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Cow Heaven

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Here's the beef on Cow Heaven. It's a steep and demanding climb through thick forest culminating in lonely alpine meadows. The cows are long gone from this former summer grazing area high above the Skagit Valley, but you can feast to your heart's content on splendid views of snowy North Cascades summits. A great conditioner and good choice for solitude, if you're feeling energetic, follow this steer-way to heaven all the way to the rocky Helen Buttes for even grander views.

Trail No. 763 starts low, but aims high. From its valley-bottom beginning to its alpine destination, 4000 feet of elevation is gained-in less than 5 miles. These stats keep more than a handful of aerobically challenged hikers away. But despite this trail's lonely state, it's in fine shape. The tread is fairly smooth and the way is well defined.

Begin in cool cedar forest on new trail rerouted around private land. Soon after crossing a creek in a mossy grotto, the trail gets down to business. Following tight switchbacks, the way vigorously climbs up a near-vertical slope. The forest canopy is dense, mostly a uniform stand of second-growth conifers. A handful of vine maples punctuate it, lightening the dark understory during the autumn months.

After 1 mile recross the creek you hopped over earlier. Now in scrappy forest and alongside the cascading creek, continue climbing. Cross the creek yet again. The forest soon thins, offering glimpses to the jumbled array of peaks across the Skagit Valley.

Just after 2 miles the trail briefly drops to traverse a dank mossy hollow supporting a handful of mammoth cedars, and then the trail picks up the pace again. Lighter tread and a few gullied sections help keep your pace in check. After passing a series of boulders and overhanging ledges, the trail enters a grove of impressive old growth.

Eventually the forest thins, yellow cedars and subalpine firs indicating that much elevation has thus far been gained. After 4 miles and at about 4000 feet, finally break out of the canopy. Views begin to unravel across huckleberry-choked slopes that were scorched many decades ago by wildfire. Continue across the brushy terrain, coming to a small meadow with a small tarn.

For better panoramic viewing, find a faint path heading northwest up an open rib. Here in the heart of Cow Heaven, steak your viewing spot! The deep U-shaped Skagit Valley unfurls below you. Craggy Colonial Peak and the Teebone Ridge (seriously) tower above it. Jack is the big guy on the western horizon. The Newhalem powerhouse is the big structure below. Turn south to take in a sweeping view of the Cascade River valley. Snowking Mountain,

the Illabot Peaks, Whitehorse Mountain, and the Finney Block area fill the southern horizon.

The Helen Buttes obstruct views northward and eastward. But if your scrambling and orientation skills are good, continue toward the buttes, where you can graze on more mouthwatering views. Contemplate, too, just how tenacious those cows must have been to hoof it all the way to this lonely and heavenly range.
Driving Directions:

From Rockport follow the North Cascades Highway (State Route 20) 8 miles east toward Marblemount. Shortly before reaching town, turn left onto Ranger Station Road (signed "Ranger Station, one mile"). Proceed 0.7 mile to the national park ranger station, and then bear right onto Olson Creek Road, continuing for another 0.3 mile to the trailhead, on your left (elev. 400 ft).

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Recent Trip Reports

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There are 24 trip reports for this hike. See all trip reports for this hike.
Cow Heaven #763 — Jun 16, 2002 — lykkens
Day hike
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This trail was an accidental discovery when we wandered into the Marblemount Ranger station and ask...

This trail was an accidental discovery when we wandered into the Marblemount Ranger station and asked for a day hike. While steep, this was a beautifully maintained trail with wild flowers and waterfalls galore. Bugs were not a problem and we saw only one other set of hikers the whole day long. While sweeping views were not a part of our day, the trail itself provided numerous photo ops. Give this 'huffer' a try!

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Cow Heaven #763,Helen Buttes — Apr 28, 2002 — rubberlegs
Day hike
Issues: Snow on trail
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Holy Cow, you gotta check out this trail. The lower portion has several beautiful waterfalls tumbli...

