The remote high mountain peaks of the Cascade Mountains in Northern Washington are simply stunning. We quickly found that the best way to enjoy this park was from high up on a mountain pass. Needless to say, our legs were glad to see this place in the rear view mirror but our souls weren’t. We spent 4 nights under the dramatic mountains of this lesser traveled national park.
Maple Pass Trail
On our way into the park we stopped for a hike just outside the park border up to Maple Pass. This is a 9.8 mile loop with 2,300 ft of elevation gain. Following the advice from some of the reviews, we headed counterclockwise up the trail.
The first couple of miles were easy going and we soon reached another trail that took us to Lake Ann. The lake is beautifully surrounded by mountains and we could even see hikers high above on the trail where we were headed. After returning to the main trail we began to climb toward the pass and had great views of Lake Ann all the way up.
We were pleasantly surprised when we reached Maple Pass as we both felt that the climb was not as difficult as we thought it was going to be. The view from Maple Pass was amazing and we had 360 degree views of the surrounding Cascade Mountains. After a half hour break for lunch we began our decent back to the trailhead stopping many times for views, photo ops, and wildflowers.
After reaching the bottom, we took the quick detour to nearby Rainy Lake. The detour paid off as we found Rainy Lake to be yet another stunning reservoir surrounded with high mountains with a waterfall of snow-melt cascading its way into the lake.
Thunder Creek Trail
On our second day in the park, we decided to take an easier hike and after some research decided to hike down Thunder Creek from the Colonial Creek area. The trail follows Thunder Creek from Diablo Lake until a bridge crossing. From there we headed uphill towards Fourth of July Pass but turned around halfway to save our legs for the hike we had planned the next day. The water in Thunder Creek is so clear that it has a turquoise hue and was so inviting that we wished we had a kayak we could take for paddle around the beautiful water.
Cascade Pass Trail
We woke up early on day three so we could make the hour and a half drive to the trailhead for Cascade Pass. We had read that this was a must hike trail in North Cascades and that the parking lot fills early. We were then not surprised when we arrived at 9 am and cars were already lined up on the road. Having not had coffee or breakfast we decided it best to have a cup and eat a bowl of cereal before hitting the trail. The only hard thing was that the van was parked on a steep hill making it awkward to make coffee or sit down and enjoy a bowl of cereal.
The trail is 6.5 miles out & back with 1,800 ft of elevation gain and about 2 miles of the 3 mile trek up to the pass are switchbacks through trees. Once the trail opened up, the views improved immensely and the last mile and a half were very scenic. The pass overlook was crowded with quite a few hikers eating their lunches so we decided to continue away from the pass and find a more secluded lunch spot.
After enjoying our peanut butter, banana, & honey sandwiches, we took a few snaps from the pass and headed down. Because most of the way down is just switchbacks through forest we actually jogged the last two miles and got down quite a bit faster than expected. We were again surprised by this trail as it was easier than expected taking us only three and a half hours to complete.
The Thornton Lakes Trail looked to be an awesome hike up to a summit that passes a couple of mountain lakes on the way. The road to the trailhead is a rough single lane five mile climb. We had driven about two miles up the day before and decided to give it a try. After another early rise (with coffee this time) we headed to the road. The first three miles were not too bad but shortly after, the road got too rough to pass in our van. We had to make the decision to either park the van and hike from the spot on the road (adding 4 miles to an already difficult trail) or turn around and find some other trails to hike. We made the hard decision to turn around and find other trails for the day. Womp womp….
There are actually quite a few trails in the Newhalem area where we were camped so we decided to return to the campground and just hike out from the campsite. This was actually turned out to be pretty fun as we got to do some trail running and learn about some of the local tree species on the nature trails.
This park affords many opportunities to get up close and personal with the Cascade Mountains and is definitely a great backcountry destination. Upon our return we will plan a multi-day backpacking trip in the mountains.
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After spending time with family in Glacier NP, we continued to move west through Idaho and into the great state of Washington. We vacationed in Washington two years ago and were excited to return. Our first stop was in Leavenworth, WA, a Bavarian themed town in the Cascade Mountains. A picturesque wilderness known as The Enchantments brought us to this town and although we didn’t end up hiking to it we had a great time exploring Leavenworth.
