As we continue hiking all over the entire Pacific Northwest looking for the best trails and excursions, sometimes we’re looking for a short day trip, and sometimes we want a longer backpacker trail. Copper Ridge Loop in the North Cascades gives you a great multiple leg hike with overnight stays and some strenuous trails to challenge you along the way.
When you hike Copper Ridge Loop, you’ll have earned the hike through your sweat and memories. Not for the day-trippers, this is one of the best hikes available in the entire Cascades range.
Walking 35 miles through some of the most scenic and majestic views any human may ever see is the ideal dream for any hiker. Not too long as to make it a grand and timely expenditure, the Copper Ridge Loop can be a nice way to get out for a long weekend and experience the vast beauty of old growth forests, distant mountain peaks, and trails that will challenge your stamina along the way.
Sub-Alpine climate has some of the most beautiful wildflowers and pristine lakes fed by icy trickling waterfalls. Taking the Copper Loop Ridge will have you skirting the edge of Copper Mountain and then circling back at the roots of the mountain in the valley below before joining back up where you began. Not a hike for the faint of heart as it is rated “difficult” and certainly an overnighter, the rewards of completing Copper Ridge Loop trail are in the sights and scenes you’ll observe along the trails.
To see a further breakdown of the Copper Ridge Loop Trail, please visit the official page for the Washington Trails Association. Link to the relevant page on wta.org for the hike.
HISTORY OF THE AREA
Many of the hiking trails we like to explore have a rich and well-documented history describing the first interactions along the trails, how and why the trails were carved as paths, or at least a story behind the first inhabitants of the area. Aside from the numerous wildlife species along Copper Ridge Loop, the area has nearly no history change since it was first designated as a hiking trail.
Pristine wilderness awaits you along the hike and you’ll see the area much as it was seen fifty or a hundred years back, as there are no developed complexes encroaching the forest, and no residential homesteads in th immediate area.
The entire 500,000 acre area surrounding Copper Mountain has been set aside as the Stephen Mather Wilderness, named such after the very first director of the National Park Service. These pristine woods are protected by the NPS as well as the hikers that walk these trails with a “Leave No Trace” policy the community of hikers, backpackers, and mountaineers are dedicated to keeping these preserves clean and untouched for the enjoyment by today’s hikers and tomorrow’s hikers as well.
There are facilities and camp sites in the area, but they have been set up in such a way as to protect the wilderness from exploitation and they also serve as a way-stop along the trails to remind us that we are temporary guests in these woods. Hike, backpack, camp, and walk… but always remember to do your best to pass through without leaving any evidence you were ever there.
GETTING TO THE TRAIL
Copper Ridge Loop sets out from the Hannegan Trailhead in Deming, Washington in Whatcom County. The address is technically in Deming, but the trailhead is far out in the wilderness that one may believe the “Deming” designation to be a typo!
About ten miles northeast of the Mount Baker summit, Hannegan Trailhead is nestled between the smaller peaks of Goat Mountain to the northwest, Granite Mountain to the east, and the Sefrit and Nooksack peaks to the south, this is the starting point for a great many trails in the North Cascades, not just the Copper Ridge Loop.
If you’re coming in from just about anywhere along the west, you’ll drive up to Kendall in Peaceful Valley, just shy of the Washington and Canada border, just about two hours drive north from Seattle. In Kendall, you’ll take the east spur of the roundabout and continue along 542, also called the Mount Baker Highway, for obvious reasons.
The drive from Kendall to the Hannegan Trailhead for the Copper Ridge Loop is about an hour drive, but it won’t feel that long as the views to the south will be some spectacular observations of Mount Baker. When the road splits off and the Mt. Baker Highway cuts south and just before it crosses the North Fork Nooksack River, continue along NF32 another five miles to the dead end at Hannegan Campground. The road itself ends and becomes the Pacific Northwest Trail; the point where the road ends and the trail begins is the trailhead for Copper Ridge Loop.
