Mt. Washington

Thanks to a friend in North Bend who introduced me to his hiking challenge group I now have another reason to go bag some peaks along the I-90 corridor, especially some new ones. Every once in a while my freelance lifestyle aligns perfectly with the weather and yesterday I found myself with very little on the schedule and a forecast of 70+ temps and sunny skies. In Seattle! In April! Oh hell yeah, I’m getting out to enjoy that!

I’ve been doing some research on I-90 hiking destinations a little off the beaten path and came across Mount Washington, a 4420 ft peak near exit 38 with reportedly spectacular views of Rainier, Chester Morse lake, and the whole North Bend area. Trip reports were all over the gamut: some people reported a 10-12 RT trek that was very difficult to follow, some said they couldn’t find the trailhead, others said it wasn’t much of a trail and mostly a rock wash, some put the hike closer to 8. As is usual with trip reports, they can be pretty subjective based on experience. Mt. Washington turned out to be a spectacular 8.5 mile RT hike with some stellar trails and at least to me, not hard at all to navigate. There are even signs to point the way once you’re on the trail.

To get there, you drive I-90 east to exit 38, take a right off the exit and the very next right into the Olallie State Park/Upper Twin Falls trailhead. It’s a large parking lot with facilities. You’ll need a Discovery pass. From the parking lot a steep little trail spur leads up to the Iron Horse Trail. Once on the Iron Horse, continue straight (don’t take the left back up the mountain with the Annette Lake signs). Probably a tenth of a mile on the right you’ll see a prominent “Welcome to Iron Horse State Park” sign. About 40-50 feet after this sign start looking for an obvious trail on the left-hand side. It’s right between two large alder (birch?) trees and I found it easy to spot. This is the start of the Mount Washington trail.

Lots of rock on the way up. It's obvious climbers know this area - there is gear hanging from quite a few spots.

Lots of rock on the way up. It’s obvious climbers know this area – there is gear hanging from quite a few spots.

Most of the first 2 miles traverse some beautiful forest with steep rock formations along the sides. The bit of water cascading down created some tiny tall waterfalls along the trail. The trail is a bit rocky, so you have to watch those little rocks that roll under your feet on the way down, but I’ve certainly done rockier trails. Every once in a while you get a peep view out to Mt Si. I think most of the harder climbing is in this first 2 miles as I gained somewhere around 1600-1800′. A little ways up is a Mt WA sign in the trees, which assures you you’re on the right path.

The first sign pointing the way

The first sign pointing the way

At around the 2 mile mark the trail turns along a large wall and an area referred to as the Owl Hike Spot. It has a nice view over to Haystack rock and Si. Continuing along the trail you’ll come to another sign pointing right to Mount Washington and left for the Great Wall trail. I guess the Great Wall trail adds a few miles and meanders around the east flank of the mountain. I stayed right on the more direct trail as most people reported doing. Shortly after the trail crosses a stream, which is pretty small with rocks to help you across, but with the snowmelt there’s a bit of water so getting a little wet is inevitable unless you’re a master rock hopper. From here on the trail climbed easily until the very top.

The Owl hike spot on the trail skirts a pretty cool steep rock wall with views out to North Bend

The Owl hike spot on the trail skirts a pretty cool steep rock wall with views out to North Bend (looking back down the way I came up)

After this the trail starts to get muddy and wet with all the snowmelt so I’d highly recommend some water resistant shoes and gaiters. I met a girl coming down in what looked like Keds and yoga pants and she said it was a massive hiking wardrobe fail.

About a mile or so later the trail opens up into a basin of sorts and I came to a log jammed little lake. The trail continues up directly behind you. From this point on the trail is mostly in snow, though it’s packed enough that I didn’t have any trouble just walking along the top and didn’t need snowshoes or MicroSpikes. After ducking back into the woods and crossing through a little wooden gate, the trail keeps a gentle uphill incline until opening up again and from here the views just get better and better.

The little lake at the bottom of the Basin. Tracks continued up the trail in the snow directly behind me.

The little lake at the bottom of the Basin. Tracks continued up the trail in the snow directly behind me.

The trail gently switches back under the summit and there are plenty of places to enjoy the views on the way up. The last bit below the summit winds back through the woods and the snow gets a little harder. Though the snow was still a bit soft today on a day not quite as warm MicroSpikes could be useful. The path is narrow and traverses a steep tree-lined sidehill, so I took caution not to step too far to the edge as the soft snow was a bit easy to send sliding away. Not dangerous, but easy enough to take a little tumble if you weren’t careful.

On the way up through the basin

On the way up through the basin

Near the top the trail turned skyward and I did put on MicroSpikes for the very short StairMaster section in soft snow. Once you crest that short climb you end up on a little summit just below and behind the real summit with an absolutely spectacular view of Rainier, front and center. You also have great views down to Chester Morse Lake and a convenient rock outcropping to sit and enjoy it all. I sat here in the sun for a good 20 minutes to take a food break before pushing up the last few steps to the real summit. The top has a little weather station and great views over to Haystack, North Bend, Teneriffe, etc.

The short steep push up to the first summit

The short steep push up to the first summit

I reluctantly headed down and passed 2 more hikers on the way up. I saw a total of 4 other people on a 70+ sunny Monday in April. I’d imagine there might be more traffic on a weekend. I’m not really sure how many people know about this trail but it’s safe to say it’s way less traveled than other peaks in the area.

I used my MicroSpikes on the way down for a little extra traction though if you’re an experienced hiker who’s good on your feet you probably won’t need them. I can see the trail getting slick as the snow keeps melting though so might be a good thing to pack if you head up. All in all, if you’re looking for a spectacular hike with less crowds, I’d say this is a winner! I think this easily just became my favorite I-90 hike and I was quite surprised at the fantastic condition of the trail. And hey, getting a goofy gaiter tan in April is awesome!

Once the snow melts I’m not sure if this route changes, but right now there are plenty of snow tracks to navigate easily. I also didn’t see where the fire road from the Great Wall trail connects at the top so it could be a 10-12 mile summer route option. I used my Green Trails iPhone app, which is awesome, but even the way I took wasn’t completely mapped near the top. But again, no trouble following tracks, so check this one while the weather is great and the snow is still fun!


Round Trip: 8.5 mi
Elevation Gain: 3250′
High Point: 4450′
Hiking Time: 4:00

GPS Tracks

GPS track of the ascent. My Garmin had a few blips and over-estimated the ascent.