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Cooper River

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This riverside trail offers no expansive views and doesn't explore any wildflower meadows or high alpine country. But it does track alongside a beautiful mountain river that sports a healthy population of hungry trout. It also provides ample opportunity to practice your bird-watching, as a number of avian species thrive here, including the river-loving water ouzel and the fish-loving kingfisher. The trip can be done as a one-way hike by shuttling vehicles or by hitching a ride back down the road from Cooper Lake.

The trail follows the pretty Cooper River valley upstream to Cooper Lake. The trail stays on the north side of the creek, and at times the valley narrows enough for you to hear (and possibly see) traffic on the road that runs on the other side of the valley. Ignore that interruption as you explore the dense old-growth forest around you.

The trail splits 0.7 mile from the trailhead. To the right is a path that climbs steeply up Polallie Ridge. Continue to the left instead, staying close to the river. If you're an angler keep an eye out for likely fishing holes. Take your time--the trail is gentle enough for you to adopt a mile-eating pace between fishing sessions.

About 2 miles from the trailhead the valley broadens a bit and the river begins to meander side-to-side across the gentle valley floor. You'll find some small patches of berries here, and occasional clumps of wildflowers along the river banks.

At 3 miles you'll encounter the Cooper Lake Road, which crosses Cooper River just below the lake outlet. Turn around here, or cross the road bridge to access the road leading back down to Salmon la Sac.

Driving Directions:

From Seattle drive east on I-90 to take exit 80 (signed "Roslyn/Salmon la Sac"). Head north on Salmon la Sac Road (State Route 903) about 15 miles, passing through Roslyn and past Cle Elum Lake to Salmon la Sac. At the Y in the road near the Salmon la Sac Campground, take the left branch toward the campground. Cross the Cle Elum River bridge and turn right, away from the campground, and reach the trailhead park-ing area in another 0.5 mile.

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Recent Trip Reports

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There are 31 trip reports for this hike. See all trip reports for this hike.
Waptus River #1310,Pacific Crest (Alpine Lakes) #2000,Lemah Meadow #1323.2,Pete Lake #1323,Cooper River #1311 — Aug 08, 2007 — AZN
Day hike
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Took a small group on a 4 day loop hike in the central Alpine lakes area. We started out Wednesday m...

Took a small group on a 4 day loop hike in the central Alpine lakes area. We started out Wednesday morning on the Waptus River trail, and made our way up to the lake. Passed a few groups on horseback, both heading up to the lake and coming back down the trail- the whole section of this trail looked like it was well used by horses. Arrived at Waptus Lake and were instructed by a number of well placed signs to the stock crossing of the river, as the footbridge on the main trail was unavailable. Passed several nice, big campsites on the southern shore of the lake, and continued up the eastern shoreline until we found a great camping spot near the northern end of the lake. Excellent views of the peaks surrounding the lake from our site, as well as the view back down the lake.

Next morning we set out towards the junction with the PCT, crossing the Waptus River, and began the slow climb up towards the saddle above Escondido Lake. The trail itself is well-traveled but a bit overgrown along the sides of the trail at the lower elevations; thankfully it clears up as you approach the 4600 ft mark. Great views along the upper part of this trail looking back towards the entire Waptus Lake valley. Reached the intersection with the trail that headed back to Waptus Pass near the top of the ridge, and continued on and up towards the tarns above Escondido Lake. After a full day of hiking, we settled down right on the edge overlooking the Lemah Creek Valley as a little cold-front moved in. Had some slushy-rain overnight as temps dipped into the 30’s, and awoke to a brisk, foggy morning.

Clouds burned off around 11 AM Friday morning, and we started the descent down into the Lemah Creek Valley with the sun shining and a light breeze - perfect day for hiking. The 5 miles of trail down to the valley was in excellent condition, considering the upper portion goes through the burned area and I expected to see more downed trees due to this past years wind storms. Reached Pete Lake in the early afternoon and found a campsite at the northern end right next to the inlet to the lake. Campsites all around Pete Lake filled up fast as we expected, being a Friday night and a popular destination for overnighters coming up from Cooper Lake. Started out early the next morning down the easy-going Cooper River trail to the trailhead, and then back to Salmon-la-Sac campground where our vehicles were parked.

Trails throughout the hike were in great condition, with very few downed trees and detours. Our group appreciated the well marked trail and detour signs at junctions and intersections all along the route. Bugs were average, a little thicker near lakes, marsh areas, and standing water, but overall not much of a problem. A great hike, I highly recommend it for a 4-6 day trip – so many beautiful places to see and visit in this area.

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Waptus River #1310,Waptus Pass #1329,Pete Lake #1323,Cooper River #1311 — Jun 21, 2007 — mm
Day hike
Issues: Blowdowns | Snow on trail | Bugs
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I did a pleasant 3 day loop starting and finishing at Salmon la Sac. I went in on the Waptus River ...

