North Fork Entiat River
A scenic drive up the Entiat River takes you to the dusty trailhead of this backpacking loop in the rugged beauty of the Entiat mountains. Campgrounds along the way are roomy and beautiful with good water sources.
If you're heading counter-clockwise on the loop, the elevation gain is mostly at the beginning of the trip.
After 6.1 miles (and 1,300' of elevation gain) on the North Fork Entiat Trail, you'll reach the junction with the short trail up to Fern Lake (#1436). Fern Lake makes a good first night objective, although the 1.5-mile hike up from the river valley bottom is stout. There is no bridge over the river here.
Retrace your steps with a steep descent to catch the original trail, and continue upstream to the meadows below Cardinal Peak, which requires careful footing on a mile or more of very steep and loose trail.
Once in the meadow, you won't want to leave. Day hikes will take you up several local peaks that are in Washington's top 100. Saska Pass, and Millham Pass are other worthy day hike objectives form here. Basking in the floral array or golden fall larches isn't hard to take either.
Once you leave the river, it's steep and irregular switchbacks up to the junction with the Pyramid Mountain Trail (#1433). Looping back on trail #1433 has a different character. It's higher in elevation and has more ups and downs.
If you've got time, don't miss the opportunity to take an 8.2 mile RT side trip visit up to the old fire lookout site at Pyramid Peak Viewpoint (8243'). To get to the Pyramid Peak summit, stay on #1433 for 1.2 miles after the junction with the South Pyramid Creek Trail (#1439). Then head north on the Pyramid Peak Viewpoint trail (#1441) for another 2.9 miles of gently sloped and well-graded trail, with just a few switchbacks. The lookout is gone, but the 7125' relief down to Lake Chelan remains. Wow! Don't forget to check out the exposure from the privy perch on the NE corner.
Once you're back on the South Pyramid Creek Trail (#1439), take it all the way back to the North Fork of the Entiat to complete your loop. It has lots of generous campgrounds and signs of bear activity.
If you want an extended trip, forge on south of Pyramid Mountain on another loop trail option that takes hikers past Graham Mountain (#1433 to #1440, and then back to #1439).
NOTE: The mileage and elevation gains represent minimums. Side trips and flow of the trail will add to this.
Turn East up the Entiat River Road off Alternate Route 97 in Entiat. Drive ~32 mile up this road turning right onto 5606 2 miles past Silver Falls camp ground.
Recent Trip Reports
North Fork Entiat River, Pyramid Mountain, Pyramid Creek
— Aug 19, 2012
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Solitude, solitude, and more solitude. Not to mention flowers, jagged peaks, and wild mushrooms. Nee...
Solitude, solitude, and more solitude. Not to mention flowers, jagged peaks, and wild mushrooms. Need I say more?
I got the idea for this trail loop from "Backpack Washington" by, Douglas Lorain. My peak bagging information was largely filled in by the "Cascade Alpine Guide", Fred Beckey and "Summit Routes" by,Stephenson and Bongiovanni. I wanted peaks to bag and my partner wanted lakes, meadows, and beauty. Nobody was disappointed.
Our first day was a long steady hike up a dry trail through classic east side ponderosa forests. The trail can be steep at times and pretty chewed up by our equestrian friends. Not to fear though there are more than enough switchbacks to ease the difficulties. The non-stop creeks, meadows, and vistas make it very worthwhile.
Our 4 day trip averaged ~10 miles per day. Our first two nights used the same camp site in a basin below Cardinal Peak (8590'). My second day was spent scrambling three of Washington's highest 100 peaks, the aforementioned Cardinal, Saska (8409'), and Emerald (8422'). The difficulties were not great but loose rock was the order of the day (so be careful if you go). My summits were blessed with an American Kestrel, and two Mountain Blue Birds.
My partner chose a no-less-elevation-gaining-day starting by accompanying me to Saska Pass to begin my scrambling. She then headed back through camp and on to Fern Lake. This was reported to be a "top ten" alpine lake with fantastic campsites, alpine granite all around, and a stout hike up to it.
