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Road Trip: Simple Summer Cascade Climbs

These hikes are for climbers of all experience levels looking to explore sunny days in the beautiful PNW.

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Getting out into the Cascade Mountains is a bucket list item for anyone. The peaks here offer views of true natural grandeur. The experience of being isolated and remote gives hikers a fresh perspective.

These are three of your best bets for climbing a mountain on Washington’s famed Mountain Loop Highway.

Don’t forget to have a Northwest Forest Pass in hand before you go. This will allow you to park at the trailhead. Forest passes are available at ranger stations or online.

Here are some basic safety tips for first-timers:

  • Leave your hiking party info in your car, in case of emergency.
  • Don’t leave anything valuable in your car while you’re hiking, even in the trunk.
  • Pack enough food and water for the day.
  • Drop “destination fever”-- if the going gets rough or the weather turns for the worse, it’s okay to call it a day or take a rest.
  • Rain happens here, even in the summer. Be sure to pack rain protection, including light wool socks-- cotton’s a blister-maker in the wet.

1. Mount Pilchuck - Easy

This is a popular hike for a reason. The incline is pretty gradual but offers a great summiting experience. The peak of the mountain rises to a cabin lookout at 5,000 feet, but you can drive part of the way up the mountain, so the climb doesn’t seem that long.

The trail is comprised of switchbacks through old growth forest, then up scree and gravel, before reaching the apex of Pilchuck (“Pilchuck” means “red river”). The lookout at the top offers views of the Snohomish River Delta, the city of Everett, the Salish Sea, and surrounding peaks of the Cascade Mountains. The nearby Bathtub Lakes can also be seen from the trail. If you can reach these secluded alpine lakes (their access points are somewhat jealously guarded by local hikers), they are beautiful.

Because this is such a popular hike, you may find that the trail is full. If that’s the case, then keep driving on the Mountain Loop— there are plenty of other scenic hikes worth taking in this neck of the woods.

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2. Mount Dickerman - Moderate

This 5,723- foot summit in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest is prized by foragers for its famous berry patches. Wild berries require lots of undisturbed sun exposure to ripen, so their abundant presence in this part of the rainy Cascades is noteworthy.

Scale moderate switchbacks to Mount Dickerman’s huckleberry and blueberry fields, then ascend the ridge to the top. From the summit, you can see into the North Cascade Mountains— Gothic Basin and the ghostly abandoned mining town of Monte Cristo to the north, as well as Three Fingers, Whitehorse, White Chuck, Mount Baker, and Glacier Peak.

The climb itself is an almost a 4,000 foot gain in elevation. That may be a lot for the average climber, making Mount Dickerman a better option to explore if you’re comfortable spending a day with a pack on your back.

3. Glacier Peak Wilderness/ Glacier Peak- Hard

To be clear: this is not a hike for beginners. To get the full experience of climbing Glacier Peak you have to camp out overnight. The hike-in requires a multiple day trip to get to the mountain or access to the Pacific Crest Trail. The mountain is about 10,000 feet high, the fourth highest in the state. And (word of warning) Glacier Peak is an active volcano.

To reiterate: this is a trip for more advanced hikers, but lovely because of its true remoteness and pristine beauty, especially the old-growth forest and hot springs that occur in this truly wild region.

Want to explore and hike other places in the Cascades? Be sure to check out a full Mountain Loop road trip/itinerary here, as well as the Sea to Sky road trip here.