From the North Cascades to the Wallowas and Olympics, the Pacific Northwest has some spectacular backpacking trips. While I love visiting the spectacular and well developed areas of our region, I occassionally crave the lesser known areas and the chance of discovering what many people overlook.
A challenge of those less developed and visited areas is the lack of quality trips that are logistically easy to perform and in many cases, worth the drive. Loop trips offer a chance to take in much more scenery within a given trip and can make it easier to justify that long drive to remote areas. The trips outlined below are all loop trips that explore the lesser known areas of our region,...with one little caveat, these trips are "almost loop trips", meaning they rely either on a small section of bushwacking or roadwalking (or both) to complete the loop.
With the exception of the Strawberry Mountain Loop, all hikes listed have not been hiked by me, so I am not fully aware of trail conditions, bushwacking conditions, or other factors that may be encountered on these trips. It is suggested to thoroughly map each option before attempting one of these hikes, as I am also not too detailed in exact directions. Several of these are only intended for those with plenty of outdoor experience who can route-find in the backcountry, and I of course take no responsibility for those who attempt these hikes. That being said, I would love to hear from those who attempt these trips, or who have experience hiking any trails used in these loop trips. On all maps linked below, red lines are trail, blue is road walking, and purple is bushwacking.
Diamond Peak Loop
23 Miles (
1 mile bushwack, 2.5 mile road walk)
Update* For my upcoming summer trips, I have been looking into this trip with additional detail, and have found that this trip can be completed without the bushwack or road walking, since the missing trail segment past Divide Lake does actually exist, and a trail does link the two trailheads.
Diamond Peak receives much less attention than other Cascade peaks, which makes it the perfect area to explore great scenery with less crowds. This loop trip, much like the Timberline Trail or Wonderland Trail completely encircles the mountain for some great scenery -- if you're willing to bushwack a mile and walk a couple miles along a road.
This trailhead begins on Forest Service Road at the trailhead for Divide Lake. After reaching Divide Lake, bushwack across the ridge to the Pacific Crest Trail. Follow the Pacific Crest Trail South for approximately 6.5 miles (with great views of Diamond Peak and surounding Cascades) before turning west towards Rockpile Lake, which along with Marie Lake, could make a nice place to camp. Beyond Rockpile Lake, continue to trail 3699 and follow this route north, past Corrigan Lake, Blue Lake, and Happy Lake (all off trail) before meeting up with the road, which returns you back to the original trailhead.
Strawberry Mountains Loop
15 Miles (1 mile road walk)
It took me many years to visit eastern Oregon to hike Strawberry Lake and the surrounding mountains, mainly because this is a remote area of the state. Doing only small day hikes is a little more difficult to justify the trip, so I needed something a little larger and grandiose. It's still a pretty short loop trip, coming in at only 15 miles, but it packs a lot of great scenery and could be a nice two or three day backpack. This loop is also pretty easy to accomplish, with no bushwacking and only one mile of road walking.
Begin at the trailhead for Strawberry Lake, hike past the lake, with great views of the rugged ridges to the south of the lake, before climbing past Strawberry Falls and a very nice cirque just below Strawberry Mountain. Continue south along the Onion Creek Trail, which meets up with Road 1640 and the 'Roads End' trailhead. Walk the road for one mile to the east to the High Lake Rim Trailhead, and begin descending to High Lake, potentially a great place to camp for the evening. Continue past the lake before dropping into the Slide Creek Valley. Slide Lake is a beautiful area, and shouldn't be missed. Continue north through this beautiful valley, looping back to Strawberry Lake and the trailhead.
Dark Divide Loop
32 miles (2 mile bushwack, 2 mile roadwalk)
Sitting between Mt. St.Helens, Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, and the Goat Rocks, the Dark Divide area of Washington offers high subalpine ridges with great views. Unfortunately, much of the valleys of the Dark Divide area have been logged and roads criscross the lowlands of the region. While there have been calls to protect this area of the Cascades, little has been done, which perhaps makes trips to this area all the more important. The more people who care to preserve it, the greater the likelihood that something will be done.
This loop, which requires nearly a two mile bushwack and two mile roadwalk samples the high ridges that make this trip a potential classic.
Access is along Forest Service Road 29, where it first approaches McCoy Creek. The trip would begin with a bushwack across the creek and climb along the ridge to meet up with trail number 258. Staying near the ridgline, the trail would swing by Langille Peak, McCoy Peak, and Holdaway Butte. Just past Holdaway Butte, take trail 263 eastward, eventually arriving at Dark Meadow. Follow the trail to the north, once again staying near the ridgline past Jumbo Peak, Sunrise Peak, Juniper Peak, and to Tongue Mountain, where the trail would descend back down to Forrest Service Road 29 for the walk back to the car. Note: Much of this route is also open to motorcycles, so you may have some loud guests while on your journey.