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Sheep Lake and Sourdough Gap

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This section of the 2600-mile Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) seems tailor-made for kids and dogs. It's gentle, scenic, and easily accessible, with a great swimming lake, resilient grassy meadows for romping, and easy off-trail scrambles. All this and more awaits hikers willing to share the trail with a lot of fellow nature lovers and the occasional bear--where there are huckleberries, there are sure to be bears, and there are some wonderful huckleberry brambles above this trail. Of course, with plenty of meadows for grazing, rocks to hide among, and trees to perch in, the area is also popular with a host of bird and animal species, including deer, mountain goats, hawks, falcons, marmots, martens, chipmunks, and the ever-faithful friend of hikers, gray jays.

The trail traverses the steep hillside meadows east of Chinook Pass, staying above SR 410 for the first mile. Traffic noise can be heard, and sometimes seen, but the views beyond make up for that. The deep valley of the Rainier Fork American River, with Naches Peak rising on the far side of the valley, is beautiful. Hikers with sharp eyes, or good binoculars, can often pick out hikers rounding the flank of Naches on the PCT, some 3 trail miles to the south.

After the first mile the trail veers north, climbing gently up to a bench below Sourdough Gap. Just past the 2.5 mile mark you'll drop into the Sheep Lake basin. The trail to the gap rounds the east side of the lake and begins a moderately steep climb up the valley wall to the rocky saddle of Sourdough Gap at 3.5 miles. Along the way the trail loops through a few switchbacks and offers wonderful views down to the lake and occasionally all the way back down to the trailhead.

Sourdough Gap is a small saddle in a jagged-edged ridge. You'll find a few spotty views of Mount Rainier during the approach to the gap, but for the really outstanding vistas you'll need to scramble up the steep talus slope on the northwest side of the gap. A faint boot-beaten path leads to the ridge crest--be careful, though, because the far side of the ridge falls away in a 500-foot cliff. From this ridge you'll be able to look southwest onto the Emmons Glacier of Mount Rainier. Directly below your vantage point is the Crystal Lakes basin--be sure to wave to the hikers clustered on the shores of those pretty lakes.

Those who'd rather stick to the established trail will have to forgo views of Rainier, but by continuing on the PCT about 0.25 mile north of Sourdough Gap, you'll find wonderful views east into the meadows of upper Morse Creek, with the blue pool of Placer Lake sitting dead center in the valley. Far beyond is the long spine of American Ridge in the William O. Douglas Wilderness.
Driving Directions:

From Enumclaw drive east on State Route 410 (Chinook Pass Highway) to Chinook Pass. Just east of Tipsoo Lake, turn left (north) into a small trailhead parking lot on the north side of the highway. The trailhead is found on the backside of the lot, behind the restrooms. If the parking lot is full, return to the Tipsoo Lake parking lot at the pass and hike the 0.25-mile trail around the lake to the lower lot and the PCT trailhead.

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Recent Trip Reports

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There are 53 trip reports for this hike. See all trip reports for this hike.
Sheep Lake and Sourdough Gap — Sep 11, 2013 — seabeav
Day hike
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This is a easy to moderate hike with lots of visual reward for the effort expended. It is also easy ...
This is a easy to moderate hike with lots of visual reward for the effort expended. It is also easy to get to with plenty of parking and toilets right off SR-410, with the drive to the parking lot being a beautiful trip itself.

The hike to Sheep Lake is fairly easy with views down the valley from the parking lot. The lake is very nice and offers views of ridgelines, rock outcrops and great topography up to Sourdough Gap. After a stop at the lake, the trip up to Sourdough Gap is beautiful and not difficult. The views from the gap are wonderful. It is worth a short additional trip up the northwest slope side of the gap along a trail that branched off of the PCT. Follow it up and over the ridge crest for amazing views of Rainier and Crystal Lake below.

The trail is in good shape, completely dry all the way to the lake and up to Sourdough Gap. Unfortunately the flowers are mostly gone but the rest of the scenery compensates you well for that. Bugs we not bad at all.

Arrived at parking lot around 11:15 … was about 2/3 to 3/4 full. On the trail at 11:30. Stopped at Sheep Lake for about 1.5 hours for a long lunch and a swim in the lake for Shadow dog. Then continued on up to Sourdough Gap. I went over the ridge on the northwest flank for views of Rainier and Crystal Lake while my hiking partner and dog rested at the gap. Left the gap, at 3:20, stopped at Sheep Lake for the dog to take another swim or two and then arrived at the parking lot at 5:15.

