Our Hiking Time: 2h 30m
Total Ascent: 1500ft
Highest Point: 5030ft
Total Distance: 5 miles
Location: N 47° 19.2600, W 121° 3.8760
Required Permit: Northwest Forest Pass
This week, the forecast predicted the type of clear and sunny day that just begs for a summit hike. With so many nearby mountaintops still covered in snow, we decided to head out over Snoqualmie Pass hoping to avoid another snowshoe. Luckily, our hunch panned out – snows have retreated much further on the east side of the mountains, and our hike up Hex Mountain was almost snow-free.
Hex Mountain is one of many prominences along the ridges surrounding Cle Elum Lake. In 1886 the Northern Pacific Railway built a station near a newly platted township, dubbing it “Clealum.” The name was an anglicization of “tie-el-lum,” the name local tribes had given to a nearby river, meaning “swift water.” The town incorporated in 1902 as Clealum, but six years later changed it to the now familiar Cle Elum. Eventually this name was applied to both the river and the lake. In 1933, the Cle Elum Dam was built to better control the water levels in Cle Elum Lake, ensuring a steady irrigation supply in the summer.
The trail begins with a hike up a rise overlooking Cle Elum Lake, a decent preview of the panoramas to come. The dusty path continues through grassy clearings born when the area was logged years ago, climbing small ridges and descending down the other side. Occasionally, the trail cuts across one of the many logging roads that pervade the area. Thankfully, the maze of roads and trails is sign-posted at every intersection to minimize confusion.
Continue onward and upward to the nearly treeless summit to take in views in every direction. Directly across the lake a series of peaks runs from the east with Mt. Baldy to Thomas Mountain, ending with North Peak at the west end of the lake. Beyond North Peak you can pick out Thorpe Mountain, Red Mountain, and eventually Mt. Rainier. To the west are Sasse and Jolly Mountain. As you turn northward, Elbow Peak and Yellow Hill make up the two ends of the closest ridgeline. To the east the Cascade foothills quickly level out into the flat expanses of eastern Washington. Pick your favorite view and settle in for a snack.
Hex Mountain is a popular snowshoe destination, beginning from State Route 903 in the winter and winding three-and-a-half steep miles up the mountainside. While the hike is less grueling in the summer, many hikers avoid it later in the season as parts of the trail open up to motorcycle traffic. While this can be a significant deterrent for some, a mid-week hike minimizes your chances of encountering motorcyclists. And even if you are forced to endure the noise, as we were, it’s likely only for a few minutes before the smell of gas dissipates and the sounds of the forest return. Moreover, motorcycles are not allowed all the way up the trail, allowing you some respite near the summit.
Short and rewarding, this is a great hike to take your reluctant hiking friends on. The trail is in great shape and not at all rough, with only one small blowdown along the way. The elevation gain might be little strenuous for some – about 600ft per mile – but should be approachable for most. And the views will be enough to placate any complaints. As an added bonus, the motorcycles do a decent job of keeping other hikers at bay – don’t expect too much company on this one. Ideally, hit this one during the work week to dodge the motorized traffic.
To get there, take I-90 to Exit 80. Head left over the freeway following Bullfrog Road to SR 903. Follow 903 for 10 miles through Roslyn and along Cle Elum Lake to FR 4305 (about 1/4 mile before the Wish-poosh Campground). Turn right into FR 4305 and follow for a half-mile to the first intersection. Veer left and continue on FR 4305 for another mile, watching for a sign pointing left to Sasse Mountain. From here it is another mile to the end of the road and the trailhead. –Nathan
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