The Methow Valley area is fall hiking heaven: Azure skies, golden larch, and sweet ponderosa forests. Head up the Twisp River for some of the best and most remote day hiking this area has to offer. At road’s end, about 25 miles from the town of Twisp, several trails branch deep into the North Cascades wilderness. South Creek brings hikers towards either Louis Lake or to a meadow called McAlester Pass and trails beyond. The popular trail to Twisp Pass leads over a pretty pass and on to lakes and loops. The steep chug up to Copper Pass rewards hikers with a fairyland of rock-bound ponds, big views, and golden larches.
These are all enchanting options for fall hiking. But for solitude, scenery, and perhaps the easiest of the end-of-the-Twisp Lakes to reach, head up North Creek. If you haven’t heard of it, no wonder: it seems to have been left out of most guidebooks. That means you may have this gem entirely to yourself. North Creek dead ends at a lovely, trout speckled lake under the formidable wall of Gilbert Mountain. On the way, a sidetrip climbs to a spectacular pass and viewpoint.
At the trailhead register, notice that nearly everyone else is headed to Twisp Pass. Not you. Start the other way, hiking on Trail #413 through open forest. Within a mile the trail rounds a bend and enters North Creek Valley proper. It gains altitude steadily and evenly, passing through fragrant forests and across sunny slopes where views begin to open up, especially back southwest towards the Sawtooth Range. At about 2.5 miles come to a crossing of North Creek. Early in the season this crossing can be hazardous enough to turn you around, but by fall it’s just a hop, skip and a jump. Just beyond is a good campsite.
In another short mile, you’ll come to the optional side trail, marked Cedar Creek Trail #476. Although it’s labeled “unmaintained” the trail is just fine. It climbs an easy 1,000 feet in about 1.2 miles to Abernathy Pass, elevation 6400 feet. At the pass, settle in among the rocks and larch and take in the views. From here you can see north down Cedar Creek (the trail continues down Cedar Creek nine miles to Highway 20). The slopes of Silver Star glitter beyond, and views towards the south and west are equally impressive.
If you’re more of a view person than a lake person, Abernathy Pass makes a fine destination on its own and about a 9-mile roundtrip hike. But if you are drawn to lakes, it’s back down to trail 413 and on up the valley. The mile and a half from here to the lake is a pleasant forest stroll, with few views until it breaks into meadows and ponds (camps too) a half mile before North Lake. If the trail looks suspiciously straight and wide, imagine the miners who hacked it out to access their claims in the airy rock walls surrounding the lake. North Lake is a small but pretty lake, with forest on one side, dry sunny meadows on another, and a scattering of larch trees on the rocky slopes that loom above the far side. You’ll find a couple of good camps (and even a toilet). Chances are good you’ll be alone.
The 4.6 miles back to the car will go fast. For the perfect weekend, camp at Road’s End Campground (or one of the others along the Twisp Road), then hike North Lake one day and Twisp Pass the other.
Before you drive home, explore the remains of Gilbert, a mining town from the 1890s a few hundred yards from the trailhead. You’ll find the dirt road to Gilbert on the left just past the turnoff to the trailhead.
Stats: To North Lake: 9.2 miles RT, 2200 feet gain. Add 2.6 miles and 1,000 feet for Abernathy Pass. Abernathy Pass only: 8.6 miles RT, 2800 feet gain.
Permits: NW Forest Pass required at trailhead.
Trailhead facilities: Pit toilets.
Nearby camping: Several Forest Service campgrounds along the Twisp River Road, and Roads End Campground is just 1/3 mile past the trailhead.
Trailhead Elevation: 3600 feet
Maps: Green Trails Stehekin, #82, and Washington Pass #50.
Drive time from Seattle to trailhead: about 5 hours.
Best Time to hike this: late July to mid-October
Directions from Seattle: I-5 to Rt 530 through Darrington to Rockport (alternately, continue up I-5 to Highway 20, turn east on highway 20). Right (east) on Highway 20 over the North Cascades to Winthrop and Twisp. In Twisp, turn right on Twisp River Road. Follow about 25 miles to trailhead. Paved for the first 15 miles.