I did a pleasant 3 day loop starting and finishing at Salmon la Sac.

I went in on the Waptus River Trail to Waptus Lake. The trail really needs work--eroded tred and many blowdowns. I did some clearing with my collapsible saw, but couldn't handle the big ones.

Camped at the Quick Creek Camp at Waptus Lake which is quite nice for being a big horsey camp. Only one other tent further up the lake shore. Was amused by a flock of chatty, gregarious evening grosbeaks.

On Day 2 I went up the Quick Creek Trail to Waptus Pass. Though for the most part in good shape, this trail also has a lot of downed trees. I cleared what I could of the smaller ones and also removed fallen limbs from the trail.

The Waptus Pass area still has a lot of snow, but the trail is not hard to pick out and follow. The trail descending to Pete Lake is steep and in good shape except for one badly eroded section that needs work. A lively stream parallels trail and has a couple of very nice waterfalls.

I stopped briefly at Pete Lake and then went on to Cooper Lake where I camped along the shore. In the evening, saw an osprey swooping down to the lake surface.

On Day 3, I hiked about 5 miles back to Salmon La Sac on the Cooper River trail. This is a pleasant woodlands ramble, usually high above the river, but dipping down to it just before Salmon La Sac where the river plummets is a beautiful Cascade.

During the 3 days, I made a number of creek crossings. Even with Spring snowmelt, none of them were difficult and I managed to do all of them boots-on.

Mosquitos were out, but not too bad along the breezy lake shores.

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Cooper River #1311 — Jun 09, 2007 — George & Sally
Day hike
Issues: Mudholes | Water on trail | Overgrown
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With the west side of the Cascades predicted to by rainy we headed to the east side and hoped for be...

With the west side of the Cascades predicted to by rainy we headed to the east side and hoped for better weather. We decided to go to Salmon la Sac and hike the Cooper River trail 4 miles to Cooper Lake. This was a new trail for us. No such luck on the weather as is was lightly raining as we began the hike. After the junction with the Waptus Lake trail the Cooper River trail is high above the river and does not get close to the river until about the 3 mile mark. There are a lot of ups and downs as we hiked along. Even one patch of snow left in the last mile to the lake. Most of the trail is in old growth Doug Fir, cedar and hemlock with not to much pine. One area we hiked through had many standing died trees. Some flowers were popping out and vinemaples were over growing the trail. Just before getting to the lake, the trail crosses a Forest Service road that goes to the Owhi Campground. The trail going down from the road to the campground does need some work. One section has a large mud area and another has a creek running down the trail. There were a few people camping at the lake in the walk in part. A large flock of Canada Geese were swimming with a couple of ducks. As we headed back, the rain let up so made for a nice hike back down the river, although there are some up hill sections. Only saw a few other hikes out on this day and one deer. After dinner in dry Cle Elum, we drove back over Snoqualmie Pass were is was still pouring down rain all the way home.

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Cooper River #1311 — Apr 29, 2007 — soosan
Day hike
Issues: Blowdowns | Snow on trail
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A too-early trip up the Cooper River trail. Left the car at Salmon La Sac campground at the last sp...

A too-early trip up the Cooper River trail.

Left the car at Salmon La Sac campground at the last spot at which we were confident we could get the car back out--it was that snowy there.

The trail was more or less snowless for the first two miles, which meant that the blowdowns were the only major problem. We named one of the blowdowns Splinter Pass...all were passable, but a few required some scrambly moves to negotiate. Soon the deep snow started. The next couple of hours was a long slog of postholing and route-guessing, ending with our arrival at the Cooper Lake campground and finding a snowless spot to enjoy the lake for a bit before heading back.

We encountered snowmobilers near the bridge but resisted the urge to bum a ride back to Salmon La Sac.

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Waptus River #1310,Waptus Pass #1329,Polallie Ridge #1309,Tired Creek #1317,Pete Lake #1323,Cooper River #1311 — Jul 04, 2006 — Foist
Day hike
Issues: Blowdowns | Mudholes | Water on trail | Overgrown | Snow on trail | Bugs
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A few weeks ago, on top of Davis Peak, I got a glimpse of the corner of Waptus Lake, and recalled a ...

A few weeks ago, on top of Davis Peak, I got a glimpse of the corner of Waptus Lake, and recalled a trip I took there 2 years ago. I decided I had to go back and do the loop right this time, taking 3 days, Sunday thru Tues. the Fourth.

On Sunday, I parked at Salmon la Sac and headed up the Waptus River trail. Amazingly, I passed no horses, which is what I was least looking forward to on that trail. The trail has some ups and downs, but it's an easy 9 miles to the Waptus Lake hiker camps. The mosquitos were very bad on the stretch where the trail goes near the slowly meandering river. But once at the lakeshore, they were not a problem.

