Best Day Hikes in Stehekin: Part 3 – Going to the Top!

Our final suggestion in the Best Day Hikes series. The following describes the best of the best in the “Challenging” category. If you are all about getting the fantastic views, and don’t mind breaking a sweat to get them, then this is for you. I would put this in the “well worth it” category, but you will certainly earn your dinner (and dessert) with this one!

View from McGregor MountainMcGregor Mountain – This trail is the one for those looking to get some elevation and spectacular views of the North Cascades mountain range. There is a well built trail most of the way to the top of the 8,129′ mountain. The last mile is a relatively easy scramble, but you definitely want to exercise caution and use good judgement. The scramble route is marked with red paint, but it can be tricky to find, so if you plan to summit, do your homework before you head out. From the trailhead, it is 7 miles to the top. Those looking for a shorter hike will start getting some great views about 2 miles from the trailhead. Regardless of how far you go, this hike is well worth the effort on a clear day!

Difficult, but with Moderate options for those not wanting to summit, 14 miles RT to summit, many viewpoints

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Best Day Hikes in Stehekin: Part 2 – Finding the Vistas

Installment 2 of our day hike suggestions for your stay in the Stehekin Valley (and at our Ranch of course!). The following suggestions fall into the “Moderate” category. More elevation, and more views, but still not overly strenuous.

View from Rainbow TrailRainbow Loop Trail – This trail falls into the easy to moderate category. There are 2 trailheads for this hike. You must hike a bit of the road in order to complete the “loop”, but most people simply start at the Upper trailhead, and come out at the Lower trailhead, which is conveniently located about 1/2 mile from the bakery where they can get an ice cream cone and wait for the next bus to bring them back to the Ranch. The upper end of the trail is mostly wooded – quite nice as you are hiking uphill! You will cross a bridge about halfway – this is Rainbow Creek. From here on out you will get many view points looking out across the Stehekin Valley. Looking straight down, you will see Buckner Orchard, and off to the left is Lake Chelan. As an optional extension, you can branch off onto the main Rainbow Creek Trail a mile or so and get some more great views as you go up.
Easy-Moderate 4.5 miles with viewpoints of the Stehekin Valley and Lake Chelan.

Hiking on the McGregor Mt. TrailMcGregor Mountain Lite – This trail is the one for those looking to get some elevation and spectacular views of the North Cascades mountain range. It is 7 miles of uphill trail to get to the summit (stay tuned for our next installment if you are looking to summit), but the great thing about this trail is that you don’t have to go to the top to enjoy some fabulous views. As you head up, you will pass Coon Lake about 1 mile in. This is a beautiful alpine lake. Keep going past the lake and you will come to the McGregor Trail turnoff. As you continue up, you’ll start getting some great views about another mile from the lake. The farther up you go, the more you will be able to see, but you can turn around at any time. Regardless of how far you go, this hike is well worth the effort on a clear day!
Difficult, but with Moderate options for those not wanting to summit, 14 miles RT to summit, many viewpoints

Best Day hikes in Stehekin: Part 1 – A Walk in the Park

There are many hikes to choose from when staying in the Stehekin Valley, but here at the Ranch, we do have our favorites. The following is the first of 3 articles describing our best suggestions. Today’s feature is on the list of “Easy” hikes in Stehekin. Stay tuned for “Moderate” and “Challenging” suggestions in future posts!

Agnes GorgeAgnes Gorge – While this is a fairly easy 1/2 day hike, it is hands down my favorite. 2.5 miles of trail takes you through wooded areas, and breaks out into spectacular mountain views. At the end of the trail, you can scramble right down to the creek, and watch it crash over a 30 foot falls into the gorge. Or you can stay up top, and look down at it from high above. You can also see the remains of the old suspension bridge that used to span the gorge – not for the faint of heart!! When you visit the Ranch, you can see a picture showing a pack string of horses crossing that bridge – quite impressive!
Easy 5 miles round-trip with viewpoints.
Coon Lake

Coon Lake – This is the beginning of the trail to McGregor Mountain. It is just 1 mile in to get to Coon Lake, which is a beautiful alpine lake. If you continue up the McGregor trail another mile or 2, you will come to some great lookouts with mountain views to the south. You can also choose to return via the wagon trail, which will take you to a trailhead further up the Stehekin Road from where you started. There is very little traffic on this upper end of the road (the buses stop at High Bridge), so you can wander down this very pleasant 1.5 miles of road in peace. You will also cross Tumwater Bridge on this section of road, which is quite spectacular.
Easy 2+ miles (actual mileage depends on route)

View from Lakeshore TrailLakeshore Trail – This fun trail takes you back along the lake for a pleasant stroll. You can make this hike as long as you like – the trail continues 17 miles to Prince Creek. There is a nice picnic shelter at Flick Creek (~4 miles), which can make a good lunch/turn around point. For a longer hike, you can go to Moore Point (7 miles) or just wander until you feel like turning around. Don’t forget you have to walk back as far as you walked in!
Easy – as long as you like, with lake views


Want to learn more about hiking trails? Click here to read more…

New Adventure Packages!

