more views ahead, but the long distance required to get to them is better covered by skis. Start heading down now keeping eyes and ears primed for some possible elk viewing.

For snow free hiking in Western Washington, pick up a copy of my Winter Hikes of Western Washington Card Deck(Mountaineers Books)! It features 50 of the finest snow free trails from the Columbia River Gorge to the British Columbia border.

Get your copy today!


For information on where to stay and on other things to do near Sun Top, check out Northwest TripFinder


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