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!

Ashland Lakes─old growth forest serenity

Quick Facts:

Location: Mountain Loop Highway

Land Agency: National Forest Service

Roundtrip: 5.5 miles

Elevation Gain: 800 feet

Green Trails Map: Mountain Loop Highway no. 111SX

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

Access: From Granite Falls follow the Mountain Loop Highway east to the Verlot Visitors Center. Proceed for 4.6 more miles turning right onto FR 4020. Follow this rough gravel road for 2.7 miles bearing right onto FR 4021. Continue 1.4 bumpy miles, turning left onto Spur 016 reaching the trailhead in 0.2 mile. High clearance vehicles recommended.

Notes: Discover Pass required.

Good to Know: dog-friendly, kid-friendly, backpacking possibilities, solitude; exceptional old-growth

With the extremely popular Lake 22 and Heather Lake nearby, the forested Ashland Lakes are oft overlooked by area hikers. While not as dramatic as Heather and 22, the Ashland Lakes are not nearly as crowded, offering a much more serene and wild destination. And the Ashlands often are snow free earlier in the spring and later in the fall offering a good hiking choice when nearby lakes are buried in white.

Set in a primeval forest within the shadows of Mount Pilchuck, the Ashland Lakes are part of a 9,600-acre Natural Resource Conservation Area (NRCA) administered by the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Due to thier location within a major convergence zone, the Morning Star NRCA is among the wettest regions in the Cascades, receiving between 100 and 180 inches of annual precipitation. Consequently, because of heavy snowfall, the area supports an abundance of plants and ecological zones more common to surrounding areas at higher elevations.

Start by hiking along on an old logging road. Traverse bog and former ancient forest and after about a half mile, cross a tannic creek on a sturdy bridge. At about 1.2 miles, leave the old road for real trail and enter old forest. Now utilizing boardwalks, and sturdy puncheon, the trail winds through a saturated forest floor.  After gently ascending a low ridge take some time to admire the surrounding old growth giants.

At 1.6 miles reach a junction. The trail left heads .1 mile to little Beaver Plant Lake, a wetland of sphagnum and peat bog. While appreciating this intricate ecosystem, contemplate what a Beaver Plant may be (a factory that builds rodents or a tree that blossoms them?). Walk out on the boardwalk leading to the lake’s marshy shoreline. Nice campsites can be found here if you’re inclined to spend the night.

A quarter mile beyond the Beaver Plant spur, crest a 3,000-foot divide and reach another junction. The unmaintained and difficult to follow trail left heads to Bald Mountain. Head right instead for a gentle .25 mile to Upper Ashland Lake. The trail hugs the lake’s shore on sturdy boardwalks. A couple of tent platforms along the way make nice sunny napping and lunch spots.The trail continues passing more campsites near the lake’s outlet. Continue on it to the Lower Lake, losing 200 feet of elevation in .5 mile.  Flanked by cliffs and talus, the lower lake sits in a more rugged setting than the upper lake. There are some great campsites here, too. Be sure to cross the lake’s outlet to a beautiful spot right on the lake.

Intrepid hikers can follow the rough in spot trail to the dramatic Twin Falls. This trail drops 500 feet in 1.4 miles ending between the two falls. It’s a rather dramatic location.

For information on lodging and other attractions near the Ashland Lakes, visit


For more detailed information on this and many other hikes along the Mountain Loop Highway, consult my best-selling Day Hiking North Cascades (Mountaineers Books).0486

Lake Evan and Boardman Lake–Enjoy an easy hike to two family friendly lakes


Early season at Boardman Lake.

Quick Facts:

Location: Mountain Loop Highway near Granite Falls

Land Agency: Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Roundtrip: 2.0 miles

Elevation gain: 300 feet

Difficulty: easy (with some rough footing)

Green Trails Map: Mountain Loop Highway 111SX

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

Access: From Granite Falls, follow the Mountain Loop Highway east to the Verlot Visitors Center. Continue for 4.7 more miles, turning right onto graveled FR 4020. Proceed for 4.9 miles to trailhead.

Notes: NW Forest or Interagency Pass required

Good to know: kid-friendly, dog-friendly



Lake Evan

Scattered beneath a series of rugged cirques and cliffs on the north face of Bald Mountain are a handful of delightful backcountry lakes. Ranging in size and scenic splendor, several remain tucked away far from trails and roads making them destinations for intrepid travelers only. Others however lie merely a mile or two away by trail. And still others, like Lake Evan are only a mere sprint from the trailhead.

While it’ll take most hikers a mere thirty minutes to reach both lakes, allow yourself a good half-day to fully enjoy and appreciate this area. Boardman is an ideal place for introducing children to the wonders of nature. Its shimmering waters invite lounging, feet-soaking, and during the dog days of summer, perhaps even a quick dip.

