• Activities:

    Camping, Backpacking, Hiking

  • Skill Level:


  • Season:

    Summer, Autumn

  • Trail Type:


  • RT Distance:

    9 Miles

  • Elevation Gain:

    4100 Feet

Swimming Hole

A truly breathtaking and challenging hike only about an hour from Seattle. It has it all! Mountain range views, a view of the Puget Sound, lakes, waterfalls, rivers, forest terrain, and rocky mountain terrain.

This hike is very strenuous, but nothing unconquerable! The views at sunset were once in a lifetime and something I will remember for the rest of my life.

The first half mile or so of the trail begins in a wooded area then opens up to views of the lower valley. After hiking for about another ½ to ¾ of a mile you come around left of a little point which shows you the views of the ridge you will climb to reach Headlee Pass. You will meander through a couple patches of trees and foliage which are split up with a trail made of scattered boulders and stones. Though there are cairns (stacked rocks) to help you in case you lose the trail, we honestly found it easy to stay on course by simply following the obvious marks and scuffs on the stones from previous hikers.

You will hike quite some time up this ridge before taking a sharp right to go up the steep, switchbacking trail until you reach Headlee Pass. This is where you will be greeted with a short downhill patch that leads to the uphill path that is again made of of stones and boulders.

Once you hike along this ridgeline, you will reach a “Y” in essence. Going left will take you up onto a new ridge and towards Vesper Peak. Stay to the right and trail will take you up to Lake Elan.

Hiking up to the Peak is not as difficult as you may think. Though it is a free climb on the whole second half, we found the rocks to have some very good grip and not to hard to maneuver. All in all, not the easiest portion of the trail but if you are in okay shape and somewhat agile you should be fine. When it comes to camping, there are a few places you can decide to set up. Essentially you can set up by lake Elan or hike up the ridge a bit towards Vesper Peak.

Down by the lake, we did not really see any distinctive campsite locations, yet there are some sandy areas that a few parties had came and settled on later in the evening. The lake seems to be the more popular place to set up due to the sand and the local water source.

Your other option, and what we HIGHLY recommend is to hike a few hundred feet (in elevation gain) up the ridge that takes you up toward Vesper Peak. Very quickly where there are a couple of distinguished campsites with some grass patches to set up tent and a stone fire pit. As you begin the ascent to Vesper Peak you will see these two campsites on your left. They are hard to miss if you are actually looking. The campsite we stayed as was actually right before the second patch of trees begins on the climb up. Just off to the right is a very large, flat rock which is perfect for a tent sleeping up to 4, maybe 5. There is a small tiny trail that had been made before and a cairn was set up on the rock bed when we arrive so I am sure someone had stayed there before. We were a little concerned about sleeping on a hard rock, but with our sleeping pads and knocked out from exhaustion we had no trouble sleeping. If you have a sold sleeping pad, sleep on the rock, the views and sunrise will be worth it!

Getting there: From Granite Falls follow the Mountain Loop Highway east for 29 miles, turning right onto Forest Road 4065 about 3 miles beyond (east of) the Big Four Picnic Area. Follow this gravel road for 2.3 miles to its terminus at the trailhead for Trail No. 707 (elev. 2400 ft).

Pack List

  • Water
  • Snacks
  • Tent/hammock
  • Sleeping pad & bag
  • Fire starter
  • Flashlight
  • TP & bluebag
  • Camera
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Note: Forest Service Road 4065 is the first right after you pass Ice Caves picnic area and will be labeled "closed @ 1.2 miles". Don't let this keep you away. There is a partial washout but nothing my sedan couldn't negotiate. Vesper mountain trail is one of the more challenging hikes I've completed this year. From start to finish it is a considerable uphill battle with every step. Excepting a moderate climb once you start up the drainage to Headlee Pass and the short downhill jaunt after. You will cover three sorts of terrain, packed dirt and rocks in the beginning, slippery shale in the middle, and granite as you ascend Vesper. The shale is the most testing of all, only made more challenging by the varied washouts that happened in spring. There are many cairns to guide your way through the shale field, I was able to navigate it at night without too much difficulty. However, unless you've been on this trail before or are an experienced hiker, I would not recommend a night time ascent. It's much easier to see where you are going in the daylight. Once you make it to the lake outflow, you can turn right, which leads to the lake, or straight which leads to Vesper and some prime camping spots just above the lake. Once you pass the campsites, on your way to Vesper, the trail becomes steeper and I highly recommend trekking poles if you are carrying a pack. If you packed light, you'll be fine without. After a few switchbacks you'll rise above the tree line and walk on granite the rest of the way. Many cairns lead the way to a fun scramble until you reach the top and some epic views. This is a fun and challenging hike with beautiful and dramatic jagged peaks but it is not for beginners.

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

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