by John D’Onofrio
With the string of warm, sun-drenched days that we’ve been enjoying this month, the snow in the mountains is melting fast. If you’ve been itchin’ to get out on the trail, wait no longer! Here are some choice hiking options that you can enjoy right now.
Sauk Mountain: Virtually snow-free to the top of the ridge, this trail is always an early season favorite. The views are exquisite starting right at the trailhead and wildflowers are blooming, making this short climb (26 switchbacks, but who’s counting?) a sensory delight. On top there’s still lots of snow but those equipped with an ice axe can reach the old lookout site without undue difficulty. Sauk Mountain is popular, so go in mid-week or start early (or better yet, late – the better to enjoy the lingering late light at this time of year). On these clear days, you’ll have sensational views of Baker, the Sisters, the San Juan Islands, and even Rainier!
From the Mt. Baker Ranger District office in Sedro-Woolley, follow State Route 20 east for 32 miles. At milepost 96, near the boundary of Rockport State Park, turn left on the Sauk Mountain Road (FS road 1030) and go seven miles to the junction of FS road 1036. Turn right on FS road 1036 and follow to the road’s end.
Cascade Pass: The Cascade River Road is open and most of the snow is gone from the wondrous trail to Cascade Pass. Typical for this time of year, there are two 100′ snow patches that must be crossed just below the pass proper. Trekking poles will come in handy here. Views from the pass are sublime and the trail itself is a delight. Elevation gain is approximately 1800 feet but the grade never gets particularly steep. There are a few downed trees along the way but getting past them is not a problem.
Take the North Cascades Highway (State Route 20) to Marblemount and cross the Skagit River on the Cascade River Road. It’s a long 23 miles (about half paved) to the end of the road at the Cascade Pass trailhead.
Maple Pass/Heather Pass
A seven-mile loop hike with great views all along the way. Hike this one counter-clockwise, passing lovely Lake Ann after 1.3 miles and climbing up to Heather Pass, 6200 feet. The distance to the pass is around 2.3 miles and will take you an hour – or more, if you stop to smell the flowers or visit the lake. Above here, you’ll encounter patchy snow but the views just get better and better. Bring your trekking poles and wear your gaitors. If the snow seems problematic for you, turn around at Heather Pass and retrace your steps. The views south to Glacier Peak and its entourage of jagged mountains will elevate your spirit!
From Winthrop drive State Route 20 west about 35 miles to Rainy Pass rest area. The trail begins 0.25 mile east of the parking lot.
Most of the snow is gone from this south-facing trail, although there are still patches at the upper limit of the trees. Also expect some mud and some downed trees. A small price to pay for the beautiful vantage point that welcomes you when you reach the old lookout site. Views of Baker, Shuksan and the under-appreciated – but truly elegant – Mt. Sefrit.
From Glacier, travel east on The Mt. Baker Highway SR 542 12.5 miles from the Glacier Public Service Center. Turn left on Hannegan Pass Road #32. Follow Road #32 for 2.1 miles to the trailhead. There are two parking areas, one on the left (north) side of the road just before the trailhead, and one near the vault toilet on the right (south) side of the road just after the trailhead.