Although Sauk Mountain is technically not part of North Cascades, I'm including it in this series because we visited Sauk Mountain during our return trip from Cascades. You could enjoy Sauk mountain without needing to visit North Cascades at all!
Day 5: Sauk Mountain
If you want a 360-degree view that encapsulates not just North Cascades, but also the nearby Mt. Baker, and a distant view of Mt. Rainier – there's no better hike than Sauk Mountain. The best part of the hike is that the road does most of the work for you, because the trailhead itself is pretty high up on the Sauk mountain. Getting to the trailhead itself from State Route 20 took us around an hour. This hike is located in between North Cascades and Seattle, so we timed this on the day we were leaving North Cascades so it was en-route as recommended by the park ranger.
This hike is kid-friendly too, so there's no excuse to avoid it. The hike starts off immediately with switch-backs, but there's plenty of wild flowers and berries amidst the meadows to keep you entertained. There is no shade for majority of the hike, even in the early parts of the trail, given the trailhead itself is above the tree line, but don't let that deter you.
As you get higher up, you see the snake-like turns of the Sauk river around the mountain, making for a pretty sight. About half-way into the hike, and close to the end of switch-backs, right at the point where you're considering why you even attempted to do this hike, you get a first glimpse of Mt. Baker – and wow, it's hard not to be impressed. Snow-covered and hidden until this point, it just takes you by surprise. It should give you enough incentive to keep pushing forward.
Soon after, the switchbacks finish and you reach the top of the mountain, and as the hike traverses through the mountain ridge-line, you start to see 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains, which is pretty stunning! You also get a view of Sauk Lake at a distance, and the hike for it should you be interested.
One unique thing I noticed about all of the mountain hikes in this area is for every mountain, there is a small lake somewhere at the bottom. I'd guess the lake is formed because of the melting snow from these mountains – but it's very unique to the mountains in and around the Cascade range.
Coming back, the hike continue on the ridge line, and is very much flat compared to the earlier switchbacks, except for one small ascent at the end of the hike. The view at the end is the best and an absolute highlight, with a complete view of Mt. Baker and all the surrounding mountains. You could spend hours staring all over, and not get bored. Snow-laden Mt. Baker makes for a beautiful sight. If you've bought snacks or food, now is the time to enjoy them with this stunning 360-degree view. The interesting thing is that there is cellular coverage at the top of the mountain, so feel free to video call your friends and family and show off the pretty sight.
The descent is fairly straight forward and it goes quicker than anticipated. Hiking poles will still make the descent easier on your knees, so I'd recommend poles if you have them. A sunny, clear day is the best day for the hike – you do not want clouds to obstruct your views!
Stats for the hike
- Distance: 4.2 miles round-trip
- Elevation gain: 1200 ft
- There is no fees for the hike
- Dogs on leash are allowed
That's the detailed itinerary for all 5 days of our time at North Cascades. Here is the link to all our hikes in North Cascades.
Each national park is unique in it's own way, but if I were to rate them according to my preference – I'd rate Yellowstone and Yosemite above North Cascades, simply because the views and range of experiences they provide are untouchable. Yellowstone with it's geysers and wildlife, and Yosemite with it's valley views and waterfalls, and the facilities provided by these national parks are a notch above everything else.
North Cascades ranks pretty high though, especially if you're an active person who enjoys hiking in the mountains. In some ways, the hikes at North Cascades reminded me of the hikes I did in Norway, where we climbed mountains for stunning fjord views. It also helps that there is no fees to visit the park, and a forest pass is needed only for hikes in the Rainy Pass area. The big downer for North Cascades is it's general lack of accessibility. Like I mentioned in my earlier posts, this park is big on hikes, and low on viewpoints and similar. Wildlife too, is pretty remote, and only visible deep in the hikes. So unless you're an active person – it's hard to get the most out of this national park.
That's the end of North Cascades series on my blog, I hope you enjoy reading and have a fun trip to this national park!