Our Hiking Time: 3h 15m
Total Ascent: 2300ft
Highest Point: 5062ft
Total Distance: 7.5 miles
Location: N 47° 44.1420, W 121° 16.9080
Required Permit: Northwest Forest Pass
This week we headed out toward Steven’s Pass to investigate news of a new trail opening in the Wild Sky Wilderness promising an easy hike up to great views atop Beckler Peak. We weren’t the only ones who had heard the news; we arrived to find the parking lot at the recently dedicated Jennifer Dunn Trailhead already overflowing.
Beckler Peak was named for Elbridge H. Beckler, a well-known railroad engineer who oversaw the extension of the Great Northern Railway through Washington from 1889 to 1893. Industry followed the railroad, and before long a crude fire lookout was built near the top of Beckler’s West Peak, little more than a rough platform nailed to the top of some trees. It wasn’t until 1924 that the make-shift platform was replaced by a log cabin and lookout tower by the Civilian Conservation Corps. It remained in use until it was abandoned in 1958 after it burned down.
For years, a number of trails led to the lookout site and Beckler Peak’s prominences, worn into the mountain by hikers, hunters and outdoor lovers. One such was Norm McCausland, a Skykomish District Ranger who had a cabin at Harlan Saddle – the low point between Beckler Peak and Alpine Baldy. McCausland died in 1982, but his cabin continued to be a popular destination on Beckler Peak, even as logging companies moved in and replaced many of the old trails with roads. Today, the cabin is little more than a jumbled pile of moss-covered logs, but if you’re looking for it, it’s hard to miss this former landmark.
From the trailhead, the route follows a series of logging roads through a young forest of alder and maple. Wide switchbacks and decent roadbeds make the first two miles of the hike fairly easy, though the grade is steeper than one might expect from a logging road. Hike past splashing creeks and catch the occasional glimpse of the landscape through the trees. Reach the saddle after crossing through a section of clearcut and enter a very different, much older forest.
The transition is nearly instant. Suddenly you’re on a quiet trail through mature firs and hemlock, leaving behind the dusty logging road and the road noise of the highway. The trail becomes a little more difficult here as switchbacks tighten and gain elevation more quickly. Continue following the ridgeline as the trees begin to thin and a series of rock steps help smooth out the final push up to Beckler’s exposed East Peak.
There is some controversy over which of Beckler’s three major Peaks – East, Middle, West – is the most prominent. Although they are all about the same height, each Peak has a set of advocates claiming the title. We don’t have a favorite and assume you can get the same spectacular view from each of them, though official trails lead only to the East Peak. On a good day you can pick out Mt. Rainier, but there’s plenty to see much closer. Glacier Peak looms large to the north, along with Sloan Peak, Frog Mountain, and Evergreen Mountain. Pick out Scorpion Mountain as you turn east toward nearby Mt. Fernow and Alpine Baldy. Turn south to the Skykomish Valley and the town of Skykomish below. To the west you can pick out Mt. Index, Baring Mountain, Merchant Peak and Eagle Rock.
This trail delivers a great view without too much effort - a combination that has already made it very popular. The East Peak does not have a lot of room, and by the time we made it to the top there were already quite a few other folks there. While the crowds were certainly drawn by the recent trailhead construction, this hike is likely to continue to be popular so expect some company on your way up. Still, the route is in great condition and the nearly 360-degree views are excellent. We recommend you find your way out to Beckler Peak before long.
To get there, take Highway 2 out past Skykomish. Two miles past the Ranger Station take a left onto FR 6066, which is signed but easy to overshoot if you’re not paying attention. Continue for just under two miles to a junction. Bear right and continue about five miles to trailhead at road’s end. FR 6066 is a one-lane gravel road with occasional pullouts; use some extra caution navigating the traffic as hikers explore new trailhead. -Nathan
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