From I-5, north of Seattle, take exit 208 for Highway 530/Alrington. Stay on Highway 530 through Arlington to Darrington. Continue along the highway past Darrington for seven miles to Suiattle River Road (Forest Service Road 26), turning right and continuing for 23 miles to the end of the road and the trailhead.
This is a great hike sampling some of the amazing country of the Glacier Peak Wilderness offering beautiful lakes, enormous glaciers, and wonderful flower-filled meadows. All of this comes at a slight, but manageable cost, mainly in the form of the roughly 9,500-foot total elevation gain. This is also a fairly long hike, but there are many campsites along the way so take your time with this trail, and let all the scenery soak in.
The trailhead starts in a Douglas Fir/Cedar Forest as it travels alongside the Suiattle River on what appears to be at one time an access road now turned into trail. After one mile, the trail splits. Stay left as it slowly climbs a small rise and continues along the creek up the river valley. Every so often, views of the mountains at the end of valley can be caught between the trees, hinting at the spectacular mountainous country surrounding you, but you are never given a clear and satisfying view –at least along this section of trail. The scenery stays the same as the trail slowly climbs high above the river and eventually reaches Canyon Creek and an impressive suspension bridge at the 7-mile mark. Canyon Creek is a wonderful creek tumbling through rounded granite boulders. Several good campsites are located on the southern side of this creek. Along the valley bottom portion of the trail, the hiker is treated to many of these wonderful creeks (none of which should pose too much of a problem crossing, but early in the season, you may have to get your feet a little wet) as they roll down the northern face of the valley.
Past Canyon Creek, the trail continues for another 2.5 miles to another intersection. Unless you are looking for the quick, but terribly arduous and relentless switch-backing climb to Image Lake, stay right, which continues up the valley dropping down to the river bottom. The top of Glacier Peak can finally be seen rising above the southern wall of the river valley. Good campsites along the river can also be found (these are located just past the meadow which offers views of the mountain).
One mile past the Image Lake Trail cutoff, the Suiattle River Trail intersects with the Pacific Crest Trail that has dropped down from the flanks of Glacier Peak. Now the climbing begins, in fact, you’ll be climbing for the next 8.8 miles for a total elevation gain of roughly 3,000 feet. In actuality though, this section of trail can really be thought of in three different sections. The first portion climbs quite a bit for about two miles as views of Glacier Peak slowly rises above the ridges. The second section really is more of a level walk high above Miners Creek with occasional views of Miners Ridge. After four miles along the Pacific Crest Trail, the hiker comes to a four-way intersection. Your path is directly straight, while the trail to the left leads to the un-maintained Miner Creek Camp. The trail to the right leads to Buck Creek Pass, eventually reaching Chiwawa River Road. Continuing on, the trail quickly meets up with Miners Creek and crosses it along a nice bridge through a great sub-alpine meadow. Past the crossing, this portion of trail reaches its third section, the last climb towards Suiattle Pass.
Views up the Miners Creek Valley towards 8500’ Chiwawa Mountain along with views to the south of Glacier Peak steadily improve past the creek crossing as you once again start a more drastic climb up the valley wall. Three and a half miles past the four-way intersection, the trail reaches another intersection (the trail to the left leads to Image Lake, and you will take it on your return trip). Stay right, to continue towards the top of Suiattle Pass. Look for an unsigned trail to the right, which leads down into a small meadow and creek, along with several good campsites. This also makes for a great lunching spot with great views of Glacier Peak. Back on the trail, continue towards Suiattle Pass, taking a right hand fork near the summit, marking the trail to Cloudy Pass. This trail crosses the ridge before dropping slightly to negotiate the boulder-filled southern terminus of the very impressive Agnes Creek Valley. Sadly, the climbing isn’t over. Eventually, this trail meets up with the Cloudy Pass Trail and quickly climbs over Cloudy Pass, with Glacier Peak disappearing behind the ridge.
From the top, its only 2.3 miles to Lower Lyman Lake, a beautiful glacial-green colored lake surrounded by sub-alpine trees and flower filled meadows. There are great campsites at the northern end of the lake along with box toilets to lessen the impact on this popular area. Be sure to hike to iceberg-filled Upper Lyman Lake, two miles past the Lower Lyman Lake. The path gives spectacular views of the surrounding mountains, plenty of marmots scurrying about, and beautiful meadows. This is an area that you may want to spend more than one night at…you won’t get bored exploring this great area.
After soaking in the country around the Lyman Lakes, retrace your steps over Cloudy Pass and Suiattle Pass, dropping down to the trail intersection that you came to on the way up (about a mile past the ridge crest of Suiattle Pass). Follow this trail for two miles to another trail intersection, taking the path leading up the hill to the right. The trail switchbacks steadily up Miners Ridge, before leveling off through the meadows of the ridge and reaching the best views along this whole trip--Glacier Peak, along with its connecting glacier covered ridges with the entire Suiattle River Valley. Image Lake is tucked in a small nook along this ridge, two miles up the trail. This is a limited use area; camping is only permitted south of the lake in designated areas. For the more adventurous hiker, take the seven mile trail to Canyon Lake…even if you aren’t adventurous, walk this trail for a half mile to the ridge at the northern side of the lake for some impressive views of the Canyon Creek Valley, and some good views of Dome and Sinister Peaks.
To return to the trailhead, continue past the lake (west), along the ridge top towards the fire lookout at the end of the ridge. The trail will start its descent to the valley floor—38 switchbacks in total before reaching the trail you came in on. From the bottom of the descent, its 10 miles back out to the trailhead.
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I just came back from this trail (07.05) and a few words for those thinking about going. 1. You need to go to REI or stop at the rangers station in Darrington and get a forest pass. 2. A good portion of the trail at the beginning and the road leading into the trail head was washed out in October of 2003 and so you should expect some tricky climbing in the first mile or two of the actual trail. 3. Get ready for bugs. At the higher points of the trail beginning at Suiattle Pass and continuing on to Lyman the bugs are INSANE and quite numerous, and Deet seems to do nothing to them. Other than that, the area is amazing.
I went on this hike with 2 of my friends summer of 04, and it was awesome, it was the first time we had ever gone backpacking. The views once you get to see glacier peak are unreal. The directions here can get pretty tricky to follow, b/c there are not really any markers telling you where to go, but if you are smart you will make it just fine!
It's a long hike, that gets pretty tiring but well worth it, we are going again this summer. Bring a camera, we took 100's of pictures.
It can be a long hike into these spots but it is well worth it.