Backpacking Routes Through Stehekin

Lake Chelan is a major entryway to the North Cascades, providing access to some of the best hiking and backpacking in the Cascade Range. Trails range from short 1-mile hikes to nearly 230-mile treks.

Ask for a detailed trail listing from the Chelan Chamber of Commerce or the Chelan Ranger District.

NOTE: ALWAYS CHECK CURRENT TRAIL CONDITIONS BEFORE VENTURING INTO THE WILDERNESS.
NATIONAL PARK SERVICE AT 509-682-2549
U.S. FOREST SERVICE AT 509-682-2576

Trails:

Agnes Creek Trail
Agnes Creek Trail is the Pacific Crest Trail heading south out of the park from High Bridge. The National Park/Glacier Peak Wilderness boundary is 2 miles from High Bridge. The trail is well traveled and follows the Agnes Creek drainage through a beautiful forest of old growth Western Red Cedar and Douglas Fir. Many people end their trip by coming down Agnes Creek, having started at Holden Village and traversed over Cloudy Pass. This makes a loop of about 28 miles.

There is a foot trail between Cloudy Pass and Suiattle Pass (no horses). The horse trail switchbacks down from Cloudy Pass into the basin between the passes and rejoins the foot trail at Suiattle Pass. The new section of the PCT leaves Suiattle Pass high on the west side of Agnes Creek and rejoins the old trail near Spruce Creek. Expect snow on this section until late in summer.

Boulder Creek Trail
This is one of the lesser-used trails in the lower valley and for that reason is a good one to take to avoid other hikers, though it can be dry and dusty in late summer. The trail starts 2.5 miles from the Stehekin Landing at the Rainbow Creek trailhead and reaches War Creek Pass at 6500′ in 11.5 miles.

The junction for the Boulder Creek Trail is at 1.6 miles on the Rainbow Loop/Rainbow Creek Trail. For the next 5.5 miles, the trail has a steady uphill grade, then begins an uphill/downhill pattern as it runs along the ridge tops from Reynolds Camp to War Creek Pass. The trail crosses a variety of vegetation types, from dense coniferous forests to open alpine meadows. There are some nice views of Rennie and Reynolds peaks along the way, as well as flower-filled meadows below them. Water can be scarce in late summer; carry plenty to get you from one camp area to the next.

Campsites are located at Hooter at about 3 miles (one tent pad only), Rennie Creek at 6.1 miles, and Reynolds at 8.2 miles, with the Lake Juanita Camp 0.5 mile farther. If your knees can take the downhill pounding, return to Stehekin via the Purple Creek Trail.

Bridge Creek/Pacific Crest Trail
Bridge Creek is the Pacific Crest Trail heading north out of the park. Those hikers looking for a true backcountry experience without much elevation gain can find it on Bridge Creek, one of the easiest trails in the park. It passes through coniferous forests with several long-distance views. Fishing is generally excellent along the creek, and wildlife frequently seen include mule deer, black bear, and a variety of birds.

There are several campgrounds along the trail: Bridge Creek, North Fork, Six Mile, South Fork, Hide-a-way, and Fireweed. A number of trail junctions along the PCT offer possibilities for loops of varying lengths.

Company Creek/Devore Creek Trails
The Company Creek Trail begins on the Company Creek road, 5.5 miles from the Stehekin Landing and connects with the Devore Creek and Stehekin River trails for a loop of 28 miles. Fall colors, unsurpassed views, and huckleberries make it an especially rewarding hike late in the season.

Company Creek is a steep trail but affords excellent views of Tupshin and Devore peaks. It leaves Lake Chelan National Recreation Area at 2.2 miles and enters the Glacier Peak Wilderness Area (USFS). The trail fords Company Creek at 5 miles (check with a ranger for water level and conditions), and then follows Hilgard Creek to Hilgard Pass, at 6700′. At the pass, the trail crosses into the Tenmile Creek drainage drops down to about 4700′ and then climbs up to Tenmile Pass at 5700′. Farther down Devore Creek, beautiful Fourth of July basin offers open meadows and imposing rock faces. Devore Creek runs into Lake Chelan at Weaver Point; 3.5 miles down the Stehekin River Trail takes you back to Harlequin Campground and the Stehekin road. Campsites are at 3.5 and 10 miles on Company Creek, Tenmile Basin, Tenmile Pass, and Bird Creek on Devore Creek.

A cross-country option is to continue down Tenmile Creek and travel about 4 miles to Holden Village. This is a difficult trip with the majority of time spent bushwhacking through dense brush. Allow plenty of time.

