Hike the Pipestone Canyon Rim Trail Loop
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Added by Nick Lake
Hike through a stunning canyon and back along a high ridgeline in the high desert of Washington's Okanogan Region. Catch uninterrupted views of the sawtooth North Cascades Range and the Methow Valley as well as abundant wildlife and wildflowers.
The Methow Valley in north-central Washington is magical for myriad reasons—the dry powder and bluebird days of winter, the hot high-desert days of summer, stunning views of the North Cascades Mountains to the west; the list goes on and on. Adding to its mystique is the little-known Pipestone Canyon, carved out the hills north of the town of Winthrop.
Before you head up to the canyon, stop in at the Rocking Horse Bakery and fuel up with a latte and one of their decadent cinnamon rolls. Head out of town from there, following signs for the Smoke Jumpers Base Camp up Bear Creek Road. Keep an eye out for Lester Rd., a right turn just before the pavement ends (it's easy to miss.) A high-clearance vehicle is recommended to navigate the roads from here on into the canyon area as washouts and potholes are very common and often go unfixed for a while.
The trailhead sits just past a wide-open area commonly used as a hunting camp during deer and elk season alongside Lake Campbell. The trail beelines into the canyon through a large section of burned-out Ponderosa Pines, while hoodoo-like columns (the namesake “pipestones”) ornament the canyon walls overhead like castle ramparts. After a good rain, this trail gets extremely muddy and, as it’s often very overgrown, the wetness from the brush will soak your legs through pretty quickly.
After the first mile, the forest thins out and the trail opens into a broad grassy meadow, hemmed in by rotten rock rising up on the hillsides to both sides. Watch out for Rattlesnakes among the log piles and rock outcroppings throughout the entire hike. Rusting, abandoned farming equipment can be found scattered along the trail throughout the valley, which continues to open up ahead. Shortly before reaching a cattle fence around three miles in, a narrow booth path rises up to the left of the main trail, beginning a wide loop up through the hills to the east of the main canyon, then cutting back north, climbing towards the upper canyon rim.
From the top of the rim, sweeping vistas emerge including much of the North Cascades Range and its dramatic, jagged peaks, and the fertile Methow Valley sprawling to the southeast. Golden Eagles nest in the canyon walls and can often be seen circling the valley on thermals while the occasional coyote may be spotted loping along in search of food to scavenge.
The rim portion of the trail hugs the cliff edge rather closely, allowing for pretty impressive views of the pipestones from up close. This section of trail is completely wide-open as well, meaning the vistas are endless. Eventually the trail drops down towards Lake Campbell but unfortunately there’s no good crossing through the marshy basin. Continue along until it meets the road back at the hunter’s camp and backtrack about a mile to your car at the trailhead.
Be sure to hit up Old Schoolhouse Brewery once back in town for tasty nachos and one of their award-winning craft beers.
- 10 Essentials
- Extra Water
- Gaiters (for the wet season)
- Camera and Tripod
- Binoculars for spotting Golden Eagles
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