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Silver Lake

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Admire nearby lofty peaks while roaming miles of parkland meadows on a high ridge that parts two forks of the wild Pasayten River. Walk this way in midsummer and be dazzled by a wide array of blossoming beauties. Lupine, paintbrush, cinquefoil, aster, monkey flower, and an array of louseworts all add their strokes to this alpine easel. And Silver Lake? It's a wonderful backcountry body of water tucked in a basin beneath 7850-foot Pasayten Peak.

The trail to Silver Lake starts high and stays high, but much elevation is gained and lost along the way. Trail No. 498 starts with a short, steep climb of 100 feet to Slate Pass and amazing views-all before you've really gone anywhere. Slate Peak stands out immediately to your left. To the south and west are a cavalcade of North Cascades crests and summits as far as you can see. And to the north the U-shaped Middle Fork Pasayten River valley unfurls an emerald swath beneath craggy peaks.

Begin a steep descent into a heather and talus sloped basin where an obscure trail leads right toward Robinson Pass. Continue straight through larches and meadows, admiring Slate Peak to your left hovering above you and Robinson Mountain on your right hovering above everything. Marmots and ground squirrels scurry about.

After 1 mile of fairly easy meandering and 1.5 miles from the trailhead, come to a junction with Middle Fork Pasayten Trail No. 575 (elev. 6500 ft). Stay left. The trail continues high on Gold Ridge, mainly in meadows, occasionally in subalpine forest groves. What it doesn't do, however, is hold a contour. Three times the way drops 200 to 300 feet, and three times it regains it. Several small creeks are crossed, but they may be dry come late summer. Pack sufficient water.

At 4.5 miles the trail climbs once more, this time more steeply, and once again it drops, again more steeply, losing over 400 feet this time. Now in a forested grove, locate an obvious but unmarked trail leading left. Take it. In no time you'll be admiring the glistening waters of Silver Lake.

Inviting shoreline meadows tempt you to nap. The shallow lake's warm waters welcome a foot soak. When the lake's level is low feel free to walk along a gravel shoreline to explore its marshy far end. Here among willows and cotton grasses, a stampede of elephant's head (a flowering figwort) flourishes. Of course, there's nothing wrong with just sitting by the lake and listening to the spotted sandpipers and watching trout snap flies as you rest up for the rolling return.
Driving Directions:

From Winthrop drive the North Cascades Highway (State Route 20) west for 13 miles to the Mazama turnoff just past milepost 180. From Marblemount follow SR 20 east for 73 miles. Proceed north for 0.5 mile to Mazama. Turn left (west) at the intersection, following the paved road to Harts Pass (Lost River Road). The pavement ends in 6.7 miles, and the road becomes Forest Road 54. Follow this harrowing, at times narrow road for 12 miles to Harts Pass. Pass the campground and guard station, bearing right toward Slate Peak. Drive 1.7 miles to the trailhead at the second switchback (elev. 6850 ft).

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Recent Trip Reports

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There are 4 trip reports for this hike.
Silver Lake — Aug 11, 2011 — trailhop
Features: Wildflowers blooming
Issues: Blowdowns | Water on trail | Snow on trail | Bugs
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Hiked in to Silver Lake for an overnight stay. A couple of small snow crossings as well as a couple...
Hiked in to Silver Lake for an overnight stay. A couple of small snow crossings as well as a couple of blowdowns. Trail is still wet in spots but flowers are looking nice. Plenty of bugs at the lake. We were happy for the strong breeze and left when the wind calmed down. Overall if I did this again, I would camp in one of the may beutiful meadows and day hike the lake.
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Oval Lakes, Oval Pass, Silver Lake, Eagle Creek — Jul 31, 2011 — trailhop
Multi-night backpack
Features: Wildflowers blooming | Ripe berries
Issues: Snow on trail | Bugs
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Well the plan was to do a loop up Eagle Creek to Silver Lake then over to Tuckaway Lake and down thr...
Well the plan was to do a loop up Eagle Creek to Silver Lake then over to Tuckaway Lake and down through West Oval. As I found out later my Green Trails map does not show the new trail to up Eagle Creek. So after bush-wacking up the now abandoned trail for a mile with the Kiddo's (5 & 8) we turned around at a huge washout that makes the old trail pretty much unpassible. As I am sure alot of others will agree with, it is getting harder to tell which trails are now abandoned verses just poorly maintained by the FS.

