| Hidden Lake Peaks, North Cascades
Location: North Cascades region of Washington state, right on the border of North Cascades National Park; the trailhead is about 2 hours from Bellingham or 2.5 to 3 hours from Seattle
Summit Elevations: lookout (south summit) is 6,890’ and the true summit (north summit) is 7,088’
Round-trip Distance (both summits): 10 miles
Total Elevation Gain (both summits): 3,800 feet
*You can click to enlarge most of the photos in this trip report; the pans look best at full size
Sometimes you do a hike where everything just seems to coalesce into an amazing experience. It’s the kind of hike that offers a nice variety of terrain, a challenging amount of distance and gain, some spectacular views, amazing weather, and great company with which to share it all. Our hike up to Hidden Lake Peaks on Sept. 30 was one such hike.
I’ve done some 5-star-rated hikes in Washington state, but I really feel like this one should be a 6. It’s that good.
Beyond its incredible beauty, this hike has two uncommon-for-Washington attributes: Half of the trail is above treeline and (assuming you do both summits) it features a good mile or so of fun scampering and scrambling on solid, grippy rock. And even though you'll spend more time in an alpine wonderland on this hike than most others in Washington, you'll wish it lasted longer.
Adding to the special, ephemeral nature of this hike, there’s only a small window of time to climb these peaks snow-free, which is typically from mid-August through mid-October. While it can be done other times of the year, it requires technical equipment, as there are some sketchy snow/ice crossings that run out over cliffs, and the approach route is in a high avalanche area.
As soon as we popped out of the damp forest, the low-angled morning sun created some dramatic views on the rocky outcrops at the head of the gully:
Meanwhile, fall colors raged on the ground:
The views of the peaks across the valley behind us were incredible. And just when I thought the views couldn’t get any better, they did. And they just continued to improve exponentially the higher we climbed.
Somewhere along the way we finally noticed the old fire lookout, which appeared to be unattainable on top of a large spire. You can barely see it, upper-left, in the following photo.
Snowking Mountain looked like it was slathered in vanilla frosting:
After gaining the saddle between the two Hidden Lake Peaks, we followed the narrow trail up the steep slope to the lookout (hikers are circled in the following photo).
The trail was only a foot or two wide in some sections, with loose dirt and gravel to contend with, so we had to step carefully, but none of it was overly difficult.
Two and a half hours after starting this hike, we made it to the south summit, and we were greeted by jaw-dropping views in every direction:
Glacier Peak and the Buckindy Group:
Zoomed-in shot of Glacier Peak:
The bolted-down fire lookout cabin is precariously perched prominently above the valley floor. The photo doesn’t do the elevation difference justice, so here are some numbers to wrap your mind around: The elevation of the valley floor directly below (on the right side of the following photo) is about 1,100’ and the lookout is at 6,890’, and we weren’t even on the tallest peak in the area. Nearby Eldorado Peak is almost 2,000 feet higher.
The cabin sleeps about four, on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Summit pan to the east:
In the following photo you can see white smoke in the distance from the massive Table Mountain wildfire, which as of writing this, has grown to more than 60 square miles and it’s only 55 percent contained (Spider Mountain and Mt. Formidable on the left):
Here’s another summit pan – Left to Right: North Hidden Lake Peaks (our next destination), Eldorado Peak (8,876’), Forbidden Peak, Boston and Sahale, Johannesburg Mountain, and Hidden Lake in the foreground, with Cascade Pass just around the bend and out of view:
Pan to the north, with the serrated Rivalry Ridge in the foreground and the Picket Range top-center:
Two people on the true/north summit of Hidden Lake Peaks (our next destination), with Eldorado Peak in the background:
Hiking back down to the saddle:
Mount Baker’s southeast side:
Our rough route up the ridge from the saddle (fun and easy class 2 and 3, with some exposure, most of which could be avoided by traversing across talus slopes or snow):
Here’s another photo of the ridge, taken near the saddle:
For the most part, we stayed on the crest of the ridge and thoroughly enjoyed the solid-rock scrambling, which is a rarity in Washington:
Amazingly, the views from the north summit were even better than the south summit.
There was even a summit boulder to scramble up:
South/lookout summit viewed from the north/true summit:
Eldorado, Formidable, Boston & Sahale from the north summit:
After soaking in the spectacular, 360-degree views through crystal-clear skies for a good amount of time, we scrambled back down the ridge with a friendly family of three.
Here’s a shot of the south summit from the ridge (the lookout is on top, just out of view, and if you enlarge the image you can see the trail switchbacking up the left side):
On our hike back down, we were treated to more sights that we didn’t really notice on the way up, such as some of the darkest and most widespread watermelon snow I have ever seen:
And we came across this neat little tarn:
In the two years Jen and I have lived in Washington, we’ve done many amazing hikes and climbs in the North Cascades region. But this one easily ranks up there with my favorites. It really blew me away.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):