Six spring summit hikes
Story and photos by Aubrey Laurence
For peak-seeking hikers who have exhausted their lowland winter hikes and are itching for something bigger and better, spring can be a frustrating time. Even though warmer weather and longer days are melting snow in the high country, many summits are still unattainable due to gated roads, snow-buried trails and avalanche-prone slopes.
But if you’re willing to do some driving, and possibly even a little snow slogging near the summits, you do have some great options to consider. Spring snowfall largely determines accessibility, of course, but the five summit hikes below tend to melt off earlier than many other peaks, and all of them offer healthy elevation gains and spectacular views.
Dirtyface Lookout Site: Peak training
Round-trip distance: 9 miles (14.5 km)
Total elevation gain: 4,000 feet (1,219 m)
High point: 5,989 feet (1,825 m)
Directions: Drive east on US 2 for 85 miles (137 km) to Coles Corner, which is about 15 miles (24 km) before Leavenworth. Turn left/north onto State Route 207 toward Lake Wenatchee. After about 4 miles (6.4km), veer left onto North Shore Road, then turn right onto a service road just before the Lake Wenatchee Ranger Station. The trailhead is just up the road, behind the Ranger Station. A Northwest Forest Pass is required.
If you’re looking to shed some winter weight and/or train for summer climbs, Dirtyface is your mountain. With its whopping 4,000 feet (1,219 m) of gain over 4.5 miles (7.25 km), this hike will give even seasoned hikers a challenge. After ascending a dizzying number of switchbacks up the mountain’s southern slopes, you’ll reach the former fire lookout site. Being careful not to step on any rusty nails, spin around and drink in the incredible views in every direction, highlighted by Glacier Peak to the north and beautiful Lake Wenatchee directly below.
Mount Seymour: Vancouver’s alpine escape
Round-trip distance: 5.5 miles (9 km)
Total elevation gain: 1,476 feet (450 m)
High point: 4,753 feet (1,449 m)
Directions: Take the Trans-Canada Highway (BC-1) to exit 22B toward Mount Seymour Parkway. Merge onto Fern Street, then a right onto Mt. Seymour Parkway W. After 2.7 miles (4.34 km), turn left onto Mt. Seymour Road. In 8.3 miles (13.35 km), park in the resort parking lot on the right. The trail starts in the far corner of the parking lot, adjacent to the chair lift.
Mount Seymour gives hikers an easily-earned glimpse into the alpine wonderland that is the B.C. Coast Range. In just a few minutes of moderate hiking, you’ll come to a clearing with views of Vancouver. Not long after, you’ll reach fantastic views devoid of cities and towns, with the jagged, snow-capped Coast Mountains providing an impressive backdrop. In the spring, the snowy trail is usually packed down by hikers and snowshoers. Bring snowshoes if there has been recent snowfall. Many hikers slide down the trail on the return trip, either glissading in hiking boots or using plastic bags as makeshift sleds.
Mount Si: The “old” way
Round-trip distance: 7–8 miles (11–13 km), depending on which way you go up the Boulder Garden Loop Trail
Total elevation gain: 3,500 feet (1,067 m)
High point: 3,980 feet (1,213 m)
Directions: Drive east on I-90. Take Exit 32, take a left onto 436th Avenue SE, take a left onto E. North Bend Way, and then take a right onto Mount Si Road. In about half a mile (.8 km), park in one of the two “Little Si” lots on the left (the second one is a few hundred yards closer to the trailhead). A Discover Pass is required.
Mount Si is a very popular mountain to hike year-round, but very few hikers take the Old Si Trail (aka Old Big Si Trail). Compared to the standard route, the Old Si Trail offers a much better experience with fewer hikers, more elevation gain and closer parking. For a short distance in the beginning of this hike you’ll be on the Little Si Trail, and just before the top you’ll link up with the standard Mount Si Trail, but its long middle section receives very little traffic (refer to the Green Trails Map 206S for your two route options on the Boulder Garden Loop Trail). And while many people just think of Si as a training peak, the summit view of Seattle, Rainier and the Olympics never gets old.
