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Entiat River

Central Cascades

Location

Central Cascades -- Entiat Mountains/Lake Chelan
View map below

Length

15.25 miles, roundtrip

Elevation

Gain: 2690 ft.
Highest Point: 5760 ft.

Rating

3.80 out of 5

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WTA worked here: 2020
 
 
 

A long, rambling gateway into the eastern side of Glacier Peak Wilderness, the Entiat River Trail culminates at its namesake glacier with Mount Maude, Seven Fingered Jack and Mount Fernow towering above. Ravaged by wildfires over the years, the majority of the trail is exposed, dry and dusty. Both flora and fauna are slowly returning and the revealed panorama of bordering peaks makes for an extraordinary wilderness corridor. 

This arid trail offers backcountry access to an assortment of alpine lakes, granite spires, lonely summits and golden larches if you are willing to climb steeply out of the valley. The river rests between the Entiat and Chelan Mountain Ranges, a tributary of the mighty Columbia or Nch'i-Wàna as it is known by the Sahaptin people.

Although the main trail is wide and gentle, be prepared to navigate overgrown and fire diminished side trails which generally see warmer weather and earlier snowmelt than western slopes.

Whether out for a day hike or embarking on a backpacking trip, stepping onto the post-apocalyptic Entiat River Trail at 3070 feet is awe-inspiring. Motley scraps of verdant forest are sprinkled amongst swaths of charred timber with an understory of broad leafed thimbleberry and magenta fireweed. Fire ravaged trees either hold tightly to their darkened hide while others were shedding, resembling the hair on a spotted dog. Amongst gnarled, spiny snags and charcoal toothpicks smooth like braided ebony hair, you will spy the occasional pine that was fortunate enough to be spared the flames.

The steady Entiat River makes its introductory appearance below the trail at 1.5 miles as you traverse the slope covered with twinberry honeysuckle, fleabane and salal. “Rapid or rushing river” is the most common translation for the body of water's original Salish name of Entiatqua. You may spy an eagle flying overhead as it searches for endangered Chinook salmon or steelhead on their 50 mile journey to the Columbia River.

Intersecting your path first is Anthem Creek (#1435) at 2.2 miles and 3480 feet which diverts sharply up towards Duncan Hill and Ridge. Soon after at 2.5 miles 3540 feet, you cross Anthem Creek with ease on a newly built wooden bridge wide enough for snowmobiles and pack. The road to the trailhead was closed from 2014 to 2017 due to mudslides but trail maintenance has been a priority since then. 

At 3.6 miles and 3745 feet, the junction for the Cow Creek Meadows Trail ( #1404) and Myrtle Lake angles off to the left around a small hill and over another post-fire constructed iron bridge. Myrtle Lake makes a great beginner overnight trip with a handful of possible campsites along its northern and southern shores.  A trail (#1403.1) runs parallel to the Entiat from the lake to the Larch Lakes Trail which may be easier (barring downed trees) than the river ford needed later on.

A Glacier Peak Wilderness sign nailed on a post at 4.2 miles greets you but geographically the boundary is another .4 miles along. The Larch Lakes Trail (#1430) appears just past 4.7 miles and 3780 feet, look for a horseshoe nailed to a tree.  There is a small campsite just off the trail and a tent can be pitched down at the river’s edge where a ford is usually necessary to continue up to Larch Lakes themselves.

From here, there are a few quenching streams flowing over the trail including Snowybrushy Creek at 5.2 miles with a grey hatched log to keep the feet dry. Pearl everlasting, monkshood, Pussytoes, Douglas fir and ponderosa pine saplings burst from the sandy terrain while vine maple, Monkey-flower and penstemon gather close to the water’s edge.

The side trail down to Snowy Creek Meadows at 6.1 miles 3900 feet can easily be confused for a “Y” in the Entiat River Trail itself.  Venturing down to the meadows on the left, see if you can locate the space rocket-like rain gauge tucked back in the trees.  A level spot to camp may be found if you are tired from the day.

Emerald Park Trail (#1230) at 6.2 miles and 4,000 feet is a thin tan line in contrast to the ashes it bisects, heading east for Saska Peak and eventually Lucerne.  A short stack of stones may mark the intersection and a seasonal stream trickles across the trail a short distance later.

Further on, the valley widens again and the destruction of the Tinpan Fire of 2006, Wolverine of  2015, and Duncan Ridge 2014 is most evident. A defiant wasteland of black stubble stands, revealing the Ice Creek and Entiat Valleys with Carne, the Spectacle Buttes, Maude and Tinpan jutting upward on the horizon.   Level ground for a tent is possible between the trail and river if needed but don’t anticipate an established campsite in this desolate yet captivating topography.

Passing the junction for the 45 Mile Sheep Drive-Borealis Trail (#1432) at 8 miles and 4270 feet, you would be hard pressed to find the original route towards Pinnacle Mountain and Lucerne on the singed slopes where fire devastated the hill side.  The weight of extra water you have carried to this point will keep you hydrated through this parched terrain.

