Some of the most stunning hikes in the North Cascades are only available for a limited time each year. The Cascade River road provides access to a number of these 'short season' Premier hikes.
The winter of 2010/2011 provided lots of snow and even more cooler temperatures - much later into spring than what we've seen for quite a while. Basically, the favorite & best hikes were still snow bound well into August this year.
Another factor necessary for enjoying some of these hikes are the fact that you'll want to have fantastic weather - because these hikes are all about the scenery.
Throw in the fact that my trail days are generally scheduled well in advance, it's always a gamble whether or not I'll get to enjoy ANY of the premier hikes in any given year.
My hike date scheduled for 9-5-11 provided the perfect formula for a nearly perfet day on the trail - one of the best day hike trails avaialble in the North Cascades: Hidden Lake Lookout.
Steve G. and I had arranged for an 8am departure from Mount Vernon - unsure at that point whether we'd hike to Cascade Pass or try Hidden Lake Lookout (HLLO).
Unbeknownst to us, the France's were also planning a hike for Sept. 5th. Stars fell into alignment and we decided to head up to HLLO as a group. That turned out to be a grand idea for a number of reasons.
First of all, it was a whole lot of fun and second of all, there is very limited parking at the trail head. It can be a real problem when the weather is so perfect!
The trail is pretty evident, but the first mile or so through the forest of Silver Firs and Hemlocks is pretty rocky and rooty. At the time of our visit there were two or three sections with trees across the trail. We were able to climb over/around/under two of them, but the third one has a makeshift trail re-route that basically cuts off a switchback.
Just when you start to ponder how much elevation you've already gained, Mother Nature distracts you by plopping you out into the bottom of a classic North Cascade alpine meadow.
Cross a creek and the flower show (and accompanying insect infestation) begins... and continues. So much, but no where near too much.
Astounding views are enjoyed at the bottom of the meadow. You may feel grateful and thankful and satisfied that you can enjoy these splendid views... but honestly - this is NOT the time to call it a day. Seriously, the views continue to get better and better as you ascend higher and higher. It's just unbelievable how much MORE you can see if you just keep going a little higher. Virtually every turn brings new sights into view.
Let me show you...
Here comes Mount Baker:
You might have enjoyed those pictures, but you might also be asking yourself "Is that it?"
No, that's not it. That's just the bottom of the meadow pictures.
We continued hiking up the slightly bushy trail (but the way is always obvious), enjoying the flower show and eventually watching out for the less friendly plant life.
***Guess you'll have to watch the video - I didn't upload the flower pics. FWIW, they look like flowers. Colorful ones, too.***
Eventually we emerged from the chest high brush and carefully traversed a few snowfields, had lunch, took a lot of pictures, made a video and finally hiked up to the 6,000' mark to our first view of the Lookout.
We then did the whole thing in reverse (but walking forward, duh).
Our GPS Tracks:
The GPS Elevation Profile:
Hidden Lake Lookout trail is located by taking Hwy 20 to Marblemount, then following the Cascade River Road for about 10 miles before turning left onto Sibley Creek Road (signed as Hidden Lake Lookout trail) and following it 5 miles to the end of the road, and the trail head.
There were passenger cars at the trail head - but I wouldn't have taken my passenger car up the last five miles. There are a few large washboard dips on the inside of some tight corners, large rocks here and there and the tire tracks are uneven in some areas. Low clearance cars: be super careful! Also, the road is narrow in spots making passing quite dramatic, if not impossible.
Restroom facilities at the trail head are of the "find a tree" variety.
The hike, all the way to the Lookout, is repoted to be about 4.5 miles (one way) and 3,500 feet of elevation gain. Snowfields commonly linger through out the summer, but most are pretty short crossings without too much risk... so I've read.
Two big thumbs up for this trail! Can't wait to go back and visit the lookout!