From a crowded trailhead just off Interstate 90, butt-kicker climb to summit thins out the tenderfoot hikers.
Hike of the week: Bandera Mountain
The trail up Bandera Mountain, starting out on a stretch of the Ira Spring Trail, is one of the best summer hikes on the Interstate 90 corridor, within an hour’s drive from Seattle. Bandera looks to be just as crowded as any weekend hike on the Issaquah Alps. But here’s the difference: The last half-mile is punishing enough that if you persevere and make it near the top, you might have the sweeping view pretty much all to yourself.
On a recent Saturday, 228 cars were parked near the trailhead at 10:30 a.m., but only 10 hikers made it within 100 yards of the summit during the hour I hung out there.
Don’t let the crowd at the parking lot and around the trailhead get you down. Some are headed to Mason Lake or Mount Defiance.
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Facilities: Kiosk with detailed map; portable toilet. When the parking lot is full, cars park along the shoulders of the road. Pay attention to the “No Parking” signs to avoid being towed.
The hike: The trail (8 miles round-trip, with about 3,400 feet elevation gain) is flat to start, with a footbridge over Mason Creek and a view of McClellan Butte at .6 mile.
You’ll appreciate this rest stop on the way back; it’s where the weary plunge their sore feet in the cold water or soak their bandannas to wash their faces.
The hike seems easy enough along this old logging road, with the path wide and lined with hemlocks, alders and big-leaf maples to shield you from the sun. There are views of Mount Rainier between the evergreens on the south side of the trail.
The moderate hike becomes a butt-kicker after 1.5 miles. You zigzag up through two switchbacks and hike above the tree line. You’re now under the beating sun in alpine meadows and hiking up, around and over rocks and boulders, sometimes hiking hands-to-ground.
Washington Trails Association reports you’re “gaining one foot of elevation for every two feet.”
The trail flattens out once you’ve reached the forest and continues along the ridgeline. You don’t need to summit to get views. In fact, the best views are a couple hundred yards below the peak, where you can see Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, Mount Baker, Glacier Peak and a bird’s-eye view of alpine lakes.
Restrictions: Dogs on leash. Northwest Forest Pass required for parking.
Directions: Take Interstate 90 east to Exit 45. Go north and turn left under the freeway onto Forest Road 9030. At the “Y” stay left onto Forest Road 9031 (Mason Lake Road). Continue for 3.2 miles to parking lot at the end of the road.
More info: Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest at 425-888-1421 or fs.fed.us
(search for “Bandera”).