Backpack the Pasayten Wilderness via Horseshoe Basin

Irongate Trailhead

A relatively short and level trail leads to some of the most beautiful meadows in Washington state.  Once here, the opportunities to explore are nearly endless.

Please consult with the Forest Service for current road and trail conditions, especially of your are planning a trip on the fringes of the season, i.e. early spring and late fall, as conditions may change without notice and this trail is a long ways from anywhere. 

When planning a trip to Horseshoe Basin please consult maps and other guides as the adventure described below is one of many that may be done from this trailhead.

From the paved Toats Coulee Rd drive a short 6 miles on a poorly maintained gravel road full of rocks, potholes, and cows (cattle are ranged throughout the area) come to the Irongate Trailhead at ELEV. 6150 FT.  Toilets and trash facilities are present.  Secure the necessary permits before heading out.

The trail starts on an old mining road, but you are immediately surrounded by the wilderness.  The trail gradually descends  through the forest for a short but when you get your first taste of whats to come.  A small meadow with a beautiful view of Windy Peak while wet your appetite before you hike back into the forest.  The green forest soon yields to the charred remains of the 2006 Tripod fire.  Much of the trail to Horseshoe Basin skirts the remnants of this fire.  The trees are slowly starting to reclaim the burned area but as of now it can get fairly hot due to the lack of cover in this area and I am guessing do to the amount of windfall that this is not a good place to get caught in high winds.

At 0.7 mi you will encounter a junction.  Continue straight to Horseshoe Basin.  This side spurs do lead to some worthy destinations and could be incorporated into a longer or completely different trip.  Deer Park is to your right and Windy Peak is to your your left.  Both of these trails can be included as loops as well - Check your map!  At 1.5 mi cross Clutch Creek.

The trail continues through burned forest until at 3.5 miles you break out into a large meadow.  Depending on the time of year the meadow could be filled with lupine and Indian paintbrush as wells several other species of wildflowers.  Continue to Sunny Pass at trail mile 5, elevation 7200 ft.

At the pass, Pick Peak is to your left as well as the Windy Peak trail.  In a short tenth of a mile the Albert Camp Trail is to your right.  If day hiking, a scramble up Pick Peak or a short jaunt up the Albert Camp Trail may be in order as this is a good turn around spot.  If backpacking or in need of a longer day and bigger views keep on going.

About 1.3 miles past the pass you will come to several junctions.  The first to the right leads to Smith Lake.  This is a short mile side trip and also a nice camp site.  The next junction to the right, the Long Draw Trail, heads to Arnold and Goodenough Peaks.  Several campsites may be located in this area.  My recommendation is to push on a little further.

At 7.1 miles from the trailhead come to Loudon Lake.  This makes a perfect campsite for your first night or a good location to set up base camp to explore your immediate surroundings for a day or two.  If staying here to explore the adjacent peaks should be scrambled up.  The views can be breathtaking.  If moving on the trail soon leaves the meadows and heads back into the forest as you round a bend and head towards Haig Mountain.  Several swampy low areas exist in this area and the bugs can be ferocious.  

The trail continues for another 60+ miles (even further if you want to connect to one of the other trails through the wilderness) if your really into it but I think that the best of it is at Horseshoe Basin. If you really need to go further, by all means, go further.  A logical destination for a 5-6 days trip would be Cathedral Peak and the Cathedral Lakes.  The trail from Louden lake hugs the 7000 ft contour for most of the way.  

Please remember to practice minimum impact camping principles and Leave No Trace!

Pack List

What you pack depends on if you plan to just day hike or spend several days.  

  • If camping in the wilderness you will need to get a permit at the trailhead 
  • Parking passes are also required - Northwest Forest Pass. A single day pass may be purchased at the trailhead for $5.  
  • Other than that the only real requirement is a camera.  There is plenty of water along the trail.
Show More
RT Distance 20 Miles
Elevation Gain 3500 Feet
Activities Camping, Photography, Backpacking, Hiking
Skill Level Intermediate
Season Spring, Summer, Autumn
Trail Type Out-and-Back
Dog Friendly
Easy Parking
Family Friendly


Leave a Review

Overall rating: 

Beautiful Country No People

One of my favorite spots to day hike (we have cabin about 45 min from trailhead) wildflowers are amazing after the snow melts. Louden Lake, Smith lake are pretty sweet too. Many loop hikes and backpacking trips can be done from this area as well.

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound Collective.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

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