Our Hiking Time: 3h 15m
Total Ascent: 1400ft
Highest Point: 5400ft
Total Distance: 3 miles
Location: N 47° 45.4080, W 121° 6.2100
Required Permit: None
Recently we had the chance to pack up our snowshoes and head out on Highway 2 toward Stevens Pass to explore the Skyline Ridge Trail. We’re right in the middle of an excellent snowshoe season, and we try to take advantage of it whenever the weather will allow us to wander under snow-laden trees toward sun-sparkling vistas. And it looks like the snow is going to continue to be good, as the state’s recent “snowpocalypse” has laid down a thick new layer of powder to tromp through.
Skyline Ridge is one of the unofficial names for the long, rocky, U-shaped ridge opposite the Steven’s Pass Ski Area that serves as the boundary between Chelan and King County. The name probably refers to Skyline Lake, a small lakelet tucked under the eastern base of the ridge. Then again, although labeled “Skyline” on many maps, the lake is sometimes referred to as Dozer Lake. The ridge is also known to some as Heather Ridge, perhaps in reference to the abundance of the plant in the area. To further add to the naming confusion, the 5482ft high point of the ridge is known simply as Sky Mountain, though most snowshoers do not go further than the jagged 5400ft prominence we stopped at.
The trail begins in the ski area parking lot, following a gravel service road up the mountainside. During the winter, this road is often groomed or otherwise cleared. Follow the road past ski huts and under electrical wires for about a quarter-mile to a green Washington Department of Transportation building. From here, you have a choice – you can continue to follow the road as it slowly switchbacks up the mountain, or you can head straight uphill and cut a lot of distance. This approach also has some great views and gets you into the trees before connecting with the road just below the ridgeline. From here, veer south toward nearby Skyline Lake and the rocky pinnacle rising above it.
If you’re hungry for views, continue around the lake and push up another 300ft through boulder-strewn forest to get them. To the north, Glacier Peak rises above closer Tye Peak, Lichtenburg Mountain and Union Peak. As you turn toward the east, pick out Mt. Howard, Rock Mountain, Mt. Mastiff and nearby Big Chief Mountain. Continue to turn clockwise to find Mt. Daniel, Mt. Hinman, Big Chiwaukum, and finally Cowboy Mountain directly across the valley. To the west, Windy Mountain stands closeby. Want more? You can continue to follow the ridgeline for another mile to reach the Sky Mountain highpoint.
This short snowshoe packs a lot into just a few miles. We definitely recommend taking the more direct route when snowshoeing, as it gets you to the views faster and is a lot more rewarding than trudging up a service road. This is an understandably popular destination in the winter, so expect a little company. Although there is some elevation gain involved, the different approaches mean that you can easily tailor this snowshoe so that even a first-timer will be able to make the lake, while the expert can explore the more challenging sections.
A word of caution when snowshoeing this area: stick to the western end of the ridge and avoid the southern slopes – there have been multiple avalanche fatalities there over the years. And, when you reach the lake, stick to the shores and resist the temptation to march across the frozen surface. It’s impossible to tell if the ice has started to melt or is otherwise weak.
To get there, take Highway 2 to the Stevens Pass Ski Area. Find parking in the lots on the north side of the highway. -Nathan
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