I camped at Hotel Waptus right next to a big group of new friends, who had, somehow, brought along plenty of beer and other fun liquids. It's ok, I hung out with them, and I wasn't expecting solitude there. That would come on day 2. They had come from Pete Lake, and had only a novelty map and a guide book, yet advised me sternly that the trail could be lost in snow. Uh huh, guys. Anyway, the joy was watching the sun set behind Bears Breast and Summit Chief (or Chimney Rock?), as the waters calmed down to reflect the scene. I know it's just a big, low lake, but I'm a sucker for Waptus. So beautiful.

The ideal plan for the 2nd night was for there to be enough snow for me to camp near the lookout site on Polallie Ridge, but not too much such that I wouldn't be able to find the way there. I got my wish precisely in that respect. The worst part of the trip was the trail rounding the marshy outlet of Waptus Lake -- it was all mud and water, a big mess. The trickiest part, snow-wise, was around Waptus Pass. Getting to the signed junction wasn't hard, but the first quarter mile of the Polallie Ridge trail was mostly snow covered. I was just able to figure it out, and suddenly, at about 4300, the snow disappeared, and did not reappear until just short of the top of the ridge.

I arrived at the lookout site and looked around at the snowy panorama of nearby peaks, the heart of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, and followed through with my plan. The bugs were not bad at that point, just some flies buzzing around and not biting. I didn't pitch my tent RIGHT on the summit, due to too much rock and broken glass (!), rather just a bit downhill from there. I only saw one couple during the entire day, who had followed my footsteps through the snow up from Waptus Lake. You're welcome! They admired my Tarptent Rainbow, and I preened.

I got there rather early and spent much of the afternoon just milling around and melting snow. Then suddenly, at around 7 pm, They came. They rose up in clouds from the earth, like some Egyptian plague. They are the mosquitos. It was the worst mosquito attack I have experienced since the Necklace Valley Massacre of 2003. Rather then sit on the summit and watch (and photograph) the sun set, I was left peering through the mesh wall of the Rainbow and the swarm of bugs outside it at a pink Mount Daniel.

Thus far I had used Deet and sheer determination to keep the damage to a smattering of welts. But at around 4 am, I was awakedned by a clap of thunder. Uh oh. I had the Tarptent in mild-weather mode, with one wall only mesh, and my pack, with the DEET inside it, was outside the tent. I had no choice. I jumped out of the tent, staked down the wall, grabbed my stuff, and jumped back in... along with about a dozen of those little winged demons that I could hardly see in the dark. The storm did indeed come, but it wasn't too bad.

It cleared up in the morning, and ideally I would have hung out on the summit and waited for the tent to dry. But the swarms wore worse than ever. I skipped my usual hot breakfast, threw everything into the pack and booked it. Just a quarter mile, probably even less, down the Tired Creek trail, I stopped on a rock to eat my substitute breakfast, a Clif Bar. And no bugs. Goddammit, I don't get it. But at least I got a respite.

I had considered taking a somewhat longer loop to Pete Lake, but I decided to take teh shorter route down Tired Creek and save Pete for another trip that would likely involve Spectacle Lake, which I've wanted to visit for some time. Anyway, it was a good choice, first a really pretty meadow and a little stream, then reminder-peeks of mountains, Rainier and the Lemah-Chimney Rock group. The trail is very steep, and terribly brushy in spots, in grave danger of becoming completely overgrown. I've never done this traip uphill, and I don't think I ever will. I passed one couple that was.

The Pete Lake trail is incredibly wide, more like a road, and full of skeeters and horse crap. I did that stretch VERY quickly, then picked up the trail along Cooper Lake, which was surprisingly confusing. It goes through a whole string of campsights, then appears to die at a stream. After asking some janitors -- yes, janitors, these campsites are not the wilderness kind -- and taking a couple detours, I figured out (with no help from the confused directions) that the stream IS the trail, at least for a bit. I should have known. Anyway, the trail then takes you to the road, which you walk for a bit before picking up the last 3 miles of the Cooper River trail, an obnoxiously up-and-down piece of work. I took a dip at the ONE spot where the trial actually goes by the river.

I love that feeling when you get back to your car without having come back the way you came. Yes, in other words, I love loops.

Just an aside: What an incredible number of reports is collecting this year! Great job everyone. And a HUGE kudos to the WTA for not only doing all that trail maintenance, but with maintaining this terrific website and keeping up with this blessedly massive influx.

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Cooper River Bob and Barb.jpg
Beginning of Cooper River trail. Photo by Bob & Barb.
Cooper River (#1311)
Snoqualmie Pass -- Snoqualmie Pass
Cle Elum Ranger District
Roundtrip 6.0 miles
Elevation Gain 400 ft
Highest Point 2800 ft
Old growth
Fall foliage
User info
Northwest Forest Pass required
Guidebooks & Maps
Day Hiking: Snoqualmie Pass (Nelson & Bauer - Mountaineers Books)
Green Trails Kachess Lake No. 208

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