Our third day headed eastward towards Pyramid peak. The map showed way too much trail for us so off we went as the crow flies. Once crossing Grouse Pass from the west the trail drops steeply into the South Fork of Pyramid Creek. We veered off towards the east over and through two high valleys. Infrequently tracked but not impossible. Upon crossing into the second valley we picked up a faint cairned trail just below the talus and cliff bands, right where you'd expect it. Blue Grouse were frequently rousted while passing through the tamaracks here.
The summit of Pyramid once had a fire lookout. It now has expansive views and quite a bit of wind. The north side drops an astounding 7125' to lake Chelan below. Be sure to look for the old outhouse which is 100' below the summit on the NE corner. The view and exposure are hard to beat.
Our hike out was full of flowers and Smith boletes. Our packs nearly bursting with the latter. Camp sites along the Pyramid Creek trail were frequent and roomy. One, Three Tree Camp, even had a bear box for your food. After passing it we noticed dozens of trees which had been clawed by bears, some at quite dramatic heights.
I would do this hike again in the fall to see the golden larches although there are sure to be many hunters. There were bugs but they were not bad. Valley temperatures were ~45 at night, our camp at ~7500' had frost the last morning.
Total hiking distance excluding peak bagging and Fern lake but including a trip to Saska Pass was ~26 miles. Fern lake was a 3 mile diversion. The peak trilogy was about 6000' of gain mostly from the valley bottom. The ridge was so tortuous I wouldn't recommend it to anyone. From camp in the meadow it took me 8 hours for all three.
Myrtle Lake, North Fork Entiat River
— Sep 17, 2011
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Road to trailhead (Cottonwood campground) was excellent. Trail to Myrtle Lake is very well establis...
Road to trailhead (Cottonwood campground) was excellent. Trail to Myrtle Lake is very well established -- almost like a highway (it was hunting season and many hunters were out).
Camped first night at Myrtle Lake and spent second day hiking up the valley to the Meadows at the base of Seven Fingered Jack by way of Cool Creek. The trail is steep, but gets some great views. Otherwise, the hike following the Entiat River is completely in the basin and so the views are not as spectacular as up high. Trail along Cool Creek was not clear at times, but cairns were plentiful and easy to follow.
Third day we hiked up the other side of the valley to get views the other way and went via Choral Creek up to a saddle along Gopher Mountain. A fire a few years ago has devastated that part of the basin. The Choral creek trail from where it splits from the Snow Bushy Creek trail is non-existent until the top of the ridge. The hike is pretty, just aim for the notch, but if you are not comfortable going off trail, do not do this section. There are other ways around the area.
Views were great. Amazing wildlife (bears, deer, goats). Definitely tons of amazing territory to explore here.
Pugh Ridge, North Fork Entiat River
— Jul 17, 2011
Blowdowns | Water on trail | Snow on trail
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Hike starts at the trailhead for North Fork Entiat River (FR 5606). The first three miles are easy ...
Hike starts at the trailhead for North Fork Entiat River (FR 5606). The first three miles are easy with just a few creek crossings. At approximately 3 miles the Pugh Ridge trail starts, it is well signed. The trail then climbs for the next 3 miles to Pugh Ridge. The trail is easy to follow with cairns marking the way at the top. There was still some snow on the trail and a few fallen trees to climb over, but nothing difficult to navigate. The views were great and we didn't see a single other person on the trail despite it being a Sunday in July.
North Fork Entiat River #1437,Pyramid Mountain #1433,Emerald Park/Snowbrush Creek #1230.1,45 Mile Sheep Drive #1432,Entiat River #1400,Wilson Creek #1231.1,Railroad Creek #1256,Fern Lake,Dole Lakes,Cardinal Peak,Emerald Peak,Saska Peak,Pinnacle Mou
— Aug 10, 2008
— Art Freeman
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This proved to be an excellent trip in gorgeous country, with a fabulous group of friends. And no on...
This proved to be an excellent trip in gorgeous country, with a fabulous group of friends. And no one yelled at me when it turned out that parts were significantly more difficult than they had been led to believe.