Holy Cow, you gotta check out this trail. The lower portion has several beautiful waterfalls tumbling near the trail, and gorgeous moss. Some big trees too. Since it starts at the whopping elevation of 365', it's snow free for quite a ways (up to 2300' or so). Snow starts to get continuous not long after that. We slogged our way up to the mighty and feared Helen Buttes. There we ran into another party of summit baggers. Some rather famous peak baggers, and some who frequent WTA's web pages: MtnMike, tomdav, Mike Collins. Fun to say ""hi"" to them.

The route is straightforward to the southern peak. The other party was scrambling up the higher northern peak, so a few of us followed like sheep at cow heaven. Turned out to go pretty well except for a short rock section. Up no problem. Down a bit more of a challenge. Grand views on this good-weather day. Snowshoes used from about 3000' until the summit ridge rocks were exposed.

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Cow Heaven #763 — Jul 02, 2001 — Chris Burke
Day hike
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The NPS ranger in Marblemount said this trail never receives maintenance. However, someone had logg...

The NPS ranger in Marblemount said this trail never receives maintenance. However, someone had logged out the lowest 1 mile and there were few problems for hikers above that--just a few blowdowns, easily crossed.

The ranger also said this trail is steep, and it is *very* steep. I didn't realize just how steep until I came crashing down. The 100 Hikes book says this trail climbs 4400 feet in 5.5 miles which sounds about right.

Only a few footprints from previous days, and I was the only hiker this day. Made it to the meadows at the end of the trail. By walking from side to side in these meadows you can catch views of the Cascade River valley peaks, the southern Pickets, and various mountains down the Skagit River.

Few bugs, trail in good shape, quite a workout!

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Cow Heaven #763 — Apr 15, 2001 — REJ
Day hike
Issues: Snow on trail
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The trailhead is just beyond the North Cascades Park Wilderness Info center. The beginning of the t...

The trailhead is just beyond the North Cascades Park Wilderness Info center. The beginning of the trail traverses above private property until it reaches the old trail. From here the trail switch backs steeply along side a pretty creek. After about a mile, the trail crosses the creek continues to climb with a few short flat sections and one annoying downhill section. We first encountered snow just before the 2 mile marker (2100') with first snow covering the trail at 2500' Unfortuantely we ran of out of time and had to turn back at 3,000', where there is about 6-inches of recent snow covering the ground. We found no views on the section of trail we hiked. The trail is in reasonable shape with just a few logs crossing the trail. On the way home we stopped at the unmarked Rocky Creek trailhead. There is a small parking area on the east side of rocky creek that can hold several cars. We only had time to hike the first 1/2 mile of the trail. The beginning of the trail is in good shape but is quite steep. We made plans to hike to Helen Buttes later this summer via the Rocky Creek trail,taking the Cow Heaven trail back. (Requires car shuttle).

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Cow Heaven #763 — Dec 16, 2000 — rubberlegs
Day hike
Issues: Blowdowns | Snow on trail
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Moo. The drive to the trailhead was treacherous due to glazed snow on Hwy 20. But we made it to Mar...

Moo. The drive to the trailhead was treacherous due to glazed snow on Hwy 20. But we made it to Marblemount okay. We avoided what Mike ""Buffalo"" calls dog hell by taking the new trailhead on this snowy day. There was a couple inches of snow, even at the ~500' starting elevation. By the time we got up to 3000' there was a couple feet. Rain and dripping glop from the trees discouraged the party and we bailed out at about 3500'. The hike down was very slushy. I suspect it will be melted out after the next warm rain. Moo.

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Cow Heaven Whitebark.jpg
Cow Heaven. Photo by whitebark.
Location
Cow Heaven (#763)
North Cascades -- West Slope
Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest - Mount Baker District
Statistics
Roundtrip 10.0 miles
Elevation Gain 4000 ft
Highest Point 4400 ft
Features
Old growth
Mountain views
User info
Northwest Forest Pass required
Guidebooks & Maps
Day Hiking: North Cascades (Romano - Mountaineers Books)
Green Trails Marblemount No. 47

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