Last weekend we discovered our new favorite backpacking spot, Miner's Ridge. It was only our third backpacking trip together and the first time Maren had spent more than one night in the wilderness so I knew I had to pick something absolutely breathtaking. The two of us and our adventure dog hiked 34 miles and climbed over 4,700 feet and even though we were exhausted by the time we returned to the car the experience was well worth the effort.
Glacier Peak is the 4th tallest mountain in Washington state. While just a few hundred feet shorter than its well known cousin Mount Baker, it is seldom seen by Washingtonians and many don't even know it exists. This is a result of its location, hidden amongst other breathtaking peaks of the North Cascades it is rarely visible from major highways or population centers. Limited access to this rugged wilderness keeps the crowds away allowing for an amazing hiking experience. We only saw a handful of other groups during our three days on the trail!
One of the best places to view this impressive mountain and its surroundings is Miners Ridge. Located high above the Suiattle River Valley, it provides quite the rewarding view, for those willing to hike deep into this wilderness.
Two amazing destinations await those willing to climb the 3,500 vertical feet up to the top. The Miners Ridge Fire Lookout has been located atop this ridge since 1926. The current replacement tower was built in 1953 and provides a commanding view of the Suiattle River drainage and surrounding ridgelines and peaks. Also located on the ridge is the small, aptly named Image Lake. Located just over 6000’ up, this alpine lake provides and amazing foreground for looming volcano across the valley.
This trip is best done as a backpacking trip. It’s over 15 miles from the trailhead to the top of the ridge making this out of reach as a day hike for most. The first section is a fairly flat 9.5 mile hike along the Suiattle River. The trail is wide and well maintained winding through old growth forests as it heads upriver. After hiking about 6.5 miles you will cross an impressive log suspension bridge over Canyon Creek. Shortly after, the trail joins the Pacific Crest Trail. Follow this another 2.5 miles north to reach the turn off for Miners Ridge. There are a number of great camping spots located along this route, including several around Canyon Creek and a couple near the Miners Ridge trail junction where we set up camp.
Next comes the fun part, the trail switchbacks 39 times over the next 5.5 miles and gains over 4500 feet. As you climb, your views of Glacier Peak become better and better as it appears across the valley. The tall dark forest gives way to open alpine meadows and finally you are atop the ridge. Once at the top the lookout is a quick half mile jaunt to the west, and Image Lake is about a mile east. To protect the scenic lake, camping is prohibited except at a designated area nearby with some excellent spots.
For those interested in a little more, the trail continues for about another mile to the east through the meadows along the ridge top. As you walk along admiring the views of impressive Fortress Mountain and countless other peaks, be sure to be on the lookout for the many yellow-bellied marmots that call this area home.
This truly magnificent hiking trip is only but a taste of this vast, rugged wilderness. There are countless other lakes, mountains, and scenic vistas. You really must experience it for yourself. Happy exploring!