Driveway Butte: Steep and rugged, but worth it
Round-trip distance: 8 miles (13 km)
Total elevation gain: 3,200 feet (975 m)
High point: 5,982 feet (1,823 m)
Directions: From Marblemount, follow Highway 20 (North Cascades Highway) east for 70 miles (112.6 km) to Klipchuck Campground (FSR 300) on the left. Drive about a mile (1.6 km) to the trailhead parking area, which is on the right, just before the campground. From the parking area, you’ll have to hike a short distance toward the campground before taking a right onto the Driveway Butte trail. A Northwest Forest Pass is required.
If you don’t mind a bit of deadfall hopping, mud/snow sloshing, branch dodging and log crossing, this hike will reward you tenfold. In the first section, you’ll switchback up a steep slope toward a pass, and if you’re lucky, you’ll encounter some elusive chocolate lilies along the way. The burned-out middle section is a bit rough and rugged with lots of deadfall and leg-scraping bushes, but it keeps the crowds away and it makes for a great core workout. Try and stick with it because once you begin to ascend the slope in the final section, the views really begin to open up. From the summit, which once held a fire lookout, you’ll have grand views of the Gardner range, Silver Star, Methow Valley and so much more.
Mount Walker: Spring solitude
Round-trip distance: 5.5 miles (8.9 km)
Total elevation gain: 2,000 feet (609 m)
High point: 2,804 feet (855 m)
Directions: Take US 101 about 30 miles (48 km) south of Port Townsend to Mount Walker Viewpoint Road (FSR 2730). If locked, park at the gate (don’t block the gate). The trailhead is about a quarter mile (.4 km) up the road on the right. No pass is required.
The hike up this easternmost Olympic mountain is short, but it sees very few hikers in the spring, offers a variety of wonderful views from its two summit viewpoints and features a well-built trail with a steady gentle grade. Enjoy the solitude before the road opens up to cars (typically late spring), and you can even hike the road up or down to create a longer loop option. From May to June, blooming rhododendrons provide eye candy on your way to the top. From the North and South viewpoints, soak in views of Mount Constance (the third-highest peak in the Olympics), the Hood Canal, Seattle and many other Puget Sound landmarks. On a clear day, you might even be able to see four Cascade volcanoes: Baker, Glacier, Rainier and St. Helens.
Tiffany Mountain: Big rewards for little effort
Round-trip distance: 6 miles (9.7 km)
Total elevation gain: 1,800 feet (549 m)
High Point: 8,242 feet (2,512 m)
Directions: From Winthrop, drive north on East Chewuch River Road (9137). In about 6.5 miles (10.5 km), just before the bridge that crosses the Chewuch River, turn right onto FR 37. At almost 8 miles (12.8 km), take the right fork, continuing on FR 37, and at 14 miles (22.5 km), keep right again to stay on FR 37. At almost 20 miles (32.2 km), take a left onto FR 39. Then, at almost 23 miles (37 km), reach Freezeout Pass. Park at the pass; the trailhead is on the right/east side of the road. Before you go, call the ranger station to make sure the road is snow-free to Freezeout Pass. A Northwest Forest Pass is required.
While many 8,000-foot (2,438 m) peaks in the North Cascades permanently hold glaciers and snow, Tiffany Mountain, on the east side, tends to melt off much earlier than you might expect. Even when it does hold lingering patches of snow, it rarely poses any dangers or difficulties, as long as you stay on route.
From Freezeout Pass, you’ll hike up a broad, forested ridge that slowly opens up to grassy meadows. After about 2.5 miles (4 km), head left/north (the trail to the right/east goes to Whistler Pass, which makes for a good extension, if you’re up for it) and follow the sometimes-faint trail up Tiffany’s southern slope to the spacious summit. Cast your eyes far into the horizon – in any direction – and ponder the serene views. x