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Rock Mountain via Snowy Creek

Central Cascades

Location

Central Cascades -- Stevens Pass - East
View map below

Length

9.0 miles, roundtrip

Elevation

Gain: 3600 ft.

Rating

4.38 out of 5

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There are two approaches to Rock Mountain Lookout--the front door via Rock Lake, which is dry, but tends to be most favored for snowshoeing and early season access. However, it's the back door route that makes for a much more scenic route, particularly in high summer.

Both routes get you to the old lookout site on the top of Rock Mountain, where you'll enjoy excellent views in all directions, and occasional mountain goat sightings. The hike is challenging, but absolutely worth the effort.

Approaching Rock Mountain via Snowy Creek is a shorter, less steep hike. Because it's north facing, snow sticks around a little longer, but that also means that gorgeous alpine meadows are full of wildflowers late into the season.

From the trailhead, the first mile parallels Snowy Creek, wandering through old-growth forest. At about three-quarters of a mile, there is a very brushy section, where salmonberries and willows abound and winter avalanches come down off Rock Mountain to sweep away any standing timber. The path here is generally free of obstacles, a good thing, since you can’t see your feet due to the brush.

One mile from the Snowy Creek trailhead, a sign points to the Nason Ridge Trail heading west for Rainy Pass on FS6700. If you have time or the inclination, this detour provides a great adventure in routefinding, as it traverses the west end of Nason Ridge to the Rainy Pass Pond you passed on the drive to the trailhead.

But back to the route for Rock Mountain. Once past the Nason Ridge turnoff, the trail soon crosses the headwaters of Snowy Creek and the climb begins for real. You have gained 300 feet so far, but you've still got 3000 feet to go. The first climbing section switchbacks across a series of small creeks and springs that appear out of the hillside. At the 2.25-mile point you go slightly downhill and enter a beautiful meadow. From here you can look up to the summit and fill your water bottles. Get a good drink and refill, there isn’t any water from here on.

The trail crosses the small stream at the entrance to the meadow and winds adjacent to the stream. The trail used to run along the left side of the meadow, but it was buried in avalanche debris in 2010, so now there are a few social trails across the grass and you will have to pick a path to meet up with the trail where it exits the meadow on the left.

Early in the season, the whole meadow is a bit of a bog so take care to keep your socks dry. From here you can look up and see the upper sections of the hike on the wildflower-covered approach to the summit; you don’t often get to see the top of a climb from the bottom, but don’t be intimidated. It's attainable--just take it one step at a time.

Once clear of the meadow, the trail climbs steeply up the forested ridge adjacent to the avalanche path that leads down to the meadow. There are old blazes that mark the trail and frequently mountain goats leave wool attached to the huckleberries. This is the only part of the trail where the views underwhelm, so it's best to just put you head down and grind up the hill. The trail touches the avalanche path a few times, and views from here show your progress. After a mile and a half, you are rewarded by leaving the trees behind and starting the traverses up the open slopes that grace the top of this hike.

We call this section, “the Sound of Music traverse”, big views and wildflowers, make for one of the nicest one mile sections of trail to be found anywhere. There are a few short switchbacks and few long traverses all decorated in wildflowers early in the season and huckleberries as fall approaches. There are a few trees clinging to the 40 degree (or steeper) slope, making for a very steep meadow.

A few weeks after the snow is off the slope the entire mountainside is draped in lupine, paintbrush, bear grass, and a riot of ground hugging wildflowers. Vistas stretch south into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, and west across Stevens Pass.

The trail tops out on a saddle above Rock Lake. Later in the season, snow cornices often remain along the ridge, so be careful of the edge. There is a chance to chill and refill water bottles here. Walk 200 yards north along the ridgeline, gaining another 200 feet to achieve the summit and the site of the Rock Mountain fire lookout.

Views open north to Glacier Peak, east down Nason Ridge and south over Rock Lake, Highway 2 and into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

WTA Pro Tip: Groups with two cars can turn this hike into a thru-hike by flipping a coin and having the losers drive to the Rock Mountain via Rock Lake Trail, start from here and meet at the top. This adds an additional 500 feet of elevation gain and a half a mile to the hike.

 

Rock Mountain via Snowy Creek

Map & Directions

Trailhead
Co-ordinates: 47.8080, -120.9969 Open map in new window

Trailhead

Central Cascades -- Stevens Pass - East

Snowy Creek (#1531)

Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, Wenatchee River Ranger District

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Getting There

Drive east on Highway 2 58 miles to Stevens Pass. Go through Stevens Pass and down the other side to the Smithbrook trailhead, found 3.5 miles east of the pass. Just as the highway divides, there is a left turn for FR 6700. Be cautious crossing the westbound lanes of Highway 2.

If you are coming from the east side of the Cascades, drive 31 miles west of Leavenworth and turn right onto FR 6700

Head for the Lake Valhalla trailhead, which is 2.5 miles up FR 6700. Proceed a mile past this, and arrive at Rainy Pass, where there is a small pond and a sign for the Nason Ridge Trail. Continue another mile to the junction with the Snowy Creek Road, turn right, and drive for 4 miles. The trailhead is 8.5 miles from the junction with Highway 2.

FS 6700 is well-maintained. The Snowy Creek road is brushy, but the road surface is typically driveable with two-wheel drive.

 

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Rock Mountain via Snowy Creek

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