Lakeshore Trail
From the Stehekin Landing, it is about 4 miles to the NPS/USFS boundary, 6.9 miles to Moore Point, and 17.2 miles to Prince Creek. The trail follows the north side of the lake and provides some good views of the lake and ridges on the other side. This is the first trail in the district to be free of snow in the spring and offers a scenic, low elevation 2 or 3-day trip as early as May 1st. In early summer, a variety of wildflowers abound. The trail is not completely flat but climbs and descends only low hills again and again. It rarely reaches more than 500′ above the lake. Make arrangements before your trip with the Lake Chelan Boat Company for pickup along the lakeshore at Moore Point or Prince Creek.

McAlester Lake/Creek Trail
This trail begins at 6500′ McAlester Pass, a beautiful area for wildflowers in midsummer, and joins the Pacific Crest Trail in 5.5 miles at Bridge Creek. At 1.1 miles, McAlester Lake appears through the open conifer forest. Mosquitoes and flies can be troublesome at this spot but fishing is quite good. From the lake, the trail switchbacks down towards Bridge Creek through the forest, then flattens to roll along the valley of the East Fork of Bridge Creek before meeting with the Twisp Pass Trail, about 0.5 miles from the PCT.

McGregor Mountain Trail
This is a difficult hike with ample rewards for the effort required. The gain of 6400′ is spread fairly evenly over the 7.6 miles, but still requires stamina and preparation. This trail starts from the Stehekin Valley Road in the backyard of the High Bridge Ranger Station. It skirts above the road for a short distance, then begins a 144-switchback climb to Heaton Camp. Along the way are excellent views up the Agnes Creek drainage and surrounding valleys. From Heaton Camp, at 6.6 miles and 7000′ in elevation, it is about 1 mile up to the summit at 8122′.

A shallow beaver lake of about 15 acres and an average of 15′ deep, Coon Lake lies 1.1 miles from the trailhead at High Bridge. Partially covered with water plants and teeming with life, it is an excellent waterfowl area. Across the lake, a high waterfall on Coon Creek is visible. The trail skirts the west side of the lake then continues up the creek. One switchback is at the base of the falls, and the first good place for drinking water, Later in the summer, it is one of the few spots to fill a bottle. About 3.5 miles from High Bridge, the trail switchbacks to a high basin fringed with western larch trees. Heaton Camp is at 6.6 miles, 4500′ above the trailhead at High Bridge.

The last mile to the summit is sparsely marked with red paint and is under snow for much of early summer. An ice axe can be necessary this time of year; check with a ranger for current conditions. Because of the steep faces and crumbling rock, watch carefully for the paint marks; if you don’t see one for several minutes, return to the last one and look around. The route climbs to a notch on the north side of the summit, then runs along the top of immense Sandalee Glacier to the northeast. From the top of McGregor, the entire Stehekin Valley, and surrounding peaks present an awe-inspiring panorama. Once the site of a fire lookout, the top now provides an ideal location for one of the Park Service’s radio repeaters.

This trail is steep, and can be very hot and dry. Anyone planning on making the 15+ mile round trip should be in excellent physical condition.

A slightly different route can be taken down. From Coon Lake, follow signs for the Old Wagon Road Trail, which joins the McGregor Trail on the west side of Coon Lake; you can continue all the way to Bridge Creek, or take a shortcut and return to the Stehekin Valley Road about 0.75 miles above Tumwater Bridge.

North Fork Of Bridge Creek Trail
This trail branches off the main Bridge Creek Trail 3 miles from the Bridge Creek Camp and continues another 6.5 miles to its end. It offers exceptional views of Goode Mountain, Storm King, and Mount Logan, and of the glaciers left from the mountain-sculpturing ice ages. This is one of the easier hikes in the park and is free of snow before many others. While it can be done as a day hike, an overnight trip allows time for pushing farther into the wilderness and increasingly better views.

From the North Fork Camp, 3 miles from the Bridge Creek trailhead, the trail leads through stands of lodgepole and whitebark pine with brushy avalanche areas. At 5.5 miles, Walker Park Camp provides unexcelled views; at 6.4 miles, you reach Grizzly Creek Camp. Grizzly Creek itself is just beyond the camp, and must be forded. In early summer, the creek can be deep and swift; use caution and learn shallow water crossing wildflowers in mid-summer. This is also a great area for wildlife sightings. Insects can be bothersome, so bring repellent and wear long pants.

Park Creek Trail
The Park Creek Trail begins approximately 6.0 miles from the end of the road. The trail then climbs for 7.9 miles to Park Creek Pass at 6100′. The alpine meadows around the pass and the views possible from it are worth the uphill hike.

