Hiking The Tallest Mountains in Washington: Choices For 2021

Many hikers looking to test their skill hike the tallest mountains in Washington. Washington state has some challenging trails that offer beautiful vistas of the Cascade Mountains. Hikers walk through sub-alpine meadows, lush forests, and past glaciers until they arrive at the summit. 

The hike is harsh. Hikers climb steep slopes, jagged peaks, and encounter snowfields year-round. If you’re willing to put in the effort the experience is unlike anything in the lower 48. It can be a life-changing experience. 

Often referred to as the American Alps the Cascade mountain range is a premier training ground mountain climbers or hikers who want to tell the story of how they hiked the tallest Mountains in Washington. 

Hiking the Tallest Mountains in Washington

Our list of summit hikes contains the tallest mountains in Washington and a range of experiences from day hikes to overnight trips. Keep reading to learn about the adventures that wait for you. 

Trapper’s Peak

Trapper’s Peak rises above the Thorton Lake basin in the North Cascades. This trail is impressively rugged and remote. The trail will make you work! But, the reward at the end is worth the effort you put in. 

This can be a pleasant day hike or an overnight backpacking trip if you set up camp near Thorton Lakes. Relax near the alpine waters and take in the view. You will need a backcountry permit from the ranger station in Marblemount to camp overnight but it can be a great way to take in more of the view. 

 The ascent up the rocky ledge of Trapper’s Peak is moderate by the standards of the North Cascades but you will be squarely in the middle of some of the most rugged terrain the United States has to offer. When you finally reach the summit the views will be even sweeter from all the sweat and adrenaline you put into the climb.  

Trail Details

The trail for one of the tallest mountains in Washington begins modestly, meandering through the hillside along an old logging road. The road is overgrown with thimbleberry, salmonberry, and sword ferns. You’ll walk the first 2 miles through a forest and cross a few creeks with minimal gain in elevation.  

After the logging road ends you will begin the trek uphill. In this section rocks and roots litter the path. Careful footing is needed as you move through the dense forest. After two more miles, you will enter the North Cascades National Park. The trail will continue to climb until you reach a signed junction. Here you will decide if you want to spend some time near the lake or keep climbing. 

If you are heading to the lake early on in the season be careful because there may be ice on the ground. Travel downhill for roughly a half-mile to reach Thorton Lakes. If you decided to continue onward to the peak get ready to gain some more elevation. You will climb 1,000 feet in under a mile before you can enjoy the view from the top. 

You’ll hike through rocky terrain that may require you to use your hands to assist you in the climb. The ridge is narrow and steep. Make sure you have your feet solidly planted otherwise you could tumble down a good distance. 

As you reach the top of the summit, just under 6,000 feet, sweeping views of Mount Triumph and the Picket range will be before you. The Picket Range is easy to spot because of its spiny dagger-like glacier peaks. Mount Triumph will be to the west and the upper Thorton Lakes are visible below. When you turn around you will be able to see incredible views of the Skagit River and farmlands. 

Take a moment to rest and watch the clouds rolls of the peaks. Countless streams cascade down the slabs of granite to the valley floor below you. This is a picture that will be saved in your memory for years to come.  

When to Hike 

The optimal conditions to hike this trail are in mid-July through mid-September. The Northern Cascades remain covered in snow until mid-summer. 

During the springtime, the trails provide much solitude before the peak summer season however you will encounter many challenges taking the trails at this time. Downed trees, overflowing creeks and dangerous snowy bridges will slow down your hike. At higher elevations expect complete snow coverage. Weather conditions can be unpredictable so be prepared if you choose to hike here offseason.

Mount St. Helens 

In 1980, Mount St. Helens famously erupted. Before then, it was easily one of the tallest mountains in Washington. Back then no one could have ever dreamed that Mount St. Helens, one of the tallest Mountains in Washington, would become the hiking destination that it is today. 

Over 200 miles of trails provide hikers with access to a beautiful landscape painted with wildflowers, young forests, mounds of ash and rock, and a volcanic crater rimmed by a young glacier. This is one of only five volcanos in the state that requires no technical skills to reach the top but don’t let that fool you. This 10 miles round-trip hike is not easy. 

You’ll climb 4,000 feet of elevation on loose ashy soil and volcanic rock. This brutal climb is worth the effort as you will gain firsthand experience of the recent eruption at the summit. The dome at the top of Mount St. Helens has grown since 1980. A young glacier is wrapping its way around the crater and taking hold.  

Without a doubt, the Monitor Ridge route is one of the best hikes to get an up-close look at the geological history of both the past and present. Currently, Mount St. Helens is considered one of Washington’s three National Monuments.

Trail Details

The Monitor Ridge trail starts at Climbers’ Bivouac. This trailhead is around 3780 feet in elevation, to begin with. For the first two miles, you will steadily climb through forests and meadows as you hike along the Ptarmigan Trail. Once you reach 4,800 feet in elevation a permit is required to hike. The trees thin out and boulders become more plentiful. Large wooden stakes are posted along the route to mark the path. 

Once you make your way out of the first an onto the boulder the difficulty increases. During this part of the hike, you will gain 2,500 feet as you navigate through dark volcanic rocks. Pumice stones will work their way into your boots and scrap your body. Most hikers find gaiters and gloves to be helpful during this part of the climb. Due to the sparse tree covering, this section of the trail gets pretty hot. Start your hike early to avoid too much sun exposure and wear sunscreen.

