Total Ascent: 3200ft
Highest Point: 5353ft
Total Distance: 8.2 miles
Location: N 47° 38.9640, W 121° 30.4500
Required Permit: Northwest Forest Pass
This week we returned to the North Fork Snoqualmie to tackle Bare Mountain, a summit we’d had our sights on for a few months. The site of a fire lookout cabin from 1935-1973, we were looking forward to the mountaintop’s famed panoramic views. Despite a cloudy morning, we optimistically packed up and headed out to North Bend.
The Bare Mountain Trail #1037 follows the remains of a mining road built to service the mines drilled into the mountainside above Bear Creek. Around the two mile mark, where the trail to the summit abruptly switchbacks upwards, the mining road continues onward to the mines. Although we did not hike out to the mines, there are reportedly many open adits to explore, along with a substantial amount of derelict mining equipment to clamber around on. Evidently, one can also find pieces of a small plane that crashed nearby mixed in with the rusting mining refuse.
The trail itself begins mildly, traversing a number of small creekbeds, following Bear Creek for a half-mile before crossing it. Fording Bear Creek can be tricky when the water is running high, and hikers should use caution during the spring and fall. During the summer, the crossing is easy and should not be an issue. Beyond Bear Creek, the trail continues into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and into the open valley below the mountain.
Aside from the storied views at the summit, the hike is infamous for the “fern-forest” of bracken fern that encroaches on the lower reaches of the trail each year. Volunteers fight an endless battle against the vegetation, hacking wide swaths through the brush, only to have it quickly return. The ferns also obscure the trail, hiding pits and potholes that can easily twist an ankle. Proceed with some caution through these sections.
At two miles, veer left and continue along switchbacks up through the ferns, which slowly recede and give way to heather and endless patches of alpine blueberries. About a quarter-mile from the top, attain the ridgeline and take a quick peek down to Bench Lake and Paradise Lakes. Then press on to the rocky summit, still clinging to the last remnants of the lookout that stood there for 40 years. Although the clouds obscured our view, we’re led to believe that Mount Rainier dominates the skyline while Glacier Peak and Mount Baker are both visible. In addition to the familiar Snoqualmie Pass peaks and a huge portion of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Mt. Index and other Highway 2 peaks can also be seen.
This is a great hike with a singular drawback: the 21 miles to the trailhead. FR 57 is in decent shape, but, like any forest road, is riddled with the potholes and rocks, which makes for a long, bumpy ride. Once past that hurdle, the trail itself is approachable for just about anyone. The long switchbacks smooth out the elevation, all but eliminating “steep” portions of the trail. A little caution crossing Bear Creek and navigating the “fern-forest” are all that is need to enjoy the views at the top. Having missed out on both the mines and the view, we’ll most likely be back in the future for the full experience.
To get there, take I-90 to exit #31, taking a left into North Bend. After the outlet malls, take a right on North Bend Way and an almost immediate left onto Ballarat Street. After four miles the road splits, veer left onto the North Fork County Road (Forest Road #57). Continue a little over 18 miles to a junction where FR 57 turns left across the river. At the next junction, follow FR 57 to the right for another three miles to the trailhead. -Nathan
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