On our first exploration day, we hiked the West Fork Foss Lakes Trail to Trout and Copper Lakes in the Alpine Lake Wilderness. This hike was 8.3 miles with an elevation gain of 2,539 feet and ended up taking us a whopping 8 hours because we kept stopping for pictures and to soak in the spectacular views. We just couldn’t get enough of the mossy trees and lush vegetation surrounding us. The flowing streams, waterfalls and alpine lakes we saw on the trail weren’t too shabby either.
It was hotter than we thought it would be in Washington, so the next day we decided to explore Lake Wenatchee via kayak. While traveling through these northern states we have come to the conclusion that although it is 90+ degrees outside, the water remains in the 60’s which is still too cold for us Texans to fully enjoy. We had to settle for just dipping our legs in the water and then quickly hopping back out for warmth.
After spending some time in the sun, we decided to hit the town for some brews and brats. Alan had been craving sauerkraut and brats for quite some time now so he was excited to get his fix. Our first stop was a German restaurant called Andreas Keller, where we had we had beer, jagerschitzel and bratz. This was my second time trying German food and quite frankly I am just not impressed by it. Alan, on the other hand, thoroughly enjoyed every bite (and sip). We had a much better time at Leavenworth Sausage Garden which had larger beers for a much cheaper price, oh and tasty pretzels. This place was right up our alley and I would totally recommend to anyone swinging by the area.
The charming town of Leavenworth and surrounding evergreen mountainous forests made for a very fun stop. I know we said we loved Colorado but I think we love Washington more! We hope to return for the challenging Enchantments hike in the future.
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Glacier National Park is one million acres of dramatic peaks, deep valleys, pristine waterways, and dense forest. As this park shares a border with Canada, it quickly becomes easy to understand why this park is also known as “The Crown of the Continent”. We spent three nights at this park and were lucky enough to join up with our uncle Mike, aunt Sharon and cousin David that were visiting the area at the same time.
Going to the Sun Road
On our first day in the park we drove up the scenic “Going to the Sun Road”. This 50 mile stretch of road winds through the park from the Apgar Visitor Center on the west side of the park to the St. Mary Visitor Center on the east side of the park. Our family picked us up near our campsite at Fish Creek in the morning and we hit the road heading east from Apgar.
We stopped at each point along the way to take in the views and read the informational boards provided. As a bonus we got to do some birding at most stops with the help of our relatives who are avid birders. We even got to see two Golden Eagles soaring high above a stop called “Lunch Creek”. This was especially exciting because this was my Aunt Sharon’s first time to spot one in the wild.
Because of COVID 19 precautions the park is current under some partial closures and the is closed at the Rising Sun village. Upon reaching Rising Sun we turned around to head back the way we came stopping at a few points we had missed on our way out. At an overlook near Logan Pass, we saw three Mountain Goats including a young kid (baby goat). Upon returning to Apgar, we decided to head to Whitefish for dinner before calling it a night.
On our second day in the park, we decided to explore the Camas Road on the west side of the park. The road leads west from Apgar past Fish Creek and actually exits park boundaries into Flathead National Forest until reaching the village of Polebridge where you can reenter the park. Once again, we were scooped up by our family for another day of adventure.
The primary focus of this day was to focus on birding. The Camas Road is only about a 25 mile drive from Apgar to Polebridge giving us plenty of time to stop at overlooks and bird sightings. On our way out we stopped at multiple points of interest to try and spot birds but we had the best luck at creek crossings and other areas where two ecosystems met. Bird sighting highlights for the day included Red-Eyed Vireo and Common Yellowthroat.
After stopping for a picnic lunch and a beer in the small village of Polebridge, took a hike to try and catch a glimpse at the elusive Spruce Grouse known to common the area but had no luck. To finish the day off, we took the 6 mile drive up a gravel road to Bowman Lake. The lake is pretty large and surrounded by the mountains of the park. There is a nice gravel beach and we just had to pull off our shoes and sit down with our feet in the coldish water.