The last 1,000 feet in elevation can break even the most skilled hiker. You will often lose your footing on the loose scree. Keep going. When you reach the top you’ll get an up-close look at the crater rim and outstanding views of Washington and Oregon. Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, and Mount Hood’s majestic peaks will seem as if they continue on into the distance forever.  

You’ll be able to count yourself in the company of great hikers who endured this brutal trail and hiked one of the tallest mountains in Washington. Permits are required to climb to the summit. Purchase your permit online from the Mount St. Helens Institute after February 1st. 

When to Hike

Mount St. Helens can be hiked year-round. The best time to hike the non-technical Monitor RidgeRoute is from summer to fall. Check out the trail conditions and snowpack before you take your hike. Plan on starting early if you plan your hike during this time, especially on weekends. 

If you decide to make the climb from winter to early summer make sure you have the proper gear and avalanche training. Winter climbers could follow an alternative route up Mount St. Helens such as the Worm Flows route as a safety precaution. 

Ruby Mountain

Ruby Mountain is located in the center of the North Cascades. This 7,408-foot peak has some of the best panoramic views of snow-capped peaks, glaciers, and lakes in the North Cascades National Park. At the top of Ruby Mountain, you are in the middle of the Northern Cascades. Standing atop the summit after trekking through the forest and meadows you will feel the expanse of the wilderness. 

This tallest mountains in Washington contender has a high prominence for hikers and climbers alike looking to test their skills in Washington state. The trail is daily well-graded thanks to the popularity of Ruby Mountain. Good navigation skills and a nose for finding the boot path are required if you are going to make the hike. 

When the North cascades National Park was established in q968 Ruby Mountain was considered for a tramway project. The tramway would have allowed visitors to take in the views of the North Cascades without the treacherous hike, however, the project was abandoned. It had popular support but the tramway proved to be too costly to complete. Since that time, new environmental protection laws have been passed and the tramway would no longer comply with modern-day regulations.

We recommend hiking the Thunder Creek trail as a multi-day trip. Set up a base camp at Fourth of July Pass and take your time. Fourth of July Camp has a permanent water source. Camping is also possible high on the ridge on top of Ruby Mountain. Snow is available throughout the year on the northeast side to be used as a water source. If you plan to camp at the top be sure to bring enough gas in case melting snow is required Although, if you are a very experienced hiker you can probably complete the trail in one long day hike. 

Trail Details

Ruby Mountain is usually ascended from Thunder Creek trailhead and Fourth of July Pass. The trailhead is located at the backside of Colonial Creek Campground. The starting elevation is around 1,200 feet. The first four miles of the Thunder Creek trail will take you to Fourth of July Pass. 

The long climb starts gently with a minor incline. The trail runs parallel to the mighty Thunder Creek. The water appears chalky because of glacier flour – ground down rocks from years of pressure bearing down on them under the weight of massive ice sheets. After you cross over the bridge the elevation will start to pick up. Follow the clearly indicated path to the intersection with Panther Creek Trail. This leads to the Fourth of July Pass. 

After you reach Fourth of July Pass the serious climbing begins. There is a series of two switchbacks one right after the intersection and one approaching the pass. The climb will give you beautiful views of Colonial Peak, Neve Glacier, Primus Peak, and Snowfield Peak. The higher up you climb, the better the views become. You’ll pass over a few creeks and depending on the time of year you may hit snowpack areas. 

After climbing to 3,400 feet the relatively flat Fourth of July Pass area begins. Continue straight through this swampy area and be careful not to lose your route. The beginning of Ruby Mountain Trail is not clearly marked. Look for the two small bridges across creeks. The trail begins right after the larger bridge on your left. 

The first half-mile of the Ruby Mountain Trail runs through forests and it is easy to follow. At about 4,200 feet the trail enters a gully which makes it more difficult to follow. Pay close attention to the boot paths. The trail eventually opens back up and becomes easier to follow at about 4,900 feet. It can be very steep in this area and poles may come in handy. 

After a while, the trail climbs through a steep rocky area up to 5,800 feet. This is where the views become even better as you hike. The original trail is to the west side of the ridge but some hikers have chosen to follow the center ridge. Both trails are easily visible and choose the one that looks right to you. The west side trail is covered in blueberry bushes and is pretty steep. It has beautiful views of Mounts Baker and Shuksan and many other peaks and glaciers. 

When you reach 6,600 feet a small flat area will interrupt your climb. The 7,200-foot ridge of Ruby Mountain is now visible. Soon you will be standing on top of the summit. Unfortunately, the trail disappears again and you’ll have to scramble up rocks for the rest of the climb. In July a snow-free climb is possible through this part of the trail. 

Once you reach the ridge you will be greeted with fantastic 360-degree panoramic views. To the northeast, you will see Crater Mountain. There is also an amazing view of Ross ad Diablo Lakes. Each lake has a different color. Enjoy your views. You’ve earned it.  

When to Hike

This trail is best from late-July until September. Snowpack lingers at a higher elevation during the summer. Wildflowers are in bloom from late July till early August. Check the conditions of the trail if you plan on hiking in September because the weather can vary greatly at that time of year. 

Climb the Tallest Mountains in Washington

There are just a few of the tallest mountains in Washington. They may require more technical skills than some of the other hikes listed in our 10 Best Hikes in Washington article but your efforts will be rewarded with scenic panoramic views of the American Alps.

Come prepared and enjoy the hike. We encourage you to follow the leave no trace hiking policy as you hike and camp in Washington so that others may enjoy the same experience you had on their trips. We hope you’ve enjoyed your guide to three of the tallest mountains in Washington state!