Backpack to Glacier Peak Meadows and White Chuck Glacier
Rate this Adventure Washington › North Fork Sauk River Trailhead
Added by Kristin McLerran
Get up close and personal with Glacier Peak, one of Washington's most beautiful (and more forgotten) volcanoes. On this out-and-back you will see marmots and pikas, hike alongside rivers and up high mountain passes, and travel into Glacier Peak Meadows where the recession of White Chuck Glacier has transformed the landscape into a different world. Another plus: you don't need permits and can take dogs into the Glacier Peak Wilderness.
Starting at the North Fork Sauk Trailhead (NFD 49) off the Mountain Loop Highway, you will travel 5.3 miles and gain a leisurely 1,100 feet of elevation until you reach Mackinaw Shelter. This is where the real work begins. The trail gains a calf-burning 3,000 feet in the next 2.9 miles until you meet up with the Pacific Crest Trail. The only thing that gets you through this section is the endlessly stunning views that just get better and better the higher you climb. To the west you will see countless peaks that line the Mountain Loop Highway, and on a clear day you can look far to the southeast and see Mt. Stuart and south to Mt. Rainier!
Look carefully for the PCT around 8.2 miles, as the PCT North turns off quickly to the left. Although it seems tempting to turn right toward the easy final half mile to White Pass, take this left turn to Red Pass--it's worth it! After gaining the final 600 vertical feet to Red Pass, you'll get a view down toward the White Chuck River and your first view of Glacier Peak. From the pass it's just another 1.6 miles downhill through a gorgeous, marmot-filled valley to your campsite. Many incredible campsites with views of the peak are visible from the trail.
On your second day, an incredible 10.5 mile loop up into Glacier Peak Meadows awaits you. Although this loop is marked on Green Trails Map #112, it is an unmaintained trail and is very hard to follow at times. You will need good route-finding skills to follow the loop once you get into the glacier basin. Starting from your campsite in the morning, follow the PCT down toward the White Chuck River. Look for a waterfall to the east, and cross the river toward it. You will find a faint trail that leads up the hillside along the right side of this waterfall. The trail leads you into an open moraine with cascading drainages and beautiful views. You will again lose the trail, but continue east toward another large waterfall and climb up to the right of that as well. Here you will enter Glacier Peak Meadows, a beautiful place to camp where multiple drainages meet and waterfalls cascade into the meadows from all sides. But again, the highest reward is further on. From here continue up into the left-most drainage. Route-finding is difficult here as many landslides have made travel difficult in the drainage. If water flow is high, hiking up this drainage would be impossible, and another route would need to be found.
Follow this drainage to where the ground finally flattens and you will find a gorgeous alpine lake. Views of Glacier Peak are incredible and the water is dyed an incredible turquoise due to the nearby White Chuck Glacier! Follow any one of the creeks upward and you will stumble upon at least 15 or more lakes and pools, each of which seem to be a different color. If you continue along the loop (do not depend too heavily on cairns as they are rare and small), you will find White Chuck Glacier. The glacier is enormous and gorgeous, just be careful of "quick sand" created by glacial silt!
The remainder of the loop leads you below a steep ridge, which will be to your left as you turn away from Glacier Peak. Continue in the same general direction, losing elevation, and you will eventually see a faint trail that heads up toward a pass. From here the trail is much easier to follow and will lose and gain elevation as you head back toward the PCT and White Pass. Complete the loop by returning to Red Pass, which you came over the day before. The loop is about 10.5 miles and around 3,000 feet of elevation. The loop can also be done in the opposite direction, of course!
On the third day, hike back out the way you came, or continue along the PCT to many other beautiful parts of the Glacier Peak Wilderness!
- Trekking Poles
- Green Trails Map #112 (Glacier Peak)
Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.
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
Backpacking, Camping, Hiking
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