Ranking: 4/5 A great weekend trip to be sure! Lots of open vistas and jagged peaks to fill your camera lens! The trail is well maintained, and a large portion of it is along the PCT, so the path is easy to follow. The best part about this hike is the seemingly always changing scenery, big mountain peaks to always look at, and most of the trail is out in the open, so the boredom factor of walking mile after mile through forest canopy has been alleviated on this hike! Truly one to recommend.
Difficulty: 6/10 The only reason for this rating, is because of the mileage to get there. Its right at 11 miles to get there, and the way off the PCT up to Snowy Lakes, is not well marked, but it is obvious if you’re paying attention. Also, that last little trail that leads up to the lakes isn’t in the best condition, either. There are a few campsites available at the lakes, but they tend to be out in the open, so if there is a wind blowing, (which does tend to happen often here), you will be exposed.
Getting there: Drive to the town of Winthrop on State Route 20, then continue west on State Route 20 for about 28 miles (or 1.5 miles west of Lone Fir Campground). Turn right on Forest Service Road 400 and follow for 1 mile to the trailhead.
Permits: A recreation pass is required. (A $5/vehicle/day Northwest Forest Pass can be purchased from a self-pay station provided at the trailhead).
Maps: Green Trails #50, Washington Pass, or create your own using TOPO maps. Also, additional info can be gleaned here: http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/okawen/recreation/hiking/recarea/?recid=59177&actid=51
Snowy Lakes GPS Data pending
Another foray into the far north, the Snowy Lakes are located in the North Cascades Scenic Highway corridor, Mt. Baker Snoqualmie Forest section. I know, it’s a mouthful, and it’s just east of the boundary of the North Cascades Natl. Park. The Trailhead starts in the Okanogan Natl. Forest lands, at Cutthroat Lake TH.
To start, we leave my house with Greg, Brian and I on board. It’s another long drive, and our plan is to spend the first night at Lone Fir CG, as it’s very close to our trailhead. We’re a little concerned about fires, as the area around Lake Chelan was doing its best impression of Dante’s inferno. And, to top it off, there was forecasted to be more thunderstorms for Friday, the cause of most of the fires already smoking in eastern Washington.
Sure enough, as we drop down from Washington Pass on SR20, the smoke is thick, and as we drive by FSR 400, we’re dismayed to see the white trucks of fire fighters sitting at the entrance…Uh, oh…We sure hope they don’t have the access to our trailhead blocked, otherwise, this was one heck of a long drive to go camping for a night…
We find a nice place away from the road at Lone Fir, and overall impressions are we like this place, the road noise is barely discernable, and it seems quiet with nice facilities. Many of the spots, too, are nice with picnic tables and fire rings, but of course, this area has already had its fill of fires, so those are banned for the season.
“…From the street, it looks like it might hold 5 people, very small, almost like an expresso stand…”
Wanting to fight off the hunger pains that are now making themselves apparent, we drive about 26 miles into Winthrop, a cool little burg at the confluence of the Methow and Chewuch Rivers. It has a western theme, which works well for it, and the old section of town just across the bridge is a great place to walk the boardwalks and look at the tourist traps and food to eat. It’s at one of these places that we choose to dine, and it’s called the Old Schoolhouse Brewery. From the street, it looks like it might hold 5 people, very small, almost like an expresso stand. But, once you walk it, it goes deep, and has a nice outdoor patio on the river’s bank. We choose to sit outside, and as soon as we step out onto the patio, the clouds drop a warning drop or two of moisture from the thick black gathering overhead…
Since there’s only a few tables here with umbrellas and most of those are already taken, we find a table for 3 under the lean-to over the stage, where the bands that play here must set up. At first, I’m thinking the umbrellas are more for protection from the sun, as its now 92 degrees outside.
Within minutes of grabbing the last spot under shelter, the wind kicks up, and then the downpour starts. Now, it’s raining sideways with the wind, heralded by booming thunder and lightning, leaves blowing about mingled with dust. To top it all off, some of that rain seems a little on the frozen side, and indeed, its 90 degrees out and hailing!
“…Like he was sitting under calm, sunny sky in the middle 70’s with no audience…”
And then we see it… When the frenzy of weather started, most everyone headed for shelter, save one. A lonely guy, sitting there in the middle of the maelstrom with dust, rain, leaves, and even a few small branches swirling around, huddled under his little umbrella that now serves more than a protection from sun, but pelting rain. Not skipping a beat, he continues to munch on his fries with his head down, methodically eating one after the other in no particular hurry. Like he was sitting under calm, sunny sky in the middle 70’s with no audience… No real concern on his face, just chain eating his fries. Soon, the water began to drip in a stream off the overmatched umbrella and head for his beer. No problem, he just reached over, cupped his hand over the top of the glass to protect it, and kept working on those tasty fries…
The dilemma reared its ugly head, though, when he went to move his hand to grab the beer and water dripped into the now unprotected glass. One sip and he decided better of sitting there any longer, picked up his beloved fries and beer and made a beeline for cover, looking like a mamma goose trying to protect her goslings under her wing…Classic!
Finally, the wacky weather subsided, and we were able to eat our delicious burgers in relative calm. Even the French Fry Guy returned…We ask the waitress if she knows anything about the fire crews stationed at the entrance to Cutthroat Creek, and she says that she thinks it’s because of a fire that had started on the opposite ridge from Cutthroat Lake, but just in case we call the ranger station, and she was correct. The ranger said the trailhead was open, but just be careful as there were supposed to be further thundershowers tonight. Well, that’s a relief to know that we didn’t drive over here for nothing…
Highly recommend the place, the guacamole burgers were culinary masterpieces! You may not get the same show we got, but it’s still worth it.
“…Really? Curb your light pollution, man!”
After dinner, we wander the boardwalk streets of Old town Winthrop and find some shakes to wash down our burgers before heading back to camp. During the night, we had to listen to rain, although not as insistent as it was back in town, but still, a pelting until around 1:00am. How do I know it was before 2? Well, because our new neighbors across the road showed up at 2, and tried setting up camp with their headlamps, which they let carelessly wander over everyone’s tents in the area…Really? Curb your light pollution, man! People are making every attempt to sleep!