Anyway, we backtracked to the Oval Creek trail and found a camp site along the creek about 4 miles from the TH. Of course we passed the new trail at the top of the first set of switchbacks but didn't think we had the energy to make Silver Lake. The next morning made for a great hike to West Oval Lake. The lower trail could use a good rain shower to settle the dust (well used horse trail) but the upper half of the trail is in pretty good shape for the amount of 4 legged travellers. We had the lake to ourselves for 2 nights and the bugs were just tolerable.

On the layover day we headed for Oval Pass and Tuckaway Lake. The north side of the pass still has snow field that are easy to cross but turned us around. A little to much expose to drag the 5yr through. We were able to cross over to the Grey Peak saddle that leads to Middle and East Oval. Still some snow in the basin but easy to cross.

Headed back down to West Oval with plenty of Glissading practice for the kids. After a couple of hours yo-yoing the snow feilds we made it back to camp and hiked out the next morning.

Maybe next year will try for the loop again.

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Silver Lake, Buckskin Ridge — Jul 24, 2008 — Little Turtle and Old Dog
Day hike
Issues: Blowdowns | Overgrown | Bugs
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As most of the high country in the south Cascades were still white, “Old Dog” and I headed to Ha...
As most of the high country in the south Cascades were still white, “Old Dog” and I headed to Harts Pass and the Buckskin Ridge Trail. Parking is on the last sharp switch back before Slate Peak. The trail climbs quickly out of the parking area to the ridge and then drops several hundred feet to the basin below. The next 3 miles are just up and down rambles through magnificent flower fields. Lupine, paintbrush, columbine, aster and so many more! The pictures of Buckskin Ridge always seem to show a long brown ridge but up close it is green and lush with the promise of wonderful fall color when the larch turn. Just as you get lulled into flowery dreams the trail turns straight up hill and quickly scrambles over the ridge and drops to Silver Lake.

All the camps were full and this was a Thursday! Most of the other campers we talked to were escaping the heavy snow load further south also. We had just dropped off to sleep when the “deer” moved in. I have never heard such noise and carrying on! Stomping, snorting and galloping around the tent all night long. The next morning we had a slow start as we had planned to day hike toward Buckskin Lake. The trail drops from Silver Lake and then climbs roughly toward Silver Pass. There were several blow downs and mud holes. The view from the pass was great but as the bugs were voracious we moved on quickly. Now a “note” on the next part of the trail which I haven’t seen in the trip reports.

The Green Trails map shows just a “dotted” line for the next section with the comment “difficult for stock” and “Steep and dangerous”. This I would say in an underestimate. Take a close look at all those brown lines on the map and how close together they are. The trail drops straight down then traverses across a basin then climbs straight up an avalanche chute about a steeply as you can dig your boots in. I was very glad I was not carrying a full pack. After regaining all the altitude that was lost the trail traverses along a very steep hillside becoming ever more sketchy. “Little Turtle” likes her trails with a little more width and “Old Dog” said since he was “pack stock” it was time to turn back. It had taken much more time than we expected even with day packs. I had originally planned a week loop going through to Buckskin Lake and returning by way of the PCT but didn’t have the time. Although I am an experience backpacker I don’t have a love of narrow trails with steep drop offs. It would have caused a lot of nervous energy and much more time than I would have planned to haul a full pack on that trail. A stronger hiker with longer legs might not think this was a problem. This area is beautiful and the flower display superb this time of year. We will be back.

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Silver Lake — Aug 17, 2006 — Packin Grandma
Day hike
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We thought we'd try the east side, which was a mistake, given the fires in the Methow. The first day...
We thought we'd try the east side, which was a mistake, given the fires in the Methow. The first day was only hazy, but the second the smoke rolled in, so we moved out, cutting short our planned trip to Buckskin Lake. The Green Trails map indicates a 500' net elevation loss to the Silver Lake, but the nice contour shown is not quite correct - lots of up and down. The trail winds through lovely meadows, rather dry now though some streamlets were still flowing. The flowers would have been better a month ago. At the lake end the trail could really use some work. Campsites very well used but pleasant. The lake is down in the trees, not alpine as we'd hoped, but bugs weren't bad.

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Silver Lake.jpg
Photo by Little Turtle and Old Dog.
Silver Lake (#498)
North Cascades -- Methow Valley
Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest - Darrington Ranger District
Roundtrip 11.0 miles
Elevation Gain 2800 ft
Highest Point 6950 ft
Old growth
User info
Northwest Forest Pass required
Guidebooks & Maps
Day Hiking: North Cascades (Romano - Mountaineers Books)
Green Trails Washington Pass No. 50

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Note: the description and driving directions for this Mountaineers Books entry are copyrighted and can't be changed.

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