Sauk Mountain Sans Kiddos

Sometimes you just have to leave the kiddos at home and go on an adults (in this case moms) only hike. Sauk Mountain is a great hike for that get away. Steep and exposed, it provides a challenge that would be unwise for small children. At only 4.2 miles roundtrip it is short enough to get back to the kiddos if they’re not used to you being gone. And with awe inspiring views that start at the parking lot and only become more incredible as you climb, it is a worthy escape. Pro tip: Go in late July or early August for peak wildflowers in the Sound-Of-Music hillsides.

The Basics:

The access road, FS 1030, starts from the north side of route 20 in Rockport just a couple miles west of the junction with 530. The road is about seven miles long with lots of switchbacks. It is mostly good gravel with one heavily potholed section right before the trailhead. Any car can access it, just take it slow in the potholes. The road dead ends at the trailhead so you can’t miss it.

Pro tip: Get there early! Parking fills up and the road is too narrow for parking on the side so late comers can end up hiking to their hike from pullouts down the mountain.

Just past the trailhead is a cute old A-frame backcountry outhouse. Its is adorable from the outside and seems right at home in the mountain meadows but it would not be my first choice for a pit stop. Pro tip: stop at Rockport State Park just before you turn off 20 on to the access road. They have terrific flush toilets available in the picnic area.

All-Terrain Stroller Options:

None. Really. Don’t even think about it.

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The views never end.

 

Sauk Mountain Trail:

The views start as soon as you get out of your car. Take a moment to admire the surrounding peaks and the valley below as you apply sunblock and plenty of bug repellant, then grab your poles and head off down the trail. You will soon pass the adorable old A-frame backcountry outhouse. The trail then breaks out on to the open, wildflower studded hillside, climbing gently at first. Pause here and there to take photos of the fireweed, paintbrush, and asters.

After traversing the hillside for the first time, the trail begins to switchback, again and again, climbing steadily and sometimes steeply up the mountain side. All along the way, you are surrounded by wildflowers and a dizzying view down to the valley below. Try not to look at the view too much while also walking. Pause occasionally to take in the views and snap some photos. This is no trail for multitasking! Watch for an extra exposed switchback about halfway up that has great views to the eastern valley and turn around for your first full view of Mt Baker.

Hopefully, you got an early start as are blessed with making the climb up all twenty-five switchbacks in the shade of the mountain. If you got started a bit later, you will be in the sun for 98% of your hike. There are maybe three switchback corners that duck into shady trees, otherwise its all sun all the time on the south facing slope.

If you have legs on the short side, you will find about half a dozen spots that will be challenging to climb up. I put my poles down and found handholds in the rocks to scramble in these spots. On the descent, I sat on my butt in the dirt and slid carefully down them. Do what makes you comfortable!

Eventually, you will come up the final switchback and curve around the side of the mountain. The Skagit River valley, Sauk River valley, and the Glacier Peak Wilderness are spread out before you. In the foreground, you will find green mountain meadows that will make you hum the opening to Sound of Music. Picture time!

Continuing on, you will soon come to a signed trail junction. The trail to the right goes to Sauk Lake, far below. Take the trail up to the left and soon find a view down to Sauk Lake, and up to the rocky summit. The final stretch to the summit looks much worse than it is. Most of it is actually less treacherous than the crumbling switchbacks you already climbed.

Snow patches can hang on here late in to the season so only continue if you feel it is safe. The view at the top is nice but not worth extra risk. Assuming it is safe, continue across rocky scree slopes and on towards the boulders. Watch for pika scurrying in the rocks from here to the top. The final push is a quick scramble up some boulders and then a couple more switchbacks up to the location of the old fire lookout.

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Koma Kulshan (aka Mt Baker) and the Twin Sisters from the summit.

 

At the top you have 360 degree views of Mt Baker, the Twin Sisters range, Whitehorse Mountain, the Glacier Peak Wilderness, Cascade Pass/Sahale Arm/Boston Basin area, and all the jagged peaks of the North Cascades. Pull out your map, or an app, and try to name as many peaks as you can. Take photos and linger as long as you can stand the cloud of flies before descending the way you came.

Descending in the sun will make you appreciate having arrived early. Watch your footing carefully on the way down and resist the urge to attempt an Olympic-esque dive into the Sauk River. As inviting as it looks, your sore knees will lack the superhero strength required to fly that far.

Hazard Warnings:

This trail is exposed and narrow for probably 95% of the hike. In many places it is crumbling away at the edges and there are some sections that are steep and slippery with dust. If you fall from this trail, it is a long way down. Older children might do ok, but I would not want to ever bring a toddler on it, nor would I ever want to wear a child while hiking it.

There is no water source once the snow has melted and once the sun crests the mountain in the morning it is very hot. Bring more water than you think you will need and don’t forget to bring plenty for your four legged friend if they come along.

There are lots of bees and hornets on this trail, all those flowers aren’t going to pollinate themselves! We did not get stung but if you are allergic make sure you have your injector handy.

Exploring Further:

The Sauk Lake Trail branches off from the Sauk Mountain Trail at a signed junction when you round the mountain after climbing the switch backs (about 1.8 miles along). This trail loses 1,200ft of elevation over 1.5 miles down to the lake shore, which is more than you climbed to the trail junction. If you are seeking solitude, you are likely to find it there.

Rockport State Park is less than a mile east of the turn off for the Sauk Mountain access road. An old growth, deep forest wonderland, it is worth the visit either as an add on to hiking Sauk or as a destination all its own.

Reading Further:

If you don’t already have a shelf, or entire bookcase, full of local hiking guides and maps, here are some of my favorites featuring this hike and/or others in the area:

Day Hiking North Cascades: Mount Baker, Mountain Loop Highway, San Juan Islands

North Cascades National Park (National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map)

Day Hike! North Cascades

Hiking the North Cascades: A Guide To More Than 100 Great Hiking Adventures

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