|Lichtenberg Mountain and the Central Cascades rise over Lake Valhalla|
Difficulty: Easy-moderate to Lake Valhalla, Moderate to Mount McCausland
Access: Gravel road in okay shape to the trailhead, Northwest Forest Pass required
Lake Valhalla is a deep blue gem with a small beach in the heart of Washington State's Central Cascades, just a stone's throw away from the popular winter ski area at Stevens Pass. The hike to the lake is fairly easy and includes a stretch of hiking along the Pacific Crest Trail. Hikers who reach the lake and want more can add a mile to their hike and reach the summit of Mount McCausland, which offers a fragmented 360-degree view of the Central Cascades. I found this to be an enjoyable but not outstanding hike; the lake was pretty and the summit views were beautiful, but nothing about this hike screamed uniqueness.
I hiked to Lake Valhalla with four friends and a dog on a nice July weekend day. We took the standard route towards Steven Pass, leaving Seattle on Highway 522 heading northeast and then taking US 2 east from Monroe. About four miles over Stevens Pass, we turned left onto Forest Service Road 6700 towards the Smithbrook Trailhead; this turn is easy to miss. We followed NF-6700 for the final three miles up a gravel road to the Smithbrook Trailhead; there were a few very large potholes on the road, but most cars should be able to handle this by driving sufficiently slowly. There were about 30 to 40 cars parked at the trailhead, which is not terrible for being less than 2 hours from Seattle on a nice summer weekend.
A word of warning about the drive back: I have twice been stuck in bad traffic on US 2 heading west this summer already; maybe best to avoid having to drive back to Seattle on US 2 in the middle of the afternoon on Sundays.
The trail started out flat, running parallel to the road, with sparse canopy coverage. Valerian and arnica bloomed near the trail. A hundred meters into the hike, the trail met the road at a switchback in the road. After leaving the road, the trail delved into the forest and began a steady ascent via switchbacks. A few blowdown blocked the trail in places but were all fairly easy to handle. Bugs were unfortunately pretty bad: mosquitoes and deer flies were everywhere and frequent application of bug spray failed to fully deter the onslaught of bloodsuckers.
|Valerian and arnica|
The lake was visible through the trees almost immediately after we passed through the saddle. The trail tread had generally been pretty smooth up to this point, but was a bit rockier in the final half mile descent from the saddle down to the lakeshore. Upon reaching a small basin just above the lake, a spur trail for lake access split off to the left from the PCT; we followed the spur all the way down to its end by the lakeshore.
|First view of Lake Valhalla|
|Lichtenberg Mountain towers over Lake Valhalla|
The path up McCausland was steep, gaining 600 feet in just half a mile. The hillside was dotted with huckleberry bushes and blooming heather, although other wildflowers were scarce. As there is no officially maintained trail up McCausland, there were multiple points at which the path split into multiple social paths; there's no signage here, so pick the paths that visually appear to best lead towards the summit.
|Heather and huckleberries on the way up McCausland|
|Mount Stuart and Cashmere Mountain behind Lichtenberg Mountain|
|Trail near the summit of McCausland|
|Glacier Peak and the North Cascades|
|East view from McCausland, Dow Lake below|
|Baring, Index, Merchant, and Gunn from McCausland|
|Monte Cristo peaks and Sloan|