A great day on a wonderful trail.

NOTE: Someone left a pair of trekking poles next to where we parked. We left them on the pavement at the front of the car in case anyone came back looking for them. Still there after the hike so we have them with us. If you think they are yours, send me a message and tell me what part of the lot (north, south , middle, etc) where you parked and the trade name on the poles. If yours, I will work with you to get them back to you.
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Sheep Lake and Sourdough Gap — Sep 08, 2013 — Al
Day hike
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A beautiful hike on the edge of Mt. Rainier National Park, so dogs are OK. Trail in great shape wit...
A beautiful hike on the edge of Mt. Rainier National Park, so dogs are OK. Trail in great shape with beautiful views of Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainier. No bugs at all. I got to the trail head (Chinook Pass parking lot, behind restrooms) at 9:00am and there were only half a dozen cars there. When you get to Sourdough Gap continue on another ten minutes to the next little gap along the trail to the left. Well worth the extra few minute walk for some more great views. Go and enjoy it!
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Sheep Lake and Sourdough Gap — Aug 24, 2013 — Fernandez Familia
Overnight
Features: Wildflowers blooming | Ripe berries
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First overnight with our 10- and 8-year old boys. Many huckleberries and blueberries to pick and ea...
First overnight with our 10- and 8-year old boys. Many huckleberries and blueberries to pick and eat! Hiked in to set camp first day. Fished in Sheep Lake to catch/release brook trout. Overcast with sun breaks and sprinkles throughout Sun/Mon. Hiked up to Sourdough Gap and a little beyond into Mt Rainier NP, then back out on the Mon.
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Sheep Lake and Sourdough Gap — Aug 22, 2013 — Bob and Barb
Day hike
Features: Wildflowers blooming
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We began our hike about 2:00 and many were returning to their cars from having started the hike in t...
We began our hike about 2:00 and many were returning to their cars from having started the hike in the AM, so we were able to find parking at the TH parking area. Flowers are mostly past their prime, but there were still some fresh asters, pearly everlasting, fireweed and harebells. A cooler at the Gap had fresh fruit, muffins, and other treats for the PCT "through" hikers. This is an easy hike with gradual elevation gain to Sourdough Gap. On our return to the TH we met 3 groups planning to camp at Sheep Lake. The berries were small and dry and didn't say, "taste me!"
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Sheep Lake and Sourdough Gap — Aug 22, 2013 — goldengiven
Day hike
Features: Ripe berries
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The weather was high overcast with occasional sunbreaks and temps in the low to mid 80's. Smoke from...
The weather was high overcast with occasional sunbreaks and temps in the low to mid 80's. Smoke from fires near Wenatchee was clearly visible. The trail was very dry and dusty.
A nice lady at the trailhead was waiting for some friends and let me have her parking spot!
The views right out of the lot were excellent and the roadway below did not take away from that!
The trip to Sheep lake was uneventful and easy. My dog loved swimming in the lake and did not want to leave to head further up to Sourdough Gap. I was determined and we continued on. My dog and I both loved the territorial views.
I made it about a half a mile from Sourdough Gap and my feet started hurting, I was getting tired and feeling pretty good about how far I had come. How could I feel guilty about not going the last half mile?
Easy. I encountered three people on their way up when I was coming down at 3:30pm. They were all 15+ years older than me and had been there before. How do I know that? Because I am 47!
The hike was awesome and I look forward to completing the whole thing. Perhaps on a sunny day in September when the crowds have thinned.
Trail was well maintained and the fish were jumping at Sheep Lake.
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Hikingqueen.jpg
Photo by Hiking Queen.
Location
South Cascades -- Chinook Pass - Enumclaw or Hwy 410 area
Okanogan and Wenatchee National Forests, Naches Ranger District
Statistics
Roundtrip 7.0 miles
Elevation Gain 1100 ft
Highest Point 6400 ft
Features
Lakes
Wildflowers/Meadows
Mountain views
Wildlife
User info
Good for kids
Dogs allowed on leash
May encounter pack animals
Northwest Forest Pass required
Guidebooks & Maps
Snoqualmie Pass
Green Trails Mount Rainier East No. 270 and Bumping Lake No. 271

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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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