Like the trek to the Sahale Glacier, this hike has it all: a cool forest, sunny, wildflower-filled meadows, and breezy, rock-strewn heights. I joined Josh, Katie, and Carson on this short out-and-back trip on the second day of our weekend camping trip in the North Cascades.
Specs: 7.1 mi | +/- 3700 ft
Difficulty: Class 1 [learn more]
Route: Begin at the Hidden Lake Lookout Trailhead (I strongly recommend a vehicle with plenty of clearance; the road is full of deep potholes) and follow the trail up to the lookout. Simple as can be!
Permits & Regulations: No permit is required to hike in the national forest, but you’ll need an interagency or a northwest forest pass to park at the trailhead.
Resources: The North Cascades National Park website has a great page with information about the hike.
After a bone-rattling drive to the trailhead, Josh, Carson, Katie, and I pile out of the car into the cool morning air. It’s another beautiful, sunny day in the North Cascades, perfect weather for a hike up to the Hidden Lake lookout. The journey begins as most mountain excursions do, with plenty of switchbacks through a shaded forest.
We soon exit the forest into a meadow of sorts. It certainly isn’t flat, but the trees have been replaced with bushes and flowers that are at least as tall as we are. We cross a creek or two and continue winding up switchbacks. It’s surprisingly humid amidst all the plants, and the sun is heating things up, but the wildflowers and peaks towering overhead keep a smile on my face.
As we climb higher, the plants shrink to ground-hugging shrubs and the humidity abates a little. We re-cross the streams we encountered lower in the valley, now smaller and closer to the snow fields that feed them. Higher still, we leave most of the plants behind and clamber up granite steps into a snowy alpine landscape. Several sections of the trail are completely covered in snow, which is soft enough to walk on but solid enough to avoid sinking into. It’s blindingly bright however — sunglasses are a must!
After crunching through a few snowfields, we reach the ridge that separates the national forest from the national park and get our first glimpse of Hidden Lake! It’s a beautiful site, bright blue and surrounded by white and teal ice in a deep valley below us. We pause for a few moments to admire the view and then push onward.
It seems like the winter snow has eroded the established trail so we pick our way across rocks below the outlook hut to the opposite side of the mountain. The final few hundred feet consist entirely of massive stone slabs, a fun little scramble! At the summit, we relax and eat lunch on the rocks while chatting with other hikers and soaking in the sweeping vista.
The lookout hut itself is available for overnight stays on a first-come, first-served basis. However, you have to show up super early to snag this campsite! We duck our heads inside to check it out; a small wooden platform in one corner serves as a bed, and several desks and tables line the walls. Prayer flags hang from the ceiling, framing the jaw-dropping view of the snow-capped mountains through the wall-to-wall windows. It seems like a cozy place to spend the night!
After thoroughly enjoying the summit area, we head back down the mountain. We go ask quickly as we can (we’re overdue to meet another friend, Kirsten), but I can’t help but pause to capture this photo of some beautiful lupine blossoms with Hidden Lake in the background:
Once we reach the snow fields, the real fun begins. It’s much faster to run and slide down the soft snow than navigate the rock-strewn trail! A few hikers give us strange looks as we hoot and holler down the snow. The fun is soon over, unfortunately, and we return to the trail for the rest of the descent.
The miles slip by as we hurry down the mountain. It’s just as beautiful on the way down… every turn reveals new bouquets of wildflowers! Back in the forest, the light filtering though the trees strikes me as particularly beautiful, so I snap a few photos and then hurry back to the car.