|The jagged peaks of the North Cascades|
Access: Bumpy gravel road, Northwest Forest Pass required
Mount Pilchuck was one of the first hikes I did after arriving in Washington state and even two years later, it still sits near the top of the list of my favorite hikes in the state. Check with the Washington Trails Association for detailed directions and updates on this hike. I liked enough to revisit in the low-snow winter of 2015.
There are few grander views so easily accessible from Seattle than that from the summit of Mount Pilchuck. It's less than an hour and a half to the trailhead for Pilchuck off the Mountain Loop Highway from Seattle and just 3 miles to the summit; in return for this minor investment of time and energy, the summit rewards with a 360-degree panorama of the wild, jagged Cascades, three great volcanoes, countless glaciers, the cities of Seattle and Everett, the Olympic Mountains, and the Puget Sound. By Washington state standards, this is a easy to moderate hike (more of a moderate by Virginia standards), with no real obstacles except a very short bit of scrambling just below the lookout. Be sure to visit on a clear day!
Mt. Pilchuck was a special hike for me: it was only my second hike after my move to Washington. I had spent much time indoors or in the city until I was finally able to get away by renting a car. The forecast looked good and Pilchuck was the featured hike on the WTA website, so I figured why not? I headed out from Seattle an hour before dawn, driving north on I-5 to Everett; then east on US 2 briefly, following the signs onto Washington Route 204 north, which then merged quickly ended at Washington Route 9. I followed Route 9 north to Route 92, the turnoff for Granite Falls. As I drove this stretch of road, I finally caught views of the Cascades, with the sun lighting up the sky behind Three Fingers and Pilchuck. I stayed on Route 92 into Granite Falls, passing through the town before turning left to head north on the Mountain Loop Highway. I stayed on the Mountain Loop until passing the Verlot Ranger Station and a bridge shortly afterward; immediately after the bridge, I turned onto Mt. Pilchuck Rd, a lengthy and bumpy gravel road that I followed to its terminus.
The trailhead for Pilchuck is already beautiful: it is situated on the northern slope of the mountain, high above the valley of Stillaguimish, with Anacortes and the San Juan Islands visible in the distance. The trail heads up from the near end of the parking lot, quickly delving into second-growth forest. The beginning of the hike is relatively uneventful, climbing gently through a mossy forest and entering Mount Pilchuck State Forest. As the climb continues, the trail grows rockier, until it finally comes to a talus slope with a view of Mt. Rainier. From here, the trail turns sharply left and continues climbing.
|The forests on Pilchuck|
|First views of Baker|
|View towards Puget Sound|
|View towards Glacier Peak|
|The North Cascades|
|View from the lookout|
|Glacier Peak from Pilchuck|
|Fall color on Pilchuck|