Fantastic views on a Trail RideStehekin Valley Ranch, in cooperation with Stehekin Outfitters, is offering these adventure-packed mini-vacations for your enjoyment of the Stehekin area. Visit our website for more information or to book one of these great packages!


Express Adventure Package Short on Time, but High on Adventure… 2 Nights, 2 Activities, ALL Meals! Available: June 15 – July 2, 2015 $350/person + tax, double occupancy


Enjoying a Kayak Tour on Lake ChelanDeluxe Adventure Package All the Adventure you need, plus time to relax! 3 Nights, 2 Activities, ALL Meals! Available: June 15 – August 31, 2015 $440/person + tax, double occupancy


Road News – Is the upper Stehekin valley on its way to being accessible again?

The following article was written in response to the recent passing of a federal bill which will allow for the upper Stehekin Valley Road to be reopened. The process is far from complete, but this is a huge step towards restoring access to our upper valley’s vast treasures. Cliff Courtney shares some ideas about how to keep costs down and ensure quality trail access as well as reopening the actual road. 

The Upper Stehekin Road ~ A win for trails

Carwash Falls
Carwash Falls

Prior to 2003 folks hiking the Pacific Crest Trail between High Bridge and Bridge Creek were routed up on a bench above the valley floor while the vehicle road traversed the valley down next to the Stehekin River. Many of the hikers chose to walk the road rather than take the trail because the route the road took was much more scenic and cooler. After the road was washed out, because the tread was completely wiped out by the flood in a couple places, hikers no longer had the road option and the only route left was up on the bench. Today, thanks to congress allowing for a swap for the road right of way
to be moved away from the river, we have a win for trails and we can re-open the Stehekin Valley Road to Cottonwood as well.

What congress has allowed for is a swap that would have no affect on wilderness because it will swap acre for acre. The great news is that now the road will be out of the more fragile riparian zone and that vacated right of way will be available for a hiker trail! This 3 mile stretch of trail is already largely intact but it will have a couple of challenges. The first challenge is at the very start of where the road washed out at a place called Carwash Falls. This is a place where, although not vertical, the flood washed out the tread and left slanted bedrock. The bigger challenge however is that to build a trail here it necessitates a bridge that will not only be under a falls but will also have extreme stresses placed on it in the winter from snow and ice. Fortunately there is a much better alternative than this very expensive option. After leaving High Bridge the PCT travels to Coon Lake and then heads on up the Stehekin Valley to join up with what is known as the Old Wagon Road. This is the section of old road that was used for vehicle traffic in years past that will now be rebuilt to accommodate a new section of roadway. Now, instead of joining this old road, the trail can cross the narrow dirt road and continue on its path up valley
angling away from the road towards the river. From there it will follow a small bench and drop down to the area right down river from the former Dolly Varden Campground. This will be easy trail building and it will cross Carwash Falls Creek above the river so that a precarious and expensive bridge will no longer necessary. From there the trail will mostly align with the old roadbed that was washed out in 2003. There are two other near vertical faces that will need some blasting to establish the tread but these are simple enough since they do not include any streams. Aside from these two challenges it will also be
wise to move the trail a little further uphill in some areas so that in the event of another large flood the trail will remain intact. The trail will then intercept a path that the NPS has already built and maintains at Shady Camp on the Stehekin River.

This will be an incredible and beautiful stretch of trail and an enhancement to the PCT. It will not only be enjoyed by through hikers however because it will be a wonderful trail for a short day hike or for access for fishermen. I fully expect organizations such as the Pacific Crest Trail Association and the Washington Trails Association to warmly endorse this option once they realize that hikers have gained a route much more beautiful than the one that was lost to the realignment. I do understand their concern however, and I am fully in support of including funding for this trail at the same time funding is secured to re-open the road.

Horseshoe Basin (21)
Horseshoe Basin

Speaking of trails, one must readily acknowledge that rebuilding the road is mostly about trails. We are not losing trails; we are regaining several opportunities for hiking that were lost to the day hiker when the road was washed out. Hikers will once again have access to trailheads such as Bridge Creek, Goode Ridge, Park Creek, Flat Creek, Horseshoe Basin, Trapper lake and of course the unforgettable Cascade Pass area. Aside from day hikers regaining a foothold (pun intended) it will also once again re-establish the two routes that once brought hikers in to the valley that were short enough to cover in one day. A couple other wonderful things that this right of way swap enabled was that the narrow little dirt road was (and will be again) the only option for mountain bikers to have day of fantastic mountain biking in North Cascades National Park. One must not forget the other user group that has now been allowed back in to the park either. That group consists of the visitor who is elderly or handicapped to the point where they cannot hike long distances. They can now once again enjoy a sample of the park that they had lost. A favorite time of year for that group is during the fall color season.

Congratulations and thank you Evans, Hastings, Parlette, England and others that worked so hard to make this possible. You have not only helped our community remain viable but this is truly a win for all user groups and enables the National Park Service to live up to their General Management Plan and the intent of The Washington Wilderness Act that called for a vehicle road to Cottonwood Camp.

Cliff Courtney
January 2015