This same report, but with more photos is at
Day1— We left town early and dropped 5 of our party of 7 at the N Fork Entiat TH. Judy, Jiri, Jenise, Jim, and Jo headed up the N Fork trail to find a nice camp while Scott and I drove about 2 more hours to set up a car shuttle, leaving our van at Fields Point on Lake Chelan where we hoped to return 8 days later. Scott and I caught up to the group in time for dinner at a pleasant forest camp at the junction with the Fern Lake Trail. No bugs. Good trail.
Day2—We day hiked from the lower camp up to Fern Lake, and were glad we had not carried up all our gear with 7 days of food. But it would be a lovely camp and the steep trail had a few blowdowns but was just fine. Note: Jim could have, because he went light (the “Ray Way”) with a GOLITE pack and only 1 of everything—1 set of clothes, 1 meal, 1 thin tarp. He did, however, have 2 boots, and one deadly fish pole. To slow him down we gave him the 30meter 8mm rope to carry. We scrambled up point 7936 (short class 3 gully section) for expansive views of what lay ahead. The W shore of the lake had an especially nice sand beach and we all swam for at least 15 seconds. No CPR was needed. Returned to same lower camp. . It had rained a few days earlier and fungus was sprouting. Judy and Jiri knew their shrooms and found some good ones on this trip. At dinner they shared an excellent King Bolete sauteed in olive oil.
Day3—A relatively short relaxing hike to camp just off the trail in the basin between Emerald and Saska. Go up on the rocky knoll past the meadow and S of the trail for the nicest camp and no impact on the meadow. Excellent views from camp. Our mission (well, my mission, anyway) was to climb Cardinal, Emerald, Saska and Pinnacle on this outing, so we had work to do. The men-folk set off to hunt peaks while the woman stayed at camp and tended to domestic duties. I’m pretty sure they at least got some water. Cardinal involves a long talus and then scree slope to a saddle. Tiring, but nothing too hairy. However the upper rock is confusing and more difficult than expected (a recurring theme lately). If you run right up the rock ridge working the solid ledges you will eventually come to a very exposed narrow ledge requiring good balance. We setup a hand line. After that was a steep class 3+ gully, but with good holds. I’d suggest avoiding the scary ledge and continuing over the saddle (there is a huge cairn on the point) and traversing on the back (East) side until you can climb up the gully below the summit. Not a good scramble for beginners.
Our progress was significantly slowed at times by Scott, a professional arborist, because this area had some very old and interesting trees. Seriously, it was one of the highlights of the trip for all of us to see and learn something about granddaddy larches and White Bark Pines that were probably 500 years old surviving fires, avalanche, rockslides and disease. Also we were surprised at how many late flowers were out, and, being more used to the wetter western trails, just how beautiful this drier and more open country is.
Day4—The whole crew hiked into the upper basin between Saska and Emerald and to the gentle saddle just W of Emerald. Jo and Jenise relaxed there for some alpha-wave therapy from the tremendous views down into Emerald Park and points north. But Judy was ready for a scramble summit, and joined Team Vertical on the Emerald Peak expedition. Emerald proved to be a kinder and gentler scramble but with enough rock (some loose) to provide an interesting challenge. Thanks Emerald. Descended back to camp, and proceeded on scramble #2, another stag-scramble, of Saska. I thought Saska was the hardest of all the 4 we climbed. The long scree slope to the obvious broad saddle was annoyingly steep and tiring, and some of the top seemed closer to class 4 than 3 to me in a couple spots. The summit ridge is loose and feels exposed. Go avalanche yourself, Saska. Why can’t you be more like your big sister Emerald?
Day5—This was the big day with many miles planned. Up at 5:00 and marching at 6:30, over Saska Pass and down to the junction with Snow Brushy Creek trail and into the area burned in the 2006 Tinpan fire. The goal was to walk from here to the Entiat Meadows area near the end of the Entiat River trail. And there was talk of all going together on the high country route via 45-Mile Sheep Drive trail #1432 which was also calculated to be shorter than walking all the way down the Snow Brushy Creek trail and then up the Entiat River trail. Never mind that you have to walk over a whole nuther mountain range and through a major burn! Perhaps this was overlooked because Pinnacle Mountain—an essential summit—is just off this high route. But now, at this critical juncture and trail junction those in the group with somewhat lower testosterone levels made what turned out to be a very good decision. The Jx3 group (Judy, Jenise, Jo) opted for the easier way and took the well groomed (though also well burned and well dusted) route. We agreed on check-in times via our Motorola radios and split up, with us guys fully expecting to beat the gals to camp by hours. As it turned out they bathed twice in the river on the way and were happily swatting mosquitoes at camp about 5 hours ahead of us.