Approaching the Ice Creek Trail junction, the gnarled woods gratefully provide shade. A small campsite sits next to a stream that crosses the trail here if you find those further along are full. The Ice Creek Trail (#1405) rests at 8.2 miles and 4330 feet and a freshly constructed privy hides behind a set of boulders on the right before you head down to the river. There are several campsites where this side trail meets the Entiat and another on the opposite bank after a ford.  

From here traffic falls away and leaves you to solitary sauntering. The trail runs in closer proximity to the Entiat, creating a winding, green corridor that splits the scarred environment. A less common translation of  Entiatqua seems more apt here, “land of the grassy river”.  Its lushness is in stark contrast to the soft, ashy soil that has been collecting in your shoes and early risers camped on the river’s bank may find the prints of coyote, wolf, moose, wolverine and bear that have left their mark while in search of breakfast.

After crossing the sparse yet welcome creeks of Pinnacle and Candy, the trail begins to gently turn to the west and into sprawling Entiat Meadows and the glacier drainage at 11 miles and 4600 feet. The river flows behind resilient woods on your left and meadow blankets the right up to meet the rocky backslope of the Chelan Mountains. Depending on the time of year, you are presented with a sea of green speckled with the hues of wildflowers or amber waves of grassland. An established campsite awaits a quarter mile further, nestled in the forest below Cool Peak.

The valley tapers again at 12.4 miles and 4850 feet with the Entiat squeezing through a narrow canyon and the most intact forest thus far, complete with discarded pine needles carpeting the tread.  On a sweltering day, a series of cascading waterfalls will tease with their melodic churning as butterflies flit on subalpine daisies.

Entering an enclosed meadow, a large horse campsite can be claimed on the left at 12.6 miles and 4900 feet.  This one does not have the benefit of the Entiat running close by so fill up at the stream you pass just before arriving.

The landscape alternates like this for the next half mile: forest, meadow, forest, meadow, offering brief hiatus from the sun until arriving at the junction of the Cool Creek Trail (#1431) at 13.3 miles and 5060ft. You will not find established campsites here but some level ground on the outskirts of the meadow or in the trees. The precipices of neighboring summits offer a sherbet tinged delight at dawn but beware the startling rustle of a mountain grouse or salt lick seeking fawn you may startle when you leave your tent.

Most who have ventured this far call this intersection a turnaround point and water is available where the Cool Creek Trail crosses the Entiat a few hundred feet down from the junction. The nearby Wilson Creek Trail (#1231) to Tinpan and Buckskin Mountains and Dole Lakes is no longer distinguishable from the meadow vegetation but hardy scramblers are able to reach the ridge.  

If you have chosen to pursue this journey to its conclusion, a diminishing path leads you through more forest-meadow patches and eventually a dark burn area is reached at 14.4 miles and 5320 feet. Expect to climb over the coal remnants of downed logs and blackened soil that make navigation skills a must as the trail is easy to lose or simply gone.  You may find it easier to make your way along a rock outcropping in the middle to avoid some of the obstacles and soot.

The terrain opens up at 5480 feet and 14.6 miles at a stream crossing where the intersection of the Entiat and Chelan Mountain Ranges is revealed in all its glory.  The source of the Entiat River initiates on your left while a deeply eroded trail encroached by brush crosses the stream and circumvents a central boulder field on its right.  You may be able to find a small campsite tucked in the trees here but expect to negotiate any flat, open grass with elk and deer.

Without human caretaking, the environment that was spared the damage of wildfires has been reclaimed but you can still see the trail’s faint impression on the meadowed slope and weave through subalpine forest whose branches now guard the overtaken path.  There will be plenty of rock hopping to stay off the returning meadow vegetation populated with bog gentian, paintbrush and corn lily.

This abandoned route sees occasional climbers headed for lofty crags, carrying on to the terminal moraine at 15.25 miles and 5760 feet. An otherworldly expanse of glacial debris with 9,000 foot sky-scraping behemoths overhead, you stand at the headwall of your remote destination with perseverance having paid off.

A slim waterfall cascades down on the right from jagged Fernow and glistening snowmelt sprays on your left from the remains of the Entiat Glacier which clings to life on the snow mottled, ebony Mount Maude. See if you can count the spires of aptly named Seven Fingered Jack poised between the two summits. You may be tempted to climb the scree of the moraine to peer down into its depths, an unimpressive tarn will greet you.  Make a 180 turn to bring about the full grandeur of how far your journey has been, the secluded beauty will find you reluctant to return back down the valley to your car.

 

Entiat River

Map & Directions

Trailhead
Co-ordinates: 48.0246, -120.6508 Open map in new window

Trailhead

Central Cascades -- Entiat Mountains/Lake Chelan

Entiat River (#1400)

Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, Entiat Ranger District

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Getting There

The Entiat River Road (FR 51) is just south of the town of Entiat on SR 2/US-97 N.  The trailhead is a little over 38 miles up the valley a short distance past where the road (FR 5100) turns to gravel at the Cottonwood campground.  There is a vault toilet at the campground junction and at the trailhead.

 

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Entiat River

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