By Howard Voland
Photos by Howard Voland
The Stevens Pass Highway is gateway to a wonderland of hiking opportunities with many trailheads just a short way off the highway. Here are several favorites, ranging from easy ones suitable for wheelchairs and strollers to the considerably more challenging.
Before You Go: High country hiking is usually a bit more than a walk in the woods, so it pays to take a little time for planning. Start by checking the weather forecast and current trail conditions.
Most of these trails lie within the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Current trail conditions and other information can be found at their website, http://www.fs.usda.gov/main/mbs/home, or call them at (360) 677-2414.
Excellent additional information, along with current trip reports, can be found at the Washington Trail Association (WTA) website at http://www.wta.org/.
What to pack really comes down to trail condition, length, popularity of the hike, weather, special needs (e.g. kids), and taking into account the unexpected—cell phone coverage is spotty, weather can change quickly, and accidents happen.
The “essentials” of safe hiking generally include appropriate footwear and clothing, lots and lots of water, extra food, extra clothing including rain gear, sun protection including sunglasses, a first aid kit, a knife, a way to make a fire in the rain, a map and compass (GPS doesn’t always work in the trees), a flashlight with extra batteries, and insect repellent during bug season.
Finally, most trailheads on public land now require some kind of pass or permit for parking. For all of these hikes, except one trailhead as noted, a National Forest Recreation Pass will be needed. Day passes are $5 per vehicle and are sometimes available at the more popular trailheads. More information is on the National Forest Website.
These trails are all hiker-only trails and dogs must be leashed at all times. Except for the Iron Goat trail, group size is limited to twelve. They may also require a self-issue permit. If so, it will be provided at the trailhead. Also check trailhead notice boards for any additional information such as bear sightings.
The Iron Goat Trail: This popular trail system offers more options and interest for hikers than any other trail along the Stevens
Pass Highway. It generally follows the old Great Northern Railroad grade, which was abandoned when the new Cascade Tunnel was opened in 1929. The full trail is 8.6 miles one-way, gaining 1,000 feet in elevation between Scenic and Wellington.
It has interpretive signs, maps, tunnels (don’t go in), collapsed snow sheds, an impressive spillway, many artifacts, and then goes through a half-mile concrete snow shed at the Wellington end, which is the site of the 1910 Wellington Disaster where two trains were swept down the mountain by a massive avalanche. More information is available at http://www.irongoat.org/.
Iron Goat Interpretive Site: The Iron Goat Trail system can be accessed from three trailheads, all with restroom facilities. The easiest trailhead to find is at Scenic. At milepost 58.3, turn north onto the Old Cascade Highway (FS Road 67) and then take an immediate right into the Iron Goat Interpretive Site and trailhead, which does not require a recreation pass to park.
On your way home, make sure you drive the full length of the Old Cascade Highway bypass, which is only three miles and well worth the short drive.
Two trails leave from the interpretive site. One is a crossover trail that climbs 700 feet in a mile in a series of steep switchbacks to the upper grade and the Windy Point Overlook, which has a spectacular view east toward Stevens Pass and the west portal of new Cascade Tunnel.
The second trail follows the lower grade west, climbing gently to the Martin Creek Trailhead in less than three miles while gradually gaining 350 feet in elevation. This trail is five-feet wide and suitable for wheelchairs and strollers.
Martin Creek Trailhead: At Martin Creek, the trail crosses over to the upper grade, bypassing the site of the old, massive horseshoe trestle, and turns back toward the Windy Point Overlook. This part of the trail is not suitable for wheelchairs.
This trail section is three miles long, gaining another 350 feet in elevation by
the time it reaches Windy Point, 700 feet above the interpretive site. Taking the crossover trail here back down to the interpretive site makes for a six-mile loop hike.
From Windy Point the trail continues on to the Wellington trailhead gaining another 300 feet in less than three miles.
To reach the Martin Creek Trailhead, turn north onto the Old Cascade Highway at milepost 55. Drive about two miles to FS Road 6710, turn north on it and continue to the parking lot in less than two miles.
Wellington Trailhead: To reach the Wellington Trailhead, drive to Stevens Pass, turn around and head west to milepost 64.4, just west of the summit. Turn north onto the Old Stevens Pass Highway and follow it for almost three miles to the junction with FS Road 50. Turn right and find the trailhead parking lot in a short distance.
The first part the trail coming from the Wellington Trailhead going to the Disaster Overlook, about a quarter of a mile, is wheelchair accessible. The Wellington Trailhead also offers access to town site artifacts and the west portal of the old Cascade Tunnel, which is not safe to enter.
Deception Creek Trail: This trail is a lovely “walk in the woods” into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness through mature growth forest—this area was burned in 1668 but was never logged.
The trail reaches its first junction with another trail in about five miles and ultimately reaches the Pacific Crest Trail, but for the day hiker this is trail with no destination—hike as long as you want and then turn back. Elevation gain is gradual and the trail not crowded.
Find the trailhead just after the Deception Falls Rest Stop. Turn south at milepost 56.6 onto the Deception Creek Road (FS Road 6088). Continue one mile to the trailhead.
Tunnel Creek Trail: The Tunnel Creek Trail is a quick connection to the Pacific Crest Trail south of Stevens Pass without having to deal with hiking through the ski area. In a challenging mile-and-a-half it climbs 1200 feet to join the Pacific Crest Trail at Hope Lake.
Continue north on the PCT and climb another 200-feet to Mig Lake with its surrounding meadows noted for berry picking in the fall. Head south on the PCT for great views as you cross a south facing slope, reaching the Trap Lake Trail junction about five miles from the trailhead.
Beyond is Trap Pass, after which the PCT descends to Surprise Lake, which is also accessible from the Surprise Creek trailhead at Scenic. The Surprise Creek Trail is a demanding one, about four miles from Scenic, one-way, and gaining more than 2,000 feet.
To find the Tunnel Creek Trailhead, look for Tunnel Creek Road (FS Road 6095) on the right immediately after the big horseshoe turn that starts the final ascent toward Stevens Pass. It is just over 13 miles east of Skykomish. Stay left on FS 6095 and find the trailhead in about a mile-and-a-half.
Surprise Creek Trailhead: Turn south at milepost 58.7 onto an unmarked road to the service center for Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway at Scenic. Cross the railroad tracks, turn onto the spur road on the far right, and continue for a quarter mile to the trailhead.
Howard Voland draws upon sixty years of experience in the greater Skykomish Valley area. You can reach him through www.ravenwriters.com.