The junction with Sheep Drive is in the area badly burned in 2006 but the trail up Snow Brushy Ck is well maintained and easy going (at least the parts we were on). It is actually kind of interesting to see a bit of green only now returning in the most hotly scorched areas. If you like barbeque or cleaning your chimney you’ll especially enjoy it. The junction is marked with a cairn and a thoughtful note on red plastic tape suggesting that you go up and try to find the trail at 6500’, which we did with relative ease and, once out of the burn, followed more cairns on the faint route way up to Borealis Pass at 7600’.
From there, Pinnacle Mtn was a straightforward scramble--a little harder than Emerald but deserving of thanks. Mission #1 accomplished—The 4 summits on this trip moved me up to #96 out of 100 on the “Bulger” High 100 list. Mission #2: get down. On top at about 1:30, then back down to the pass at about 2:30. From the pass it took us 4 tough hours to get down to the Entiat River. This, because much of the route is like a Webber Grill on a steep slant. To call this a trail now is a great exaggeration, perhaps only ¼ true. And any sheep that drive up this trail will be black indeed! What may have at one time been a faint trail is now a high route requiring better than average navigation skills and a full tank of gas. There are many fallen burned trees, and some brush. I was getting worried that we might not make it by dark and we were consulting the map and GPS frequently. The wives seemed concerned on each radio call, and assumed we were lost, rather than merely temporarily confused and exhausted. But Jiri, who I think may have trained Blood Hounds in the Czech Republic, was right on the scent of that soot covered trail, and Jim (although he’s never been to the Czech Republic) was also tracking it well. So, we staggered into camp at 8:15 and were actually glad that the 3Jays had camped early at one of the first “horse camps.” Go a little further and there is a nicer hikers camp with a picnic table. Watch for it. Moderate bugs.
Day6—Readers with knowledge of the area may realize that there is no trail to Holden from Entiat Meadows. So our bold plan, and the likely crux of the trip, was to go over the high ridge just east of Tinpan Mtn and drop to Dole Lakes on the other (north) side, and then down to Railroad Creek. We had only very sketchy information on the feasibility of this but it looked good on paper. The book “Routes and Rocks” published in 1965 indicated it was easy, and one horseman we met said he once looked down on the lakes and it seemed like maybe you could get down! Plus, a very friendly and helpful ranger named Randy at the Entiat RS, who gave us good information, thought it was feasible, but had not himself hiked over that way.
Rather than walk straight up x-country, which I think one could do, we opted to find the Wilson Creek Trail #1231. Good luck finding the start. Read the map carefully and find it marked by cairns in a grassy slopes near the right edge of a forest swath. Faint, but fairly easy to follow once on it, and very scenic. We should have started earlier since it was hitting 100 degrees in Chelan, so in the sun on that south slope we were cooking. The trail tops out on the west end of the saddle between Tinpan and Buckskin Mtn (I think you could climb Buckskin Mtn from here if you had the time and energy) and then runs east along the saddle over towards Tinpan. From here we traversed up and across the south face of Tinpan on moderately steep talus, scree and heather aiming for the high narrow grass and red dirt pass just east of the top. Much grunting was involved and progress was very slow. From the pass it was clear (thank God) that we could walk down to the lakes, although the slopes were still pretty steep. Better have ice axe and crampons if there is any chance of snow here. At this point Jo and Jenise realized that they had inadvertently signed up for an Outward Bound Course! We used our 100 meter rope for the hard dirt 40 degree slope right at the top, but below that it was talus/scree/creek bed and not as steep all the way down about 1000’ to middle Dole Lake where we stripped as fast as possible and dove in for one of the best swims ever. Total time from camp about 8 hours. Hard to believe, but true.
