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Pacific Crest Trail

The Pacific Crest Trail accessed from the Darrington Ranger District,  Sloan Creek Road,  & the Suiattle Road

Sunrise from Gamma Ridge, photo by Brian Berggren

The Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail stretches over 2650 miles from Mexico to Canada. It winds through chaparral hillsides and scorching bits of desert in Southern California. The trail traverses the high passes of the Sierra Nevada then marches along the ridges of the Cascade Mountain’s stratovolcanoes on its way to the Canadian border. It is breathtaking along its entire route and its vastness challenges the imagination of all hikers and equestrians who step foot on its dirt tread.  However, it can reasonably be argued that in the Glacier Peak Wilderness the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) exemplifies truest expression of a mountain footpath. It is remote, wild, and characterized by immensely rugged topography. The Darrington Ranger District manages a 45 mile stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail from White Pass to Suiattle Pass and is one of the most remote and stunning sections of the trail.  It is also one of the most arduous, climbing in and out of three major river drainages.

White Pass and Glacier Peak, photo by Randy Godfrey

Near Darrington, the trail can be accessed by hiking up one of two old growth valleys. From the Mountain Loop Highway one can take Forest Road 49 to reach the North Fork Sauk Trail then proceed nine miles up the valley until the junction with the PCT in the stunning area between White Pass and Red Pass. One can also access the PCT via the Bald Eagle trailhead by continuing past the North Sauk Trailhead 6.5 miles, .5 miles past the stock unload traversing over Curry Gap Beginning from White Pass the trail traverses through alpine meadows to Red Pass then descends into Glacier Peak Meadows and on to the old growth forest of the White Chuck River Drainage.

Hiking the trail in autumn, photo by Brad Burke

The trail crosses the White Chuck River and continues to lose elevation into Kennedy Creek.  After crossing the sometimes difficult and usually bridge free Kennedy Creek the trail begins its ascent into Milk Creek Pass at 6,300 feet.  Enjoy the views as the trail begins another elevation drop into the Milk Creek Valley at 3,500 feet.  From the Milk Creek crossing the trail begins the brushy and often damp switchbacks up to East Fork Basin at approximately 5,300 feet.  From here the trail continues climbing through the basin arriving at Vista Ridge.  Wildflowers and mountain views are in abundance.  The trail begins another long descent into the Suiattle Valley.

Dust blow-up from the steep slopes above Dusty Creek, photo by Brian Berggren

One can also access the PCT, 38 trail miles north along the Suiattle River over Suiattle Pass at 5,900 feet. There are several side trails off of the PCT and certainly being worthy of being their own destinations such as miners Ridge, Gamma Ridge, Pilot Ridge and more. The wilderness villages of Stehekin and Holden are popular stopping points for the through hiker or a destination for a personal retreat. This route was closed for 11 years after massive floods washed out the road in 2003. Thanks to collaborative efforts from state, local, and tribal governments this important entry point to the backcountry is once again open. Hikers can now travel South on the PCT over Vista Ridge to reach the base of Glacier Peak and its sparkling jewel Mica Lake, or head north and reach the famous Mirror Lake. However, you reach it the Glacier Peak Wilderness is not to be missed!

For more detailed information on the PCT and ongoing trail projects and conditions in the Darrington area contact the Darrington Ranger Station.  For extended information on the PCT contact the Pacific Crest Trail Association.