The hike up to Meander Meadow offers incredible mountain views, beautiful fields of wildflowers and lots of wildlife, making it worth the total lack of trail maintenance for those willing to deal with some bushwhacking and lots of scrapes.
The trail begins at a slight incline through thick brush with lots of berry bushes and flowers. It’s very dense and for about half the hike you can’t even see your feet. It opens up into wooded areas a few times on the first 3-4 mile stretch. The second wooded area is where we set up camp the first night. While we were initially planning on sleeping in the car at the trailhead and starting the hike in the morning, we got there with a couple hours of daylight to spare and decided to get a jump on it. While this worked out okay, there aren’t a lot of great camping spots until you reach the meadow, because the wooded areas are very densely treed – but we made it work.
There seems to be a large bear population in this area, which is no surprise based on the amount of berries. While we didn’t see any, we saw plenty of scat, and there was something outside of our tent making very bear-like noises. Needless to say we didn’t get a ton of sleep. There is also a lot of mosquitoes in this area, so make sure to bring bear spray and bug spray.
The next morning, we continued our journey towards the steep uphill section of the hike that leads to the meadow. Most of the morning was similar terrain to the night before and then, right before you start making the assent, you reach a meadow that has tons of wildflowers and hummingbirds.
The next section was definitely the part you need to cut out the longest chunk of day for. While it’s only about a mile and a half of steep incline, you gain almost all of the approximately 2,400 feet during this time. It probably wouldn’t have been so bad if it was in the seventies, but the nearly hundred-degree weather wasn’t ideal for this much uphill, especially when it’s your first backpacking trip of the season. It’s definitely exhausting, but the scenery is incredible: it’s much more lush and green than I expected. The whole way up there are breathtaking views of the mountain range behind you that keeps getting more impressive as you continue the trip. You cross a couple very small steams, but there are not a lot of significant water sources until you reach the meadow, so I would fill up wherever possible.
Finally, after the long, exhausting journey, the trail opens up to one of the coolest places I have ever seen. Meander Meadow is super green this time of year, and the hills around it form sort of a bowl. There is a beautiful stream, which was very welcome on this hot day, and several trails you can explore in the area, as well. You can also make this trip a loop if you want to by continuing on to Cady Ridge to the left, which is a 16-mile loop, versus 12.5 miles if you do it as an out and back.
After exploring the area a little more, we made some dinner near our campsite. The Air Force decided to put on a little air show for us, with five jets flying right above the meadow, which was definitely an awesome bonus. There are several camping spots in the meadow that are nice and flat and a make-shift toilet a short walk from the campsites.
The next day we hiked out in about half the time it took us to get there, because it was all downhill.
For people looking for a difficult but satisfying weekend (or day) hike, this is definitely worth your time, but it’s not a hike you want to go into expecting groomed trails or gradual inclines; and, if you have a problem with the constant buzz of bugs in your ears, this is probably not your type of hike. Between the probably 100 mosquito bites we both had and the scrapes all over our legs and arms from plowing through the brush, we weren’t looking too good by the time we made it back, but it was certainly an experience, and the area is absolutely stunning.
Directions to trailhead: From Leavenworth, travel west on US 2 for 15 miles. Take a right onto State Route 207 and continue 4.2 miles to a Y intersection. Take a left at the Y onto North Shore Road. After 7.6 miles, the road becomes Forest Road 65. Continue another 14 miles to the trailhead.