PARK FACILITIES AND REGULATIONS
Being celebrated as a strenuous trail in a primitive landscape, the facilities available along the Copper Ridge Loop are scare but surprisingly available. The trail is expertly maintained and you will find facilities dotted along the route as you hike.
Perhaps out of necessity and not through any sense of convenience, there are campsites with varying degrees of facilities used as way-points for the multiple day hike. You can plan your route according to where these campgrounds are, and it is actually suggested to hike this way as reservations for campsites are available on a first-come first-served basis. You don’t want to be out on the hike with no place to stop for the night.
In looking up the hiking trails in the area, some of the short trails allow dogs and pets, others do not. If you are looking to make the entire circuit for the Copper Ridge Loop, you will not want to bring along your four-legged friends as there are segments on this trail that do not allow dogs. Also forbidden along the Copper Ridge Loop is any kind of open fire.
The gorgeous sub-alpine woods and scenery is unfortunately highly susceptible to brushfires and have suffered wildfires through the years due to campfires gone out of control, so now, no fires are allowed anywhere along the loop. Because of the damage to the area and the designation of being pristine wilderness, camping off the trail is discouraged to keep from damaging the delicate flora, and instead camping should take place at any of the established campsites.
NAVIGATING THE TRAIL
Before taking on the Copper Ridge Loop, plan ahead for your trip. Campsite reservations are popular at different times of the year and the permits are limited and only available on a limited basis. So assuming you’ve planned your trip accordingly and gotten permits, camp reservations and packed your gear for a great trip, let’s get going!
Everyone starts the Copper Ridge Loop at Hannegan trailhead. It is a popular spot where multiple trails spur out from. Parking is ample but you might find popular seasons a little crowded. Once you set out along the Pacific Northwest Trail, you are well on your way to a great backpacking and hiking trail.
At around three miles in as your trail zig zags over the Hannegan Pass trail, you’ll see Hannegan Camp spur off to the right. We most likely won’t be stopping here as we have a long way to go before we rest for the evening. A few more switchbacks and you’ll come across the intersection of the Hannegan Pass and Hannegan Peak trails, hike past this, tackle the next set of switchbacks and when you pass by the Boundary Camp you’ll turn left onto Copper Ridge Trail, and this is where the true Copper Ridge Loop begins.
About eight miles in from the start you’ll come across the first two of the Copper Ridge Loop camps; Egg Lake and Silesia. Depending on your pace and your leisure time, you may way to take the short walk up to Egg Lake to take in some time at the water.
At the twelve mile mark you’ll find Copper Lake Camp. If you really make time, you can make it all the way to the twenty mile mark and camp at Indian Creek Camp alongside the Chilliwack River. At around the 24 mile mark is one of the distinguishing features of the Copper Ridge Loop trail, the Chilliwack River Cable Car.
You can attempt to cross the river when the water levels are low, but once the spring melts feed the waters, you’ll need to pull yourself across the water in the suspended cable cars. Really one of the highlights and attractions even when the water is low enough to cross on foot.
Coming around to the 30 mile point you meet back up with the initial Hannagen Pass trail that led you to the Copper Ridge Loop. Make that final hike up the line to the trailhead and consider the hike finally over with a well earned break!
When you find yourself looking to challenge yourself with something more than the casual day-hike and you’ve gotten a few short backpacker excursions under your belt, but aren’t quite sure if your ready to take on some mammoth multiple day trek, give the Copper Trail Loop hike the opportunity to test your mettle. A strong hike that requires some stamina and some determination, but not one that will break your spirit if you’re only dipping your toe into the wilderness hiking life.
Copper Ridge Loop is one of those trail hikes that will press you on without being too rough if you find yourself wanting to take it easier than you expected. The change in elevation is 4000 feet and the entire length is 35 miles, so the isn’t the hike for beginners, but since there are no obstacle course feats along the way, this is the perfect extended hike to learn what you are capable of without putting yourself in any real danger. Come hike the Copper Ridge Loop and see some of the most beautiful forest the North Cascades has to offer, hike the trails and see that spending a few days along these trails is more than anyone could ever dream of.