The trail itself will captivate young minds. Gargantuan ancient cedars lining the way will keep heads cocked upward in a constant state of bewilderment. But be sure to watch the trail! While generally well-groomed, a few roots and rocks may stagger your pace.


Boardman Lake from its outlet

Start your hike in a grove of gargantuan cedars. Then, within mere minutes reach little Lake Evan. Children may be inclined to want to loiter along the forested and marshy shore, but Boardman promises much better diversions. Continue hiking under a canopy centuries old. After making one small climb around an area of ledge, arrive at the attractive basin housing Boardman Lake. Surrounded by timbered and rocky knolls, brushy talus slopes, and ancient forest; despite being a mere mile from a road, Boardman feels like it’s deep within the wilderness.

Cross the outlet creek on a log jam and head for shoreline sunning and fishing spots. A handful of tidy campsites perfect for neophyte backpackers occupy a forested bench on the lake’s eastern shore. Primitive paths hug the eastern and northern lakeshore but peter-out in brushy and marshy terrain. There are more lakes beyond, but you must be tenacious and experienced at off trail travel to reach them.  Instead, enjoy Boardman. It’s large enough to accommodate all of its guests.

 For information on lodging and other attractions near Lake Evan and Boardman Lake, visit www.snohomish.orgSnohomish-NEW

 For more detailed information on this hike and many others great hikes along the Mountain Loop Highway, consult my best selling Day Hiking North Cascades (Mountaineers Books); which consists of 125 hikes in all!0486


Old Sauk River Trail– Stroll along a Wild and Scenic River


The trail provides plenty of opportunities to view the Sauk River.

Quick Facts:

Location: Mountain Loop Highway near Darrington,

Land Agency: Mount Baker -Snoqualmie National Forest

Roundtrip: 6.0 miles

Elevation gain: 150 feet

Green Trails Maps: Mountain Loop Highway 111SX

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

Notes: Northwest Forest or Interagency Pass required

Access: Take Exit 208 off of I-5 following SR 530 east 32.0 miles east to Darrington. At stop sign, turn right onto the Mountain Loop Highway and proceed for 3.6 miles to trailhead.

Good to Know:  snow-free winter hike, dog-friendly, kid-friendly, bird-watching; ADA-accessible section


A major tributary to the Skagit River, the federally-protected Wild and Scenic Sauk River supports a wide array of wildlife and provides critical habitat for Puget Sound salmon. And like the Skagit, this important river also provides winter habitat for scores of bald eagles. The Old Sauk River Trail hugs the riverbank of this ecologically important and strikingly beautiful waterway for three nearly flat miles. And being at a low elevation, this trail is often snow-free and hikeable throughout the year. Spring time is especially enjoyable, with snow melt contributing to a roaring river and woodland flowers adding dabs of color to the emerald surroundings.


A hiker crosses on of the many sloughs along the way.

The trail begins in a thick stand of mature forest. Logged in the 1930s, many old-growth Douglas-fir trees still boldly stand here. After skirting alongside a slough, reach the Sauk. Behold its beauty and ever changing mood. In the wet fall and winter months, the river’s volume and current increases substantially occasionally jumping its bed to take away a piece of the trail. Dedicated volunteers have kept this trail in good shape, restoring and rerouting the tread when necessary.


The forest is impressive along this trail too.

Cross a bridge over a small creek and then hike alongside the churning Sauk River. Walk this way in springtime and be treated to brilliant displays of wildflowers. Thousands of trillium, dwarf dogwood, wood violet, twin flower, and star flower carpet the forest floor. Look for birds too—thrushes, wrens, jays, eagles and dippers.

At 1.9 miles reach a junction with the Old Sauk Interpretive Loop accessible trail. This delightful 1.3 mile loop is accessed from the Mountain Loop Highway 2.0 miles south of the trailhead you started from.  It’s perfect not only for wheelchairs but for young hikers and folks just looking for a shorter hiking option, too.

The Old Sauk River Trail continues south to another junction with the Interpretive Loop Trail. Veer left here and hike along another slough. Then cross a channel and traverse a grove of big trees. Cross another channel and come to a big riverside rock. The trail then leaves the raucous river to follow Murphy Creek through a tunnel of moss-draped maples and under a canopy of towering cottonwoods. At 3.0 miles reach the trail’s southern terminus on the Mountain Loop Highway. Now turn around and start hiking back to your vehicle enjoying this trail downriver.


For information on lodging and other attractions near The Old Sauk River Trail visit

For detailed information on this and other hikes along the Mountain Loop Highway, consult my best-selling  Day Hiking North Cascades guidebook.

For a great cup of coffee-good conversation-a hiking guidebook and a Green Trails Map, be sure to stop in at the Mountain Loop Books and Coffee shop in Darrington

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