We camped at a lovely established camp east of the connector stream from middle to lower lake. There is another camp by the outlet of the lower lake. The lakes are just gorgeous sub-alpine, it would have been great to stay a lot longer, except for one thing. The bugs were very bad due to the heat, late snow melt and the bogs between the lakes. Here, and at the last Entiat horse camp we noticed TP left right out on the ground. Our CSI poop investigators determined that the poop itself may have been buried in a shallow hole, with the TP perhaps left to mark the spot. “I pooped here, so don’t step in it!” Well, if you bury it, no one will. How someone with the wherewithal to get to Doles Lakes would not have it in them to dig a hole away from the Lake, is beyond me. We buried it all. (That was the only thing we used our one ice axe for on this trip).
Day7—Due to some sort of learning disability, we figured, well actually, I figured, why get up early? Look how close it is down to Railroad Creek. There is probably a trail. Others have camped here. How hard can it be? We certainly don’t want to get down too early. Well, it took us 6 hours (no, I’m not kidding) to drop down 2500’ to the Railroad Creek Trail. There may be a trail, but it is certainly not on the route shown in Routes and Rocks on the prominent rib east of Dole Creek. It is somewhere else and I’m gonna find it—someday.
The slow descent involved picking our way thru minor cliff bands and nasty blowdowns. Not much serious brush, but uncomfortably steep in spots and rugged. BTW, Railroad Creek Trail was just great—everything a trail should be, with excellent cascading streams. Jim’s partner Mary Ann, had a sprained ankle and could not go on this trip, however, she planned to meet us at Holden, so once on the trail, Jim took off like a rocket, but ended up wandering around a long time on top of the mine tailings! Once to the otherworldly yellow tailings from the old mine operation that (until 1957) hollowed out Copper Mountain, we stayed on the main road until we crossed Copper Creek (which feeds the micro-hydro plant that powers the village) and then crossed Railroad Creek on the covered footbridge to sneak into Holden Village through our backdoor route.
Holden Village (An ecumenical retreat center rooted in the Lutheran tradition) gets my vote for the friendliest place on Earth. This is a modern day Shangri La where you are sure to feel welcome even if you hike in and camp out, as we did, at the “Ballpark” about a mile up from the village. We bought dinner, which was just excellent, and they were kind enough to let us shower in one of the dorms, though believe me, it was in everyone’s best interest. There’s some swingin’ nightlife at Holden on Saturday night too. We attended Vespers Service at 7:30, followed by outrageously huge scoops of ice cream, and a ride in the Way-Back Machine for bowling at the rec hall. You heard right, bowling. The rec hall, originally built for the miners, is vintage 50’s and 60’s complete with pool tables, popcorn stand, jukebox, and a 4-lane bowling alley. The pins are setup manually. In our case 2 sweet young girls reset the pins and rolled the balls back. Judy almost dropped a bowling ball on her bare foot! Wow—we stayed up until 10:30!
All NW Hikers should plan a pilgrimage to Holden, and maybe rent a room too. (www.holdenvillage.org)
Day8—After a wonderful breakfast in the dining hall, we visited the museum (hard to find, ask someone) which chronicles the mining history as well as the post-mine Lutheran history, and natural history of the area. Well worth a visit. Jenise flipped open one of the old photo albums at random to a picture of one of her best friends taken in the 70’s. We’ve begun thinking of next year’s trip already. Maybe it could end at Holden too.
A yellow bus named Pookie delivered us safely down about 10 miles on the dirt road following Railroad Creek to the boat dock at Lucerne on Lake Chelan where we enjoyed a refreshing swim. Then, at 12:20 the “fast boat” returned us down-lake to our car at Fields Point, and the 21st century…already in progress.
- North Fork Entiat River (#1437), Pyramid Mountain (#1433), Pyramid Creek (#1439)
- Central Cascades -- Entiat Mountains
- Wenatchee National Forest, Entiat Ranger District
- Fall foliage
- Mountain views
- Established campsites
Dogs allowed on leash
May encounter pack animals
May encounter mountains bikes
Northwest Forest Pass required
Guidebooks & Maps
- Backpacking Washington by Douglas Lorain (Wilderness Press)
- Green Trails #114, Lucerne