The trail begins near milepost 159 on Washington State Route 20 (The North Cascades Highway). This is just over one mile east of Rainy Pass. Parking is on the north side of the road, the trail begins on the south side of the road.
The serene McAlester Lake sits in a quiet forested valley below McAlester Pass and Rainbow Ridge. It's ideal for an afternoon leisurely relaxing along the shores of a quiet lake. Rising from the eastern shores of the lake, is a sharp, unnamed 7,628' peak which forms a nice backdrop.
The trail leaves from the Bridge Creek Trailhead along Highway 20 (The North Cascades Highway). The route begins on the Pacific Crest Trail for a three-quarters of a mile, before turning left at a fork signed for Copper Creek and Stilleto Peak. Shortly after this this intersection is a nicely sized campsite along the creek, and a footlog to cross the creek (there aren't too many campable areas between this campsite and McAlester Lake, other than Fireweed camp, which is about a half mile off route). Continue along this trail, turning right at another trail intersection towards Stilleto Peak. After another mile, the trail encounters another fork. Stay right, and continue along the trail as it parallels Bridge Creek (although never really getting too close to it) for a mile, ignoring a side trail for Twisp Pass, before reaching yet another trail intersection. Turn left at this intersection (continuing straight will lead back to the Pacific Crest Trail and Fireweed Camp) towards McAlester Lake and Pass.
The trail follows the clear, rushing, McAlester Creek through a heavily forested valley. One-and-a-half miles from the last trail intersection, the trees give way to an open grassy area, where the views to the north offer great views of Frisco Mountain. The trail then begins climbing and switchbacking up the ridge. Recent work on the trail has made the trail much easier (we could see remnants of older trail, steeply climbing between the newer, much more nicely graded switchbacks. Views across the valley are quite nice, but generally only obtained through the trees. After four miles from the previous intersection, the trail reaches a side trail, which leads to the lake and several great campsites.
Those visiting the lake, should also hike a mile beyond the lake to McAlester Pass, a nice flat meadow, meandering creek, ponds, wildflowers, and nice views. There are formal campgrounds at the pass as well, High Camp, and Hidden Meadows.
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