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Hike of the Week: Spider Gap-Buck Creek Pass Loop

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Welcome to Paria's “Hike of the Week” series. In these posts, we aim to inspire you to get out there and experience the best trails the world has to offer. Pictures are nice, but nothing tops being somewhere in-person.

Each week we highlight a different trail from around the world. This week's highlight takes us to the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest in Washington on the Spider Gap-Buck Creek Pass Loop. 

Featured Photo: Phelps Creek, Glacier Peak Wilderness (Photo by Andy Porter)

Why This Hike?

This trail in the Glacier Peak Wilderness offers some of the best views of the namesake peak and is packed full of other natural highlights to keep your senses overloaded with amazement the entire trip. Challenging terrain, wildlife viewing, and incredible views of the Cascadian wilderness await.

  • Mileage: 40 miles
  • Elevation gain: 7,995 feet
  • Rated as moderate to difficult; the terrain is rugged in spots and there is a rather steep climb and precipitous descent between miles 6 and 8. 
  • Recommended length is 4-days, 3-nights, though you can extend this to enjoy the beauty more or break up your hiking days. 
  • Best time to go is July through September
  • Highlights include Lyman lakes, alpine meadows and lakes, glaciers, mountain passes, spectacular views of Glacier Peak, Image Lake, and waterfalls near the end.
  • Many side trips include Lyman Falls, Hart Lake, Middle Ridge, and Flower Dome.
  • Lots of solitude and chances to view a plethora of local wildlife.
  • If you wish to make your first day shorter or extend your trip an extra day, you can choose to stay at one of the many sites in Spider Meadow, but it's a very popular camping area.

Keep these things in mind when planning your trip:

  • There is a 3-mile road walk back to your car between Trinity and the Phelps Creek Trailhead if you do not park at the Trinity Trailhead.
  • Water sources may be scarce in some areas depending on what time of year you are hiking.
  • Don't leave your packs unattended and left out. Marmots are plentiful in the area, especially near Image Lake and Upper Lyman Lake.

How Do I Get There?

If you will be flying to the area, Seattle-Tacoma International is the closest major airport to the trailhead. From here, head southeast on Airport Expressway and continue a short way until merging right onto WA-518 E. Keep on this for about a mile before merging onto I-405 N. Continue for 23 miles. Take exit 23 and merge right onto WA-522 E. Continue 14 miles before exiting onto US-2 E for 70.6 miles. Turn right onto WA-207 N and continue 4 miles. Make a slight right onto Chipawa Loop Road, which shortly becomes Co Hwy 22. Turn left onto Chipawa River Rd and continue a little over 3 miles before continuing on NF-62 for 3 miles. The road turns into Chipawa River Road again and continues 16 miles. Make a slight right onto Phelps Creek Trailhead Road and continue 2.3 miles before reaching the trailhead. The drive is 141 miles and takes about 3 hours and 20 minutes.

Map

The following map outlines our recommended route. For more detailed mapping, including being able to print a copy for yourself, we recommend opening the map in CalTopo.

  • Day 1 - Phelps Creek Trailhead to Lyman Lake Camp (10 miles)
  • Day 2 - Lyman Lake Camp to Image Lake Camp (7 miles)
  • Day 3 - Image Lake Camp to Buck Creek Pass Camp (10.5 miles)
  • Day 4 - Buck Creek Pass Camp to Phelps Creek Trailhead (13 miles)

Trail Description

From the Phelps Creek Trailhead, the route begins by wandering next to its namesake stream. Make your way gradually up through the peaceful valley forest with the Entiat and Phelps Ridge on either side of you. After about 4 miles, the woods open up to the expansive Spider Meadow area. Again, there are tons of campsites here if you wish to stop here on the first night. If not, prepare for one of the most difficult parts of your journey as you head up the steep, switchback-filled ascent to Spider Glacier and Gap. Take advantage of a lookout near the top to catch your breath and take in the views of the valley below before finally reaching the top a mile later. Take care on the drop down the other side and trek about 3 more miles to your campsite at Lyman Lake.

Heading out on day 2, you'll gradually ascend toward Cloudy Pass, passing through another large meadow on the way. Take care once more on the tricky section following this pass on your way to Suiattle Pass. After briefly joining the PCT, you'll head down Miner's Ridge Trail. You may still be able to view remnants of mines past along the route. Past these abondoned relics, you will leave the forest once more and traverse through more subalpine meadows with icy peaks as backdrops. Before long you will reach Image Lake, which you will soon find out why it is such a well-loved photography spot.

After backtracking to the PCT in the morning, you'll descend through the subalpine and montane forests before reaching Miner's Creek, where you can view Chipawa and Fortress Mountains as well as their respective glaciers. After crossing the creek, you'll make your way up yet again on the Buck Creek Pass Trail. Enjoy several miles of relative flatness before climbing more knee-grinding switchbacks up to the pass. You'll find your campsite across the large meadow at the south end of the pass.

Your descent back down the valley on your last day can be both nerve-racking, with perilous drop-offs, and breathtaking, with views of Buck Mountain, Liberty Cap, and even more glaciers. Once you reach flatter ground, the last few miles before reaching Trinity follows a pleasant creek. If you absolutely don't feel like walking 3 more miles back to your car, Phelps Creek Campground is an option on the south side of town. If not, continue along Chipawa River Road and Phelps Creek Trailhead Road to your starting point.

What Do I Need?

Average highs range between 70-77°F in July, August, and September with average lows ranging between 50 and 55°F. Temperatures would permit you to go in other months, but you would need the proper snow trekking gear. For the summer months, a sturdy, lightweight tent will suit you well to protect you from the elements at night. A light, insulated down sleeping bag will keep you warm as well as an ultralight sleeping pad.

Paria Outdoor Products Bryce 2P Backpacking Tent

Our Bryce 1P and 2P tents offer a single, large front entry, which is ideal for a single person, sometimes two.

Trekking poles will come in handy for the rough terrain and steep climbs. Depending on the time of year, you may want to stash some snow baskets for your trekking poles too, just in case. 

Lightweight, titanium utensils and cup will save you a little bit of weight in your pack and will last darn near forever!

Speaking of food, bear canisters are a must for this trail as these large mammals are commonly spotted along the route.

For a comprehensive list of items to bring, check out our Ultimate Backpacker's Packing List. Be sure to print out the convenient list to check off as you pack!

Do I Need a Permit?

No backcountry permits are required. If you decide to start from Trinity to avoid walking the three extra miles back to your car at the Phelps Creek Trailhead, there is a daily fee for parking at that trailhead.

Resources

Backpackers Review (great pictures)
Washington Trails Association
U.S. Forest Service: Glacier Peak Wilderness

Conclusion

If you're looking for a several-day excursion in the ever-beautiful Pacific Northwest filled with wildlife, natural wonders, and views, don't pass up a chance to hit the Spider Gap-Buck Creek Pass Loop in northern Washington.

Have you completed this trail? What other great trails have you been on lately? We'd love to hear about them in the comments section below!

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