Because most of the hikes we wished to take we closed because of COVID precautions and most trails that were open were very crowded we opted to take a casual hike on the West side of McDonald Lake. From the trailhead, it is a short 2 mile hike to a scenic overlook of the lake called “Rocky Point”. After taking in the view we continued down the trail but turned around less than a mile later because the trail quickly became overgrown with thick shrubs.
We had a great time exploring this beautiful park with the Perkins family and would love to return once the park has fully reopened so that we can explore more of the park on foot. This mountain range was especially unique due to its glacier cut, u-shaped valleys that were unlike anything we had seen before.
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One of the destinations we were most excited about visiting in Idaho was the Sawtooth Mountains. We planned a three day backpacking trip into the mountains to see the Baron Lakes and were blown away by the beauty we came across.
To get to the trailhead, we could either take a water taxi across Redfish Lake or hike 4 miles around the lake. Since we are lazy hikers, we decided to take the boat across. The hike to the Baron Lakes is a 15.3 mile round trip with a total elevation gain of 3,533 feet. We decided to split up the climb into two days and hike back down the third day. Doing this, allowed us to camp and enjoy Alpine Lake on Day 1 and the Baron Lakes on Day 2.
The first few miles of the trail followed Redfish Creek and we could hear the sounds of flowing water as we hiked through the beautiful forest. On the last mile and a half to Alpine Lake camp, the trail became steep and climbed about 900 feet in elevation. This section of the trail was tough but the stunning views made up for it. We saw so many pretty wildflowers and the mountains surrounding us left us in complete awe!
Once we made it to Alpine Lake, we set up camp and simply soaked in the scenery. Of course not everything can go perfectly on a backpacking trip, after resting our feet for a while we walked down to the lake to filter our water for dinner and the next day of hiking. We discovered that our water filter was not working very well and ultimately broke after multiple frustrating attempts of using it. We decided we would have to drink unfiltered water straight from a nearby waterfall and just hoped we wouldn’t get sick. Alan sacrificed himself and took the first sips of unfiltered water to see if it was good and I am happy to report we did not get sick.
The next morning we packed up our camp and headed toward the Baron Lakes a couple of steep miles away. On the way there we came across a nice pond and more wildflowers. After climbing multiple switchbacks, we finally got our first glimpse of Upper and Middle Baron Lakes and stopped for a quick snack before heading down to the lakes.
We set up camp in between Upper and Middle Baron Lakes in a perfectly secluded spot. We enjoyed the rest of the afternoon by Upper Baron Lake occasionally dipping out feet in the ice cold waters. Alan even decided to brave the frigid water for a quick rinse. Burrr!
On our last morning of the trip, we packed up and began our 7 mile hike back out. After about 10 minutes into our hike, Alan realized he forgot his cellphone back at the campsite! He ran back to get it and we were both glad he realized his phone was missing sooner rather than later. At the end of our hike we were both daydreaming of the delicious pizza we had a few days earlier at Papa Brunee’s in Stanley, Idaho, so of course we had to return and eat some more!
We would totally do this trip all over again! I am not joking when I say there were amazing views the entirety of this trail. Next time, we will hike all the way up to the Baron Lakes on day one and set up camp by Middle Baron Lake since it is much larger and the mountains behind it are spectacular.
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No one told us it would be so hot in Idaho! We thought we left the high 90 degree weather in Texas. Idaho sure fooled us! We left City of Rocks desperately craving some water fun. On our way to the Sawtooth Mountains we made a stop at the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area in Murphy, Idaho. We were able to find a free campsite on the Snake River nestled in this beautiful canyon. There were just a few people in the area so it felt like we had this gorgeous place to ourselves!
We had such a great time soaking up the sun on the Snake River we made it a point to find more spots like this! The next day we drove into Boise to prepare for our upcoming backpacking trip. We drove out of Boise and headed east on the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Route. Along this drive, we found another amazing free campsite on the Payette River. Besides a family on the other side of the river, we also had this magical place all to ourselves. Alan set up our tent’s rain cover for shade and we used the river to keep the beer cold.
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