Backpack to Cathedral Lakes and Amphitheater Mountain
Washington › Cathedral Driveway Trail 510A
Added by John Sunich
Lower Cathedral Lake elevation: 6,840 ftUpper Cathedral Lake elevation: 7,400 ftAlternate return routes allow for a loop hikeMany opportunities for side hikes, scrambles, and climbsGood fishingGreat scenic views, with lush meadows and wildflowersAbundant wildlifeGolden Larch in the fallExplore old mining relics and cabinsSecluded and remote
Located in the Pasayten Wilderness and surrounded by Amphitheater Mountain and Cathedral Peak, Cathedral Lakes are a great destination for a multi-day backpacking trip. The shortest route to get Cathedral Lakes (not coming from Canada) is roughly 19 miles. This may be a bit of a "slog" but is definitely worth the extra effort.
I recommend starting at the Chewuch Trailhead, which is accessed by heading west from Tonasket, WA to the town of Loomis, WA. Just north of town, turn right on to Toats Coulee Road, which will turn into Forest Service Road # 39. Once you arrive at Long Swamp, continue 3 miles west on Forest Service Road #3900 to the trailhead.
Once at the trailhead follow Cathedral Driveway Trail #510A, which will descend roughly 2 miles through some burned areas into the Chewuch Valley and merge with Chewuch Trail #510. Be on the look out for bear, deer, and moose in this area!
Once on the Chewuch Trail, you will gradually ascend along the Chewuch River Valley through a pine forest, some marshy areas, and also some burned areas with lots of wildflowers, if you hit the timing just right. There are also a few waterfalls along this section of the river. Early in the spring, be prepared from some forging and/or log crossings over many of the swollen tributaries of the Chewuch River. Later in the summer and toward fall there is some great fly fishing for Westslope Cutthroat and Rainbow trout.
After approximately 6 miles on the Chewuch Valley (8 miles total), you will cross Horseshoe Creek and see the remnants of a log bridge that was washed out a few years ago. Just past the creek you will see the sign for Tungsten Trail #534 on your right. There are some decent camp sites along this area if you didn't get an early start on the day.
Follow Tungsten Trail #534 trail as it climbs approximately another 7 miles up to the junction with Boundary Trail # 533 and Tungsten Mine. You could easily spend a few hours at Tungsten Mine exploring the old cabins, mining equipment, a random bathtub, a double seated outhouse and other relics in the area. There is even a horseshoe pit! You can also make a side trip up to Tungsten Lake, beautifully perched on Apex Mountain with the mountain's summit towering above. There are a couple camps just outside of Tungsten Mine area; however, it is not recommended to stay in and around the cabins due to the potentially disease-carrying rodents that inhabit the cabins.
From the Tungsten Mine area you will continue west on Boundary Trail, which will make an ascent up Apex Pass. At the top of the pass there is a great vista to look both east and west. Cathedral Peak, Amphitheater Mountain, Remmel Mountain, and Apex Mountain are all in view from the Pass. Many backpackers drop their packs and do a side hike to the summit of Apex Mountain. Alternatively, if you are nearing the end of your first day, it is a great location to camp, with spectacular photographic opportunities around sunset/sunrise.
From Apex Pass you will gradually descend down into the Cathedral Creek Valley, which opens up spectacular views of Cathedral Peak and the eastern side of Amphitheater Mountain. This area is also filled with meadows of wildflowers and likely a few mule deer or mountain goats, as you proceed to Cathedral Pass. From the top of Cathedral Pass you will get your first view of the Upper Cathedral Lake basin – another great spot to stop and take in the spectacular surroundings.
Once at the upper lake (or several of the tarns), you can see spectacular reflections of Amphitheater Mountain and/or Cathedral Peak. Upper Cathedral Lake has a handful of good tent sites, and Lower Cathedral Lake, about a mile away following the trail, also has a few more sites. There are other options for camping scattered between the Upper Lake and the Lower Lake, and around Amphitheater Mountain. Mountain goats and other wildlife have been known to come right though camp, so be on the lookout.
From your campsite at Cathedral Lakes, there are many options for day hikes, opportunities to catch trout in both of the lakes, scramble/climb the surrounding mountains, or just sit back and enjoy the view. I recommend planning for a layover day or spending 2 nights when you get to Cathedral Lakes.
Note that a National Forest Pass is required at the trailhead. Always check trail conditions with the Ranger District prior to your trip, and be aware that bugs can be severe in this area. As an aside, this is also a great opportunity to park a second car at an alternate trailhead for a loop trip.
- Ten Essentials
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping pad
- Stove and fuel
- Cook set
- Water bottle
- Water filter
- Bug spray
- Warm coat/puffy jacket
- Rain gear
- Small daypack
- First Aid Kit
- Map and/or GPS
- Camp suds
- Camp towel
- National Forest Pass
- Climbing gear (optional)
- Fly rod and tackle (optional)
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Backpacking, Fishing, Hiking, Photography
Spring, Summer, Autumn
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ReviewsLeave a Review
Awesome Trip.. Wish We Had More Time
What a 4th of July weekend! Such a cool and remote area. Saw two bears, a family of goats, and some of the best camps I've ever had. Took the exact route in described here, but we were pressed for time and had some of our group not quite conditioned for the hike.... I really wanted to summit the surrounding peaks but time and group energy were lower than I would've hoped for. An extra day would've been what we needed. Only one night at Upper Cathedral Lake was still worth it. Next time I do this area, I'm going to plan a much longer duration and come in through Horseshoe Basin. The Chewuch was fine, but pretty uneventful until you get to Apex Pass. Although the river was awesome and we got to camp right over it in hammocks. Also, TONS of downed trees... Probably added a couple of hours to our trip. A+ destination.
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