WENATCHEE — North Central Washington is well known as a hiker’s paradise. Many veteran hikers will tell you they moved here for the quiet scenery to be had from local trails that roll through basalt-rimmed sagebrush and Ponderosa pine forests to the west. Others flock here each fall to see the jagged mountains of the East Cascades turn brilliant red with vine and broadleaf maple, glimmering gold with larch and saskatoon. From Quincy’s high desert palisades to the snow-dwarfed pines of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, there are few areas in the country that offer so much contrast and natural diversity in so few miles.
Fall color may still be a month away, but local hikes into the hills now are a great way to escape late summer heat and take in some spectacular views while the days are still long.
The Wenatchee World asked a few trail experts to suggest their favorite hikes and then pared those down to a couple of lists that should appeal to occasional and veteran trekkers.
Okay, enough of those sissy hikes.
Here are five more hikes that will get you to the ridge tops for magnificent views, but they may cost you a few blisters and aching muscles. Get a good U.S. Forest Service map or check wenatcheeoutdoors.org for directions.
Enchantments thru hike: The classic fall hike of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. But don’t try this spectacular 20-mile grunt unless you’re a young, fit and experienced hiker. The 4.5-mile hike (one way) to Colchuck Lake on the way, however, will whet your appetite for more. You need a permit to camp at Colchuck or in the Enchantments before Oct. 15.
Windy Pass: This 8-mile one-way hike past Lake Caroline to the shouder of Cashmere Mountain in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness is long and steep, but beautiful.
Alpine Lookout via Nason Ridge: Lots of broadleaf maple and fall color to be seen from this high ridge near Lake Wenatchee.
Carne Mountain: Take the lower 5-mile hike along Phelps Creek to Spider Meadows or climb the steep four miles to Carne Mountain to get into larch country and some of the best views of the Cascades. Take the Chiwawa River Road about 20 miles to Phelps Creek Road and the trailhead.
Minotaur Lake: A gorgeous alpine lake and trail for those who want elevation gain in one quick dose. This brute of a 2-mile hike from a trailhead up the Little Wenachee River is straight up but worth it if your knees are willing.
— Rick Steigmeyer, World staff
Trail experts included Andy Dappen, publisher of Wenatchee Outdoors, a website about all kids of local, muscle-powered outdoor recreation; Bob Buggert, director of the Chelan-Douglas Land Trust; Mike Bonnicksen, a Wenatchee World photographer and compulsive hiker; and trail guides found on websites created by the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest and Washington Trails Association. Wenatchee Outdoors, the Land Trust, Forest Service and WTA all have websites with detailed information and maps for each of these hikes. The Wenatchee Outdoors guides are particularly detailed with easy to follow directions.
Icicle Gorge: Nearly everyone mentioned the Icicle Gorge Trail as an easy and easily accessible hike that can get you out of the valley heat in late summer and into beautiful fall color as the season changes.
The mostly flat, 4-mile trail loops around Icicle Creek, crossing at the scenic Icicle Gorge pedestrian bridge near the Chatter Creek Campground and the vehicle bridge near the Rock Island Campground. This is a great hike for families. It’s also an easy trail run for those wanting to get in shape for the cross-country ski season.
There’s lots of colorful broadleaf maple and huckleberry among the pine and fir. The steep, surrounding peaks are brilliant with ochre-colored shrubs and larch. Fall mushrooms (some are edible, but check with an expert) can also be spotted along the trail.
A Northwest Trail Pass ($5 daily, $30 season) is required to park at the trailhead, 16 miles up Icicle Road from Leavenworth.
Mission Ridge-Pipeline-Squilchuck-Clara Lake Loop: You don’t have to go far to get out of the valley heat thanks to the wide, paved road to the Mission Ridge Ski and Board Resort. Only 11.5 miles from Wenatchee, the hike’s 6,000 foot high point at Lake Clara offers great views of larch on Mission Ridge. It’s a great hike any time of year, but particularly gorgeous in October when the larches change color, said Dappen. The trail can be accessed from the Mission Ridge ski area parking lot or from Beehive Road. The loop is about 7 miles with about 1,050 feet of elevation gain, but several variations are possible for shorter or longer hikes.
No pass required.
Penstock Pipeline Trail: Here’s another easy one, but hardly lacking in dramatic fall beauty, and some cool railroad history. You can sometimes see Coho salmon spawning in the Wenatchee River from this old bridge that once carried
For more information and maps about great local hikes, check out these online resources:
water to generate electricity for the Great Northern Railroad. The railroad ran through Tumwater Canyon until 1929. The Tumwater Electric Plant near the bridge powered locomotives through the Cascade Tunnel at Stevens Pass so passengers wouldn’t choke on toxic smoke from steam-powered engines.
The 3-mile back-and-forth hike offers great views and fabulous fall colors along the river, and access to some good beaches if the weather is still hot enough for a dip.
No pass is required at the small parking lot, about 1.5 miles west of Leavenworth on Highway 2.
Icicle Ridge Trail/Fourth of July Trail: This trail will get you up high for views of the surrounding ridge tops, Leavenworth and blazing fall color, but it will take some muscle power. The Icicle Ridge Trailhead is just 1.4 miles out of Leavenworth on Icicle Road. From there, you hike uphill through a series of switchbacks for 2 miles to the ridge top.
You can turn around there at the 3,500-foot mark and head back, or, if you’re feeling truly animal-like, you can continue west and up along the ridge another 7 miles to the 7,000-foot top of the Fourth of July Trail and the brutal 5.3-mile hike down through 60 switchbacks. You’ll need cars at both trailheads, plenty of water, healthy knees and serious dedication for the 14-mile thru-hike. Bob Buggert says this is one of his favorite hikes, but it’s not for the casual hiker.
Northwest Forest Trail passes are required at Icicle and Fourth of July trailheads.
Ancient Lakes: This one is just for contrast — amazing contrast that shows the unique diversity of geology and plant life to be found within a 50-mile span around Wenatchee. This 5-mile loop hike through beautiful shrub-sage country surrounded by sheer basalt cliffs is best done after a few fall rains knock down the summer dust. The easiest hike is to follow the horseshoe curve of the cliffs to the group of lakes at the back of the coulee. But there are many variations including trails to nearby Dusty Lake and along Babcock Bench overlooking the Columbia River to The Gorge Amphitheater. The scenery is right out of a John Wayne western. Expect to see trail runners, mountain bikers, equestrians and fly fishermen along the popular trails.
The trailhead is at the end of Ancient Lakes Road. From Highway 28, about 4 miles west of Quincy, turn south on Road U NW, drive about half a mile to Road 9 NW and turn right. The road turns into Ancient Lakes Road. A Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife parking permit is required.
Rick Steigmeyer: 664-7151