PCT: Chinook Pass to Snoqualmie Pass

Crystal Mountain

Mount Rainier National Park

Leaving Mount Rainier on a lofty mountain crest, then traveling miles of forest mosaic on a long series of hills to reach Snoqualmie Pass.

Hiking Moderate

Distance
109 km
Ascent
3.5 km
Descent
4.3 km
Duration
1 day +
Low Point
909 m
High Point
2 km
Gradient
VIEW ON MAP
PCT: Chinook Pass to Snoqualmie Pass Map

Description

Soon after leaving Mount Rainier National Park, the PCT enters the Norse Peak Wilderness to the north, following the elevated Cascade Crest. Clear days grant sweeping views over deep valleys and a perspective on Rainier’s north-side glaciers. After leaving the wilderness, however, the scenery becomes less memorable. The trail proceeds through many miles of forest in a patchwork of mature stands and regenerating clearcuts. Eventually, the PCT meets Interstate 90 at Snoqualmie Pass, and this marks the end of WA Section I northbound.

North of Chinook Pass (NB mile 2323.5) the PCT contours above the highway for just a little while, then turns uphill to lose the road noise and soon reach Sheep Lake (NB mile 2325.7). This is a nice place to camp, popular with PCT hikers and backpackers on shorter routes near the national park. The trail pushes higher from there, crossing over a ridge then making a panoramic traverse of talus-streaked slopes, where sparse trees afford views of the valley below.

Next, the trail proceeds to weave among peaks and the saddles between. Some other trails branch off toward Crystal Mountain ski resort, which occupies the slopes across a valley to the west. Mount Rainier still crowns the backdrop on a clear day. Eventually, the trail winds around around Norse Peak and drops into a basin, where a piped spring and several campsites are found (NB mile 2334.2).

From there, the trail contours over to another saddle and meanders into the adjacent basin. The forest here has been damaged by beetles or fire, with most of the trees standing dead. The undergrowth is lively, however––full of flowers in the summer and berries later in the season. Eventually, the trail moves down in elevation and into more intact forest. The foliage actually becomes quite dense, and mountain views are lost to walls of old-growth conifer. The trail continues to more or less follow a ridge crest, but now with less dramatic topography.

Water is found at Arch Rock Spring and a nearby creek (NB mile 2341.6), with campsites in the vicinity as well. In the next few miles, the PCT departs the wilderness area and arrives at Government Meadows (NB mile 2347), where there is a stream and a public use cabin. This is the Urich Cabin, which is maintained by a local organization. It’s generally open to anyone and can fit quite a few people.

Just past the cabin is a jeep road, and later the trail meets a well-used forest road (NB mile 2348.2). For the remainder of the section, the trail traverses hills that have been logged in the past, with many crossings of dirt roads and clearcuts in varying phases of regeneration. Most of the way is shrouded in trees, but clearings reveal the mosaic of forestry in valleys below. Don’t miss the chance at water from a spring north of Pyramid Peak (NB mile 2351.7), because sources become more scarce afterward. The next spring is in about 12 miles (NB mile 2363.5).

The proceeding miles present no major elevation change, but one bigger dip brings the trail to Tacoma Pass (NB mile 2364.1), where there’s a forest road and a campsite but no water. A small creek may hold water in another couple of miles (NB mile 2365.8), and there’s a small campsite nearby. After this creek comes a steeper climb on the side of Bearpaw Butte, after which the lazy ridge meandering continues, with more downhill than up. Springs and creeks also become more prevalent, making water less of a concern.

Dirt roads continue to be frequent, and eventually, the trail passes under rows of powerlines (NB mile 2374). Continuing through rolling hills in the patchwork of old and young forest, the trail dips to Yakima Pass (NB mile 2383.4) which holds a small lake. A short distance uphill from there is the much larger and very scenic Mirror Lake (NB mile 2384.3), which has nice campsites among trees beside the water.

The trail gets a bit more rugged as it climbs from Mirror Lake, then curves around the head of the next valley. It levels out in a large meadow where it crosses a high-use forest road (NB mile 2387.7), then begins its final descent to Snoqualmie Pass. On the way are a few creek crossings a forest lake, then the trail cuts across the ski runs beneath some chairlifts, overlooking the village at the pass and the imposing peaks that rise beyond.

A short walk past the ski lodge will reach the village area, which has restaurants, a bar, hotel, gas station, and a small grocery. Hikers often ship resupply boxes to either the hotel or the Chevron station, in order to prepare for the 70+ miles of rugged wilderness to the north. This is the last stop for supplies before embarking on Section J through the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

Permits: Permits are required within the Norse Peak Wilderness, but these are free and self-issued at trailheads. Section hikers parking at national forest trailheads may also need the Northwest Forest Pass or to pay a day-use fee.

Sources: https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/mbs/recarea/?recid=79423 https://www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/government-meadows https://www.pcta.org/discover-the-trail/maps/ https://pctmap.net/trail-notes/

Difficulty

Moderate

Hiking along trails with some uneven terrain and small hills. Small rocks and roots may be present.

Medium Exposure

2 out of 4

The trail contains some obstacles such as outcroppings and rock which could cause injury.

Remoteness

2 out of 4

Away from help but easily accessed.

Best time to visit

May, June, July, August, September, October

Features

  • Wildlife
  • Picturesque
  • Dog friendly
  • Wild flowers
  • Water features
  • Family friendly
  • Forestry or heavy vegetation

Similar routes nearby

Guidebooks in this area