This is the peak that inspired Jack Kerouac's Desolation Angels, and it's no wonder that people (and in the middle of summer, there are often quite a few) would be inspired to meditate on desolation after hiking up this steep hillside through alpine meadows. On the way to the top -- 4,400 feet up -- there are spectacular views of Hozomeen Mountain, Jack Mountain, and below, beautiful Ross Lake. This can be a very hot and dry hike in the summer, and the full round-trip takes several days. Carry plenty of water. Desolation Lookout is closed to the public.
14 miles RT. Strenuous. Access: Desolation Landing on Ross Lake (take the Ross Lake Resort water taxi), or hike north along East Bank Ross Lake Trail. Northwest Forest Pass required for parking.
Diablo Lake Trail
This is the "Grand Central" of the Diablo Lake area. You get views of Ross Dam and of the power lines, which the trail intersects, but you'll also see some old-growth trees and varied forests. The trail starts at Seattle City Light's power project dock, where you can pick up the summer boat for a ride to the base of upstream Ross Dam (call for schedules). Better to follow the trail as it winds along what was once the Skagit River but is now Diablo Lake. In front of Ross Dam, you get a good idea of how well the dams work. Check out the view as you cross the suspension bridge, which once traversed the Skagit River Gorge which now is part of the system of dams that makes the Ross and Diablo lake areas.
7.6 miles RT. Moderate. Access: At end of road, across Diablo Dam.
East Bank Trail
During the summer, this is one of the most popular trails in the park because of its plentiful and well-maintained campsites, the easy grade of its path, and its proximity to Wash. State Rte. 20. To avoid crowds, you might want to wait until late in the season or hike midweek. The path, near the eastern perimeter of the park, borders the Pasayten Wilderness and the Okanogan National Forest, from which several trails intersect the East Bank Trail. The highest point along the trail is the Desolation Peak Trail, to the north. Along the way, be prepared for black bears, fall foliage, and, on the northern section of the trail, the remote possibility of sighting a member of one of the few remaining wolf packs in the Lower 48.
5-31 miles one-way. Easy to moderate. Access: Several points along the shore of Ross Lake (take the Ross Lake Resort water taxi), or from trail head on Wash. State Rte. 20 to terminus of trail at Hozomeen Campground. Northwest Forest Pass required for parking.
Fourth of July Pass/Panther Creek
For a day hike through some of the most astonishing country in the Lower 48, this section of trail isn't too shabby. It's a popular summer hike to the top of Fourth of July Pass, which offers views of the majestic Neve Glacier and Colonial Peak to the west. It isn't easy, though -- this is a switchback-cursed climb from Thunder Creek up to the 3,500-foot top of the pass. But that's the hardest part. You return downhill through the beautiful Panther Creek Valley for 5 miles to the junction with Wash. State Rte. 20 at the Panther Creek Bridge and the East Bank trail head.
10 miles RT. Moderate to strenuous. Access: Hike 1.8 miles up Thunder Creek Trail to junction with trail head. Northwest Forest Pass required for parking at Panther Creek Trailhead on Wash. State Rte. 20.
This trail is like many in the park -- steep. The hike is a beautiful but relatively sharp climb -- it gains 1,500 feet in just over 2 miles -- passing through pine and fir forests. It ends at a pond, fed by the Colonial Glaciers looming above along the southeast side of Pyramid Peak. You're liable to see climbers descending from the peaks at the end of the day, looking tired but happy after having ascended the 7,000 feet to the top of Pyramid.
4.2 miles RT. Moderate. Access: 1 mile east of Diablo, on south side of highway near creek, close to mile marker 127. Northwest Forest Pass required for parking.
From the west, the trail is easily accessible by car. But rest assured, either way, you're going to be doing some serious climbing: Try a 3,000-foot climb from the Diablo direction, and in just 2 miles, too. And then there's the remaining 2,000 feet along the next 4 miles. It's a densely forested walk over the first couple of miles. Be sure to take the right fork at the 3-mile mark to get to the summit for spectacular views of the lake and the glaciers that dot the horizon to the north. This area is hot and dry in the summer, so take extra water. Sourdough Lookout is closed to the public.
10 miles RT. Strenuous. Access: In Diablo, or water taxi on the West Bank Trail to the Pierce Mountain Trailhead.
This is a pleasant summer hike down a gentle, scenic path along a creek. The trail meanders north for some 2.5 miles before hitting a stretch of giant, moss-hung trees and finally petering out in the middle of the forest. The waters of Stetattle Creek often flow milky blue-white from the glacial silt that comes down from McMillan Spire and Mount Terror. The total elevation gain is 1,100 feet.
6 miles RT. Moderate. Access: Exit before the green bridge on Wash. State Rte. 20, just before Diablo, along Gorge Lake.
Thornton Lake Trail
Although the first part of the trail is basically an old logging road that might remind you of resource-stripping, this trip is not to be missed. It's a moderately steep walk to the lakes, with a scramble route to Trapper Peak, for sublime views of the Picket Range. Even if you don't take the side route, the sight of Mount Triumph's glaciers to the north, from the nestled valleys in which the lakes sit, is worth the hike. The trail gains 2,400 feet in elevation in just over 5 miles.
10 miles RT. Moderate to strenuous. Access: Wash. State Rte. 20 to Thornton Lakes Rd., 3 miles west of Newhalem. Gravel road climbs steeply to trail head. Northwest Forest Pass required for parking.
Thunder Creek Trail
There are plenty of options if you decide to take the Thunder Creek Trail. You can amble past the Thunder Creek Arm of Diablo Lake to the intersection with the Fourth of July Pass Trail (also called the Panther Creek Trail), then head to the left and make a loop around the hub of ever-looming (and, it goes without saying, snowcapped and gorgeous) Ruby Peak. Or you can make an overnight trek through the rugged wilderness that lines the trail north to south on its way to its terminus in the Park Creek Area along the Stehekin River. Along the way, you can intersect with the Fisher Creek Trail, sloping left along the creek toward an intersection with a possible terminus over Easy Pass at Wash. State Rte. 20.
From Diablo Lake, the trail is a broad and easy path for the first couple of miles. It then begins to slope upward for the next several miles, through the Panther Creek junction on the way to McAlester Creek Camp. This is the 6-mile mark, and a lot of day hikers head back the way they came at this point. Otherwise, it's off for several days in some of the most gorgeous country in the continental United States, through the rugged and lush valleys in the southern part of the park.
Distance and difficulty vary; up to 39 miles RT. Access: Trail head south of Diablo Lake, at Colonial Creek Campground parking lot.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.