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.

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

 Day Hiking North Cascades Book.

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