The trail enters a coniferous forest and almost immediately begins a 1.5-mile climb up 14 switchbacks, leading to a scenic overview of surrounding valleys and peaks. From here, the trail drops back down to Two Mile Camp on Park Creek and then begins another 3-mile climb up to Five Mile and Buckner Camps. The views of Goode, Buckner and Booker Mountains are spectacular from this point. From views of Goode, Buckner and Booker Mountains are spectacular from here, the trail climbs for two miles on steep switchbacks through the forest before breaking into the open about 1 mile from the pass. Be sure to stop and look at the hanging glaciers across the valley on Booker Mountain, hear their cracking and snapping, watch for huge chunks crashing down hundreds of feet into Park Creek.

Five Mile and Buckner Camps are the last places to spend the night before you cross the pass and drop into Thunder Creek. Because of the fragility of the meadows, no camping, and no fires are permitted in the pass area. From the pass, the trail continues 19.4 miles down Thunder Creek to Colonial Creek Campground on Diablo Lake and Highway 20.

Purple Creek Trail
For the hiker who wants to get up into the mountains as quickly as possible, this is the trail to take. It starts on the southeast side of the Golden West Visitor Center at an elevation of about 1200′ and climbs steadily for 7.4 miles to Purple Pass at 6884′. The only reliable water is 2 miles from the Golden West until you reach Lake Juanita at 8 miles; so be sure to carry plenty, and start early in the morning. Watching the sun creep down the sides of Castle Peak across Lake Chelan is worth the early rising!

An open forest of Douglas fir, ponderosa and whitebark pine covers the lower part of Purple Mountain, giving way to subalpine fir and mountain hemlock as elevation increases. Feathery larch near Lake Juanita turns brilliant gold in fall. The Meadows around the lake generally bloom in early and midsummer, but in some years the area has remained under snow until mid-July.

The moist habitat is fragile; as it dries out later in summer, it becomes quite brittle and easily damaged. To preserve the flower meadows, limit your off-trail walking around campsites and the lake to rocky areas. A good side rip from here is a 0.5-mile hike up Boulder Butte, at 7126′, was the site of a fire lookout in the 1930s and 1940s.

From Lake Juanita, you have several options: Continue south on the Summit Trail, making a loop back to Stehekin on the Fish Creek or Prince Creek trails; return to Stehekin on the Boulder Creek trail or head northeast towards the Twisp River on the War Creek Trail in the Okanogan National Forest. Check the list at the end of this for total mileages for several of these loop trips.

Rainbow Creek Trail
This trailhead begins 2.5 miles up the Stehekin road from the landing and ends in 10 miles at McAlester Pass. The trail begins with an uphill climb; five switchbacks in the first mile lead to exceptional views of the Stehekin valley and Lake Chelan. The trail then drops to Rainbow Bridge Camp at 2 miles and continues to contour the ridge above Rainbow Creek in a long steady uphill traverse. At 4.4 miles, the trail crosses the creek at Rainbow Ford Camp.

Another mile brings you to Bench Creek Camp (5.4 miles from trailhead) at the junction with Rainbow Lake Trail. From Bench Creek, the trail runs through scattered timber on a moderate uphill grade for 2 miles to Bowan Camp; then it makes a steep pitch for 1/2 mile. A ford at 8 miles can be hazardous during early runoff. The trail passes through an area of big virgin timber, then a series of switchbacks bring you to McAlester Pass at 6017′. Around the pass, open meadows with a few ponds and scattered pines provide scenic vistas of surrounding ridges. The McAlester Lake Camp is located 1 mile west of the pass (11 miles from trailhead).

From the McAlester Pass areas, there are two cross-country day hikes to small lakes. One begins at South Creek Pass, which is 1.4 miles from McAlester Pass, and heads south. The other is along Rainbow Ridge towards Bowan Mountain. Both of these hikes require traveling off-trail; route finding may be difficult.

Rainbow Lake Trail
This trail begins 5.4 miles up the Rainbow Creek Trail at Bench Creek Camp and ends 11.5 miles later at South Fork Camp on Bridge Creek. Including the 5.4 miles of access on Rainbow Creek and the 6.7 miles on the Bridge Creek Trail back down to the Stehekin road, one could make this trip of nearly 24 miles in several good days. Consider planning additional time for exploring and relaxing.

