|Sauk River, Glacier Peak, and the peaks of the Mountain Loop Highway from Sauk Mountain|
Access: Long, rutted gravel road approach; high clearance vehicle may be preferable. Northwest Forest Pass required for parking.
Sauk Mountain provides the easiest access to a 360-degree summit panorama in Washington's North Cascades. This multi-peak mountain stands just north of the confluence of the Skagit and Sauk Rivers, providing outstanding views both south towards the peaks along the Mountain Loop Highway and east into North Cascades National Park. The summit view encompasses some of the most renowned North Cascades peaks: Johannesburg, Shuksan, and the Pickets can all be seen. This isn't one of those hikes where the trail meanders through the forest forever before reaching one paltry view; here, the stunning views start from the trailhead and only get better all the way to the summit. The trail traverses south-facing open meadows that feature blooming wildflowers for much of the summit. The only catches? The reason that such extraordinary scenery can be had for so little effort is that most of the uphill climbing is done via car in a long, dusty uphill gravel road with substantial ruts. The trail itself, while in decent shape, is eroded in some spots, making ascent potentially tricky for those with a fear of heights.
I've done this hike a number of times- it's such a beautiful place with relatively easy hiking and it's undoubtedly the easiest way to get a panoarmic view of the North Cascades. One of those visits to Sauk Mountain was with my parents: we drove up from Seattle on a gorgeous August day. We followed I-5 north to Burlington, then took Route 20 east past Concrete to the turnoff to the left for the poorly marked Sauk Mountain Road, just before reaching Rockport. The road up was a little narrow with a lot of potholes; it was pretty steep and was fairly severely rutted towards the end. We were able to make it okay in a sedan, though a higher clearance vehicle would have been nice. Despite the rough drive up, the parking lot at the trailhead was almost still completely full: this is a fairly popular hike.
The trailhead is situated amidst the green meadows of Sauk Mountain's upper slopes and is a scenic destination in its own right. The cliff-lined peaks of Sauk Mountain towered directly behind us, just 1200 feet above. To the west, we could see a 180-degree view stretching from the rocky peaks of the Twin Sisters along the entire Skagit Valley to the jagged peaks of Whitehorse, Sloan, and White Chuck along the Mountain Loop Highway.
|Sauk Mountain viewed from the trailhead|
|Beginning of the trail|
|Tiger lilies in the Sauk Mountain meadows|
|Sauk Mountain switchbacks, trailhead in the top left corner.|
|North Cascades from Sauk Mountain|
|Final approach to Sauk summit, Mount Shuksan in the distance|
What can one see from the summit of Sauk Mountain? Essentially, everything. The undeniable stars of the show were Sauk Lake, a blue gem tucked in a cirque just east of the peak, and Mount Baker, the glacier-capped queen of the North Cascades.
|Sauk Lake and Johannesburg Mountain|
|Mount Baker from Sauk Mountain|
|The Pickets from Sauk Mountain|
|Twin Sisters and Skagit River valley|