Less than three hours from Seattle lies the North Cascade National Park, home to an astonishing array of plants and animals. A favorite of hiking enthusiasts in the park is Hidden Lake Trail.
It is an 8.4-mile in-and-out hike, heavily trafficked, and rated as moderately difficult. The trail is used for hiking and snowshoeing and is best traveled from May to October. It features an increase in elevation of 3300’ and is 6900’ at its highest elevation.
Hidden Lake Trail is a popular day-hike but makes a nice overnight backpack trip as well. Starting in a cool, deep forest, the hiker soon finds themself in a huge meadow filled with wildflowers.
Continuing on, the trail becomes rocky and a bit more difficult before it ends at the pinnacle, complete with a historic fire lookout perched on top. As you may expect from a fire lookout peak, the 360-degree panoramic views are a breathtaking sight to behold and well worth the hike.
Hidden Lake Trail History
Unlike the other lookout points, which are now no more than a pile of rubble, the Hidden Lake Trail lookout is restored and preserved in its original design. The small 14’ x 14’ gable-roofed building was originally built by the US Forestry Service in 1931 to serve as a fire lookout post. It was continuously staffed until 1958 when the Forestry Service closed the lookout points.
In 1961, the Skagit Alpine Club obtained a special use permit to restore and maintain the old fire lookout post for club activities. In 1980, the club changed its activities’ location to the Park Butte Lookout post. One member of the SAC, Dr. Fred Darvill, formed a group called the Friends of Hidden Lake Lookout to take over the responsibility for the post’s maintenance.
Many hikers view the lookout post as a campsite, which it is, but Dr. Darvill intended its restoration mostly for historical purposes. The post is maintained by a group of volunteers and is available to the public on a first-come-first-served basis for an overnight stay. The lookout post is mostly used from July through October, or as determined by snow conditions. The Hidden Lake Lookout Post was added to the National Register of Historic Places on July 14, 1987, and is also on the National Historic Lookout Register. The elevation at the post is 6,890’ (2,100m).
Dr. Darvill, an outdoor enthusiast and early advocate for wilderness preservation, played a pivotal role in the creation of the North Cascades National Park. He was an authority on backcountry first aid and it is only fitting that this outpost remains as his visible legacy after his passing in 2007.
Assuming Dr. Darvill’s place as chief steward of the post is Robert Kendall. Mr. Kendall can often be seen at one of his work parties at the site. If you see him there, be sure to thank him for his hard work in maintaining the site and leave the post clean and uncluttered following your stay. A suggested donation of $15 or $20 per night helps defray the cost of supplies and maintenance ensuring this historical treasure is available for generations to come. An interesting note is the post has been a historical site for more years than it served as a fire lookout.
The North Cascades National Park was established in 1968 to preserve mountain meadows, glaciers, waterfalls, and other natural features unique to the Cascades. This area is commonly referred to as the North American Alps. The park encompasses a significant portion of the North Cascade Range and is considered a national treasure.
Getting to The Hidden Lake Trail
To reach the Hidden Lake Trail head, drive Highway 20 from Marblemount, Washington to mile marker 106 where you cross the Skagit River to access Cascade River Road.
Almost 10 miles down this road you will meet the junction with USFS Road #1540, also known as Sibley Creek (Hidden Lake) Road. Travel this rocky, rutted road 4.5 miles to the trailhead at the end of this road.
#1540 is not well-maintained and prone to wash-outs so check conditions before you travel to ensure the road is open. Low ground clearance vehicles won’t be able to make the trip. Parking is limited, even though this is a popular hiking trail, so arrive early and park carefully not to block in other cars and leave enough room to exit.
PARK FACILITIES AND REGULATIONS
The North Cascades National Park offers diverse recreational opportunities for everyone. Visitors can experience the rushing rivers, temperate rain forests of the coast, alpine wildflowers, and outstanding views from mountaintop summits. Wilderness areas offer peaceful surroundings and an opportunity to experience the vast biodiversity of the Olympic Peninsula.
