While consumers these days are frustrated over skyrocketing prices, backpackers who do business in the Glacier Peak area are not prone to sticker shock. They know the price of admission has always been high.
Glacier Peak — all 10,544 feet of it — can be unapproachable in this region of the Cascades that has a wilderness feel. Paved roads and manageable hiking trails bring one closer to two of the state’s other volcanic giants, Mount Rainier and Mount Baker.
Glacier? She keeps you at a distance.
Want to get up close and personal with the state’s fourth-highest peak? Prepare to pay the price in sweat and hiking time.
A trip to picturesque Image Lake via Miners Ridge puts you right in front of Glacier’s face. That route — normally nearly 32 miles round-trip with an elevation gain of 4,400 feet — is not even an option this summer. The Suiattle River Road and trail are closed, and aren’t scheduled to open until October.
One popular alternative, an approach via Buck Pass, adds 4 miles each way.
“I appreciate that Glacier Peak requires work for a view and it makes her quite different than her showoff sister, Mount Baker,” said Matthew Riggen, visitor information and field ranger for the Darrington Ranger District.
“Personally, I find those ‘lots of elevation gain’ hikes — that sometimes even start at the valley floor — challenge not only strength, but even more so my patience and persistence,” Riggen said. “But the reward is a feeling of well-earned accomplishment that makes the views just that much more satisfying.”
The following five shorter hikes in the Glacier Peak area should be on your bucket list. Some offer views of this remote mountain. The others, well, they’re just great hikes.
High point: 3,161 feet
Elevation gain: 1,280 feet
Round-trip distance: 10 miles
This hike’s suitable for old goats as well as kids. Pay no attention to the mileage. The elevation gain is mild.
Cruising down the twisting trail, take in the beautiful scenery, including tumbling Elliott Creek; mammoth, old-growth cedar trees; and decomposing stumps still bearing the marks of notches for springboards that held loggers to cut trees with crosscut saws.
The first portion of the lower trail follows a gentle incline along Elliott Creek, then flattens out for a long stretch along an abandoned wagon road. At the 4.5-mile mark, there used to be a bridge across the creek to an old mining settlement. Continue ahead up a steep climb over a tree-rooted path to the lake.
Take your time by the lakeshore, gazing out over the blue-green waters and up to 6,810-foot Foggy Peak. On a hot day, go for a swim.
Is Goat Lake the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time)? No. But there’s a reason why it’s so popular.
Lost Creek Ridge
High point: 5,600 feet
Elevation gain: 3,800 feet
Round-trip distance (to Round Lake): 10 miles
Get lost in the beauty. Lost Creek Ridge is arguably one of the more memorable high-country trails in the Glacier Peak region. It can be a day-hike destination — quite an elevation gain for one day — or an extended backpack trip, depending on how far you want to go. Either way, prepare to climb.
A series of switchbacks over 2,500 feet of vertical gain brings you to Bingley Gap, roughly the 3-mile mark. This is where the fun begins.
The trail continues along the ridge and through meadows and a 5,600-foot saddle overlooking Round Lake. Day-trippers can stop here for lunch. If you’re looking to camp, it’s a 500-foot descent to the lake.
Beyond, the possibilities are endless. Ridge-runners looking for more adventure will continue to Sunup Lake and Hardtack Lake. The rough, up-and-down trail continues all the way to beautiful Lake Byrne. If you reach this point, you’re looking at a round-trip distance of 24 miles.
High point: 2,800 feet
Elevation gain: 700 feet
Round-trip distance: 8 miles
Whether you’re a history buff or you just want a hike that’s not too challenging, you can’t go wrong exploring this historical mining town.
Even the starting point is easy to reach. The trailhead and parking lot are where the pavement of the Mountain Loop Highway ends, at Barlow Pass. The trail follows a route taken by miners more than a century ago, and more recently, a gravel road that has been closed for decades.
At the 4-mile mark, a pedestrian bridge over the Sauk River marks the entrance to the old town that was teeming with activity in the early 1900s. Explore remnants of an old railway turntable and foundations for what used to hold hotels, a powerhouse, an ore-processing plant and weatherworn, ancient-looking wood buildings in various stages of collapse.
High point: 2,400 feet
Elevation gain: 1,350 feet
Round-trip distance: 5.4 miles
Nestled on the northern shoulder of Mount Pilchuck, this relatively short hike to Lake 22 with the curious name offers a nice blend of wetlands, old-growth forest and mountain views.
A little past the halfway mark, the trail leaves the forest and climbs a talus slope, offering views of Whitehorse Mountain and Three Fingers. Cross the bridge over the outlet, and you’ve arrived.
Take a deep breath and admire the waterfalls streaming down Pilchuck’s face.
High point: 5,327 feet
Elevation gain: 2,300 feet
Round-trip distance: 5.4 miles
A day hike and a mountain truly set apart.
It’s almost cheating that you can drive to the beginning of the hike at 3,000 feet. You can thank the ski industry for that. For 27 years, Mount Pilchuck was the site of a ski resort.
That leaves you with only 2.7 miles of climbing to the top of the historical fire lookout. Glacier Peak is directly to the east. On the clearest of days, you can see Mount Baker, Mount Rainier, the Seattle skyline, Everett, and Whidbey and Camano islands.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story included Green Mountain, which will be unreachable via Suiattle River Road effective Sept. 1 due to fire activity.