LENGTH: 3.6 MILES RT
ELEVATION GAIN: 635 FT
North Cascades National Park is about 2H 40M from our AirBnB in Seattle. We left at 5:30 am and only made a stop for gas, bananas and espresso. Before entering the park there are these little drive thru shacks that sell Redbull, lattes, espresso, etc. Needless to say, super convenient.
Driving into the park we were the only car we’d seen going or coming. To be completely honest, it was alarming to be the only ones on the road. What if we weren’t supposed to be in there? What if the hikes were inaccessible? I knew route 20 was closed past the bridge at colonial creek. So was it possible we were alone in the park because everyone else knew something we didn’t?
It gives me so much anxiety when I’m out on new trails and there is no one to guide us. It’s comforting when I see other hikers on the trails. I also feel all this extra pressure to not get lost because the wilderness can be unforgiving to the underprepared and unskilled. I do so much research and overpack food, water, and gear that I really shouldn’t feel that way. It’s something I’m working on being comfortable with.
Turns out that we were just early and there was nothing to worry about. It’s February and the park has limited hikes available. Therefore, limited crowds if you will. We crossed paths with a family of five half way down the trial. And found 3 more cars parked in the lot when we got back to our car.
The family of 5 were two adults and three kids under the age of 8. They were actually turning around because the snow and down trees were proving to be too much for the younger two. It was a good call. The snow was pretty deep at the top. There was a whole lot of post-holing going on up there. Luckily it was only calf deep with the occasional snow in my boots. Knee or waist deep would have sucked!
We parked at the lot just outside the Colonial Creek Campground. There weren’t any cars there when we arrived. So we clearly parked in front of the sign for a photo op. I mean, what kind of blogger would I be if I didn’t?
At the west end of the parking lot you’ll find a board with a map and trail information. There’s also a pit toilet behind there if you chugged an energy drink or coffee like I normally do. This hike will look very different at the beginning of the trail if you’re going during warmer months.
As per the board, the footbridges had been removed for the season when we were there. I read a warning that concerned me, “Be prepared to ford the creek, or turn back if conditions warrant.” UGH! I did not want to do that so early in the hike. I also didn’t want to have to turn back.
So we continued on to the trailhead. You’ll need to walk through the campgrounds to reach the official trailhead. Follow the signs for Thunder Knob.
With all the foot bridges moved for the season, and the snow/ice on the ground, we had moments when we didn’t know where to go. There was an occasional sign, but there weren’t any trail markers to follow. This sign below was the last one we saw before crossing Colonial Creek.
I was so happy to find this very shallow creek and the last sign for Thunder Knob Trail on the right. We crossed the water and kept our eyes on the well worn trail.
Immediately after the creek, the trail is covered in snow. It’s not that easy to see in pictures, but I promise you the path is worn and you’ll know exactly where to walk.
From this point forward the trail will alternate between mud, snow, ice and bare ground. We knew we were heading in the right direction when we came across this footbridge.
About a third of the way up we came across six or seven deer. They were also using the trail to walk. As we gained elevation they got a bit skittish. I wouldn’t like being followed either lol.
Looking behind you is always important. The way the fog and clouds are set up, I had to take in the views while they were there for the viewing.
The other thing I noticed on the trail heading up were all the fallen trees. Some were easy to climb over or crawl under. While others required a little rerouting. When maneuvering around these, please be extra careful. The back of my thigh is no stranger to splinters.
The views were so nice up here. There were snow capped peaks all around. The lake was silent and still below us. The sky was blue and we had it all to our selves.
If I may be honest about the lake, it’s nothing like the Instagram pictures I’ve seen. I feel like Instagram has created a false expectation. It does have a hue to it, and when filtered you can make that color stand out as little or as much as you want. Maybe it’s because of the time of year, so I’ll give the benefit of the doubt. However, when we were there, it was by no means bright/light turquoise to the naked eye.
Please don’t misinterpret that statement as taking anything away from this awesome view. I’m simply setting realistic expectations for views in February here.
To complete the second half of the hike, retrace your steps all the way to the car. It took us about an hour and ten minutes to get to the car from the top of Thunder Knob. Towards the end of the hike I noticed the creek was deeper now because the snow was melting under the sun. The water ran a little louder than it did earlier in the morning.
If you’re not too tired from the hike or have spare time, walk over to the lake. It’s located past the east end of the parking lot (walking towards the bridge). It’ll take you all of three minutes to get there after leaving your pack in the car. It’s a nice view to get a different perspective of the mountains.
One day I’m going to come back here. And I’m going to see what the park has to offer past mile marker 130…
Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world.John Muir