The National Parklands belong to everyone. The Park Service has zero tolerance for racism, harassment, or intimidation in any form. Public lands should be a place of respite and pleasure. The Park’s highest priority is providing a safe, welcoming, and inclusive experience for all visitors.
Pets are allowed but must be on a leash and under control. Service animals are always welcome. Developed recreation sites are those which offer one or more amenities such as picnic tables, fire pits, campgrounds, or restroom facilities. Check the information boards for rules which may pertain to a specific site.
Recreational areas are available for everyone to use. Keep in mind a few rules, such as the following, regarding sanitation. When you are in the park, dispose of all litter and garbage in provided containers where available. Otherwise, pack out what you brought in. Please remember not to throw the trash into rivers, lakes, or streams, and be courteous to other visitors.
Please use motor vehicles only in designated areas and be sure to pay attention to speed limits and traffic signs. Park only in the parking lots provided for visitors. Use trail bikes and other off-road vehicles respectfully to avoid damage to the forest.
Navigating the Hidden Lake Trail
Begin the hike to Hidden Lake Lookout in a deep, dense forest. After about one mile through the forest, the trail opens into the creek basin with soaring cliffs and ridges above. Cross Sibley Creek, for the first time, and climb through the rocky avalanche chute. The trail begins switchbacking over heavily eroded ground through fields of false hellebore, slide alder, and other bright showy wildflowers. In summer, the view is stunning in both colors and a variety of flowers. Watch out for the stinging nettle!
In roughly one mile, cross over Sibley Creek again and continue climbing. For about the next mile, cross the rocky slope and observe the wild heather and blueberries. In the fall, this is the best place in the Cascades to find the vaccinium deliciosum, the highly-prized flavorful blueberries that grow wild in the area.
Now the giants of the North Cascades begin to come into view. The western face of Eldorado Peak’s perfect pyramid stands guard over the headwaters of Sibley Creek. In the other direction, Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan hover over the ridge of Big Devil Peak.
Soon, the trail begins to turn southward. Snow lingers late on this slope. The gulley the trail travels through may still hold patches of hidden ice, so exercise caution. The surroundings change dramatically, yet again, as trees and subalpine meadows give way to bare granite.
In a quarter of a mile, you can see the lookout post for the first time. It looks ridiculously unattainable at the top of a near-vertical face. To your south, the glacial peaks of Snowking Mountain make their appearance for the first time.
In another quarter mile, you reach the high saddle marking the boundary of North Cascades National Park. The view at this point is simply breathtaking. Hidden Lake hides beneath the stunning sentinels of the Cascades. Continue on the “trail” looking for smooth boot tracks in the dirt, surrounded by jumbled boulders until you reach the summit lookout. As you expect, the 360-degree view from the fire lookout post is amazing.
What makes the view remarkable is the long ridge of the most prized mountaineering peaks in the North Cascades unfurled before your eyes. Seldom do hikers get the opportunity to view so many mighty mountains at once: Sahale, El Dorado, Torment, Boston, Sharkfin all closely stacked one after the other.
Not to be overlooked, the lookout post itself is a timeless treasure of the past. It speaks of the commitment of volunteers to preserve this historical treasure for generations to come.
For more incredible hikes in North Cascades National Park, check out our guide to Finding the 10 Best Hikes in North Cascades National Park.
If you’re planning a trip to North Cascades National Park and are looking for a great place to stay, look no further than The 6 Best Hotels Near North Cascades National Park
Something for Everyone at Hidden Lake Trail
Hidden Lake Trail place is a special intersection of incredible views, rocky terrain, and historical significance making it one of the best-loved hiking trails in the Northern Cascades. The Hidden Lake Trail goes through dense forests, alpine meadows, and rocky granite terrain to reach what appears to be an unattainable summit. Enjoy the wildflowers, wildlife, and incredible mountain views along the way. Rejoice in the views from the top and relax in this most intimate view of the very heart of the Cascades.
Next, check out the other top hikes in North Cascades National Park outside the Hidden Lake Trail by following the links below: