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5 Beautiful Hikes Along Mountain Loop Road in Washington

Road connecting Granite Falls and Darrington has an interesting backstory passing through mining, logging, depression era CCC work and finally designated a Scenic Byway in 1991. Today the tracks are gone, daily whistles are silenced and nature is slowly claiming the boom-and-bust town sites. Rivers are still rushing and glacier-clad peaks are still standing proud.

With snow lingering at Barlow Pass through late spring, driving the entire loop is limited to summer through the fall. The road is paved from Verlot to Barlow Pass and from Darrington to the junction with the White Chuck River Road. The middle portion of about 14 miles is a single-lane gravel road.

Mountain Loop road winds through the heart of the Cascade Mountains and is home to some of the best hiking trails in the state. These five hikes along Mountain Loop Road are sure to captivate your senses and leave you with unforgettable memories. All these hikes are accessible from Granite Falls side.

Heather Lake

Heather Lake is a hidden gem just off Mountain Loop Road. Heather Lake Trail is a moderate 4.3-mile roundtrip hike ideal for families and beginners. Turn right onto Mount Pilchuck Road/Forest Road-4220 for the trailhead. Hike through the moss-covered trees, to reach this picturesque lake surrounded by vibrant foliage and serene beauty with stunning views of Mount Pilchuck.

Mount Pilchuck

If you're up for a challenge and sweeping panoramic views, hike to the summit of Mount Pilchuck. Mount Pilchuck Trail offers panoramic vistas of the surrounding mountains and Puget Sound. This 6-mile round trip trail gradually ascends through dense forests, leading to a historic fire lookout tower perched atop the summit. The reward is a 360-degree view that will leave you breathless.

Though you will have to wait to hike this trail. It will be closed for the 2023 season due to the road construction work past Heather Lake trailhead.

Lake 22

This moderate 5.4-mile roundtrip hike showcases stunning waterfalls, serene creeks, and abundant wildlife. Be prepared for a moderate climb as you ascend through lush greenery to reach the picturesque lake surrounded by towering peaks. Along the way, you'll pass several waterfalls and enjoy breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains. It is also a perfect snowshoeing trail in winters.

Why 22? As per a leading theory, nineteenth-century railroad maps listed local creeks numerically; this lake and creek originating from it were assigned “22.” The name (or number) stuck!

Vesper Peak

This 8-mile round-trip hike is another challenging option that rewards hikers with breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains. The trail takes you through dense forest and alpine meadows to the summit of Vesper Peak. This challenging hike offers a stunning alpine landscape, including picturesque wildflower meadows, dramatic rocky slopes, and breathtaking views from the summit. On a clear day, you'll be treated to a 360-degree vista of the Cascade Mountains, with peaks such as Mount Baker, Mount Rainier, and Glacier Peak visible in the distance. The vastness of the landscape and the sheer beauty of the mountains stretching out before you make all the effort worthwhile. Climbing helmet is recommended for protection from falling rocks.

photo credit

Gothic Basin

This one is my top favorite!

Known for its stunning alpine scenery, this trail offers hikers an unforgettable adventure through some of the most picturesque landscapes in the Cascade Mountains.This strenuous historic miners’ trail is steep and rugged. A 9.5-mile round-trip hike rewards you with jaw-dropping vistas of glacier-carved valleys, cascading waterfalls, breathtaking alpine meadows and lakes. One of the highlights of the Gothic Basin Trail is the stunning wildflower meadows that come into view as you near the basin. During the summer months, vibrant alpine wildflowers dot the landscape, creating a kaleidoscope of colors against the backdrop of rugged peaks. The basin itself is a glacially carved amphitheater, dotted with alpine lakes and surrounded by awe-inspiring cliffs.

For those seeking further adventure, a side trip to Foggy Lake is highly recommended. It's a short but steep scramble from the Gothic Basin, and the lake offers a serene setting with stunning reflections of the surrounding peaks.

From alpine lakes and rugged mountain peaks to cascading waterfalls these five hikes offer a diverse range of natural beauty and recreational opportunities. So, lace up your hiking boots, pack your backpack, and get ready to embark on an incredible journey through the captivating wonders of the Mountain Loop Road.

Happy trails!

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