Leaving Bench Creek, you drop downhill, cross Rainbow Creek (hazardous at high water), and begin a 2.5-mile climb up several switchbacks to the North Fork of Rainbow Creek. The spruce forest begins to give way to open meadows at 3 miles; this is an excellent spot for wildflowers in early and midsummer. At the headwaters of North Fork, a 0.5-mile steep hike on a rocky trail brings you to Rainbow Lake, a beautiful alpine lake surrounded by meadows. The campsite here is pleasant and fishing is generally good, though the fish are small. Two small lakes above Rainbow Lake and the ridge above the lake make good day hikes. From Rainbow Lake, there is a 0.75-mile climb up to Bowan Pass at 6200′ for excellent views. Then it is all downhill along the South Fork of Bridge Creek; the trail enters a large bowl below Bowan Mountain and goes through a coniferous forest. It stays in the trees until reaching the PCT junction.

With mileages counted from the trailhead on the Stehekin road, campsites along this trail include Rainbow Meadows (8.4 miles), Rainbow Lake (9.9 miles), Dan’s Camp (13.9 miles), and South Fork (16.9).

South Creek Pass Trail
This trail leaves the Rainbow Creek Trail in the middle of McAlester Pass at 6000′ and traverses open meadows country nearly its whole length. It climbs gradually uphill with two switchbacks for 0.5 miles, then contours around the slope to South Pass. At 6300′, 1.4 miles from McAlester Pass, South Creek Pass (or “South Pass,” as it is sometimes called) is the boundary between the National Recreation Area and the Okanogan National Forest. There are some nice views here to both the east and west. A good trail winds down to the Twisp River Road, ten miles down South Creek. For the adventurous, a one-mile cross country hike south from the pass will take you to a small, high, seldom-visited lake at the very headwaters of Rainbow Creek at about 6300′ elevation.

Stiletto Peak Trail
The Stiletto Peak Trail provides an excellent 5-mile (one way) day hike from Fireweed. After a 1.5-mile level hike from Fireweed, the trail leaves the Stiletto Spur Trail and begins switchbacking up to open alpine areas. About halfway, you break out into a fairyland of wildflower meadows. Over the next thousand feet elevation gain, there can be 15 varieties of wildflowers blooming at the same time. The maintained trail ends at 6300′; an easy route can be followed to the ridge top at 7223′, the site of an old fire lookout. Stiletto Peak is just to the east at 7660′. This entire area is a beautiful but fragile alpine area; take care that no sign of your passing remains.

A loop trip of about 12 miles can be made by continuing east from the peak on a cross-country route past Stiletto Lake and up to Twisp Pass. You then follow the Twisp Pass trail down past Dagger Lake and on to Fireweed Camp. Most of this loop is trail-less and a good map and compass are required.

Summit Trail
This trail starts at War Creek Pass, elevation 6800′, and has some excellent views of Lake Juanita and the surrounding flower meadows. Larches provide brilliant vistas in fall. Open ponderosa and whitebark pine forests provide excellent views along much of the trail. From the pass, the trail continues southeast along a sloping meadow ridge, then drops down into conifers at about 2 miles. A short climb through a saddle leads to rocky meadows and excellent views. At 2.4 miles, the trail crosses the Recreation Area/National Forest boundary.

Beyond the boundary, several options are available. You can continue on the Summit Trail another 24 miles to South Navarre Campground, which connects by road to Chelan and Manson. Or, there are two choices of routes back to Stehekin. One is to drop down Fish Creek and take the Lakeshore Trail back to Stehekin. From the boundary, it is 3 miles to Fish Creek and takes the Lakeshore Trail back to Stehekin. From the boundary, it is 3 miles to Fish Creek, 6.9 miles down Fish Creek to Moore Point on Lake Chelan and 6.9 miles on the Lakeshore Trail back to Stehekin. The Fish Creek route is a gentle descent through thick forests with limited views. The other choice is to continue south on the Summit Trail to Prince Creek, then catch the passenger boat or hike the Lakeshore Trail back to Stehekin. From War Creek Pass to Stehekin on this route is about 40 miles.

Twisp Pass Trail
The Twisp Pass Trail (also called the Fireweed Trail on some maps) begins in the vicinity of Fireweed Camp on the Bridge Creek Trail and ends at Road’s End Campground on the Twisp River road. It is a gentle uphill climb through conifer forests and meadows. It leaves the Bridge Creek drainage near the junction with McAlester Creek Trail. At 3.4 miles, Dagger Lake provides good fishing if you can withstand the fierce mosquitoes. The 6100′ pass is at 4.5 miles. From the pass, it is about 5 miles down switchbacks to the end of the Twisp River road.