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Spider Meadow and Phelps Basin

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This long but easy valley romp follows boisterous Phelps Creek to a mile-long broad flower-bursting meadow and a giant cirque beneath a formidable wall of towering peaks. But don't expect solitude, for Spider Meadow crawls with backpackers-brigades of them! The valley is large enough to disperse in, though, and Phelps Basin offers a quiet retreat from the meadow's loungers and shutterbugs and their tent cities.

The number of vehicles at the trailhead should give you a good indication of the popularity of this hike. Spider Meadow is one of the busiest places within the Glacier Peak Wilderness.

Head down the Phelps Creek Trail, an old road reverting nicely to trail. In 0.25 mile, after hopping across a refreshing creek, come to the junction with the Carne Mountain Trail. Continue straight, traversing pleasant forest and crossing several side creeks, entering the Glacier Peak Wilderness at 2.5 miles.

Continuing along Phelps Creek, the delightful trail marches gently up the valley. Pass through groves of big Engelmann spruce and by tailings of old mines. The area is littered with old mines, and a few doughty prospectors still work claims in the vicinity. At 3.4 miles cross Leroy Creek, which may be tricky in periods of high runoff. On the north side of the creek you may notice a trail taking off right. This is the start of the Leroy High Route, a challenging alpine route through the Entiat Mountains.

About a mile beyond Leroy, the trail actually takes a noticeable ascent, but still quite gentle, mind you. At just over 5 miles, break out from the trees to the edge of Spider Meadow (elev. 4750 ft). Now behold the beauty of an open U-shaped valley carpeted in brilliant wildflowers. Look up to 7646-foot Red Mountain, its rusty summit contrasting nicely with its necklace of snow patches. You can call it quits here, finding a nice place to lounge by Phelps Creek, or continue farther to more dramatic scenery.

The trail carries on, blazing right up the middle of the sprawling meadows. At 5.5 miles it crosses a side creek and then climbs through a cluster of firs and enters an upper meadow. Stare up at cascading creeks coming down off of Red Mountain and Phelps Ridge. Now hop across Phelps Creek, after which the trail steepens and reenters forest. At just over 6 miles reach a signed junction. The trail left climbs to Spider Gap en route to the Lyman Lakes-it's where all of the backpackers are heading.

Hang a right on the path less taken, and in less than 0.5 mile reach the head of the wide-open cirque called Phelps Basin (elev. 5400 ft). It's quite a dramatic spot, hemmed in by the vertical walls of 8421-foot Dumbell Mountain. Melting snowfields give birth to Phelps Creek here, where it tumbles through vibrant clusters of violet monkey flowers. Notice that you have the whole basin to your-self. The marmots don't count.
Driving Directions:

From Everett head east on US 2 for 85 miles to Coles Corner. (From Leaven-worth travel west on US 2 for 15 miles.) Turn left onto State Route 207 (signed for Lake Wenatchee) and proceed 4.2 miles to a Y intersection after crossing the Wenatchee River. Bear right onto the Chiwawa Loop Road, and after 1.3 miles turn left onto the Chiwawa River Road (Forest Road 62). Proceed for 22 miles (the pavement ends at 10.8 miles) to a junction. Bear right onto FR 6211 and proceed for 2.3 very rough miles to the trailhead at the road's end (elev. 3500 ft).

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Recent Trip Reports

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There are 103 trip reports for this hike. See all trip reports for this hike.
Spider Meadow and Phelps Basin — Oct 04, 2013 — thebrink
Day hike
Features: Fall foliage
Issues: Mudholes | Water on trail | Snow on trail
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We parked about an eighth of a mile from the trailhead as the road (FR-6211) is overgrown. There ...
We parked about an eighth of a mile from the trailhead as the road (FR-6211) is overgrown.

There is snow on the trail most of the way back to the meadow. As we went along the depth increased from an inch to six to eight inches at the meadow. There are several streams to cross, about twenty, most of which you can step over but a few, like Leroy Creek, that are about ten feet wide. We didn't to much color in the trees in the area but high on the west shoulder of a peak above Spider Gap there were some larches that are turning.

We started in a freezing temperatures on he trail in crunchy snow, but coming back out the trail had thawed and was a bit mushy in parts.

Coming out we met several backpackers coming in for some snow camping. We also met one PCT hiker who has been on the trail from the Mexico boarder for five months by the name of Jim Hagen (trail name, Legend) who was on his way to Rainy Pass.
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Spider Meadow and Phelps Basin, Leroy Creek High Route — Oct 04, 2013 — ComputerHal
Overnight
Features: Fall foliage
Issues: Snow on trail | Road to trailhead inaccessible
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Road very rough last 2 miles to TH. a stretch of down brush just past horse turnaround 1/2 mile from...
Road very rough last 2 miles to TH. a stretch of down brush just past horse turnaround 1/2 mile from TH is only 50 yards long then clear. just slow dowm to avoid scratching your vehicle, we planned to camp in Leroy Creek Basin, see Larches, do 7 Finger Jack, and loop out through high route to Carne Mtn. and back to car. encountered 18'' of fresh snow in basin so decided to change plans. Larches not turning on Oct 5. wife got sick. so 59r diner was a highlight to trip home. Trail to spider meadow in good shape. unmaintained trail to Leroy creek the usual rough very steep condition. excellent views of Jack and Maude, early evidence of lose snow avalanches, doing the peaks would be dicey. Lot of snow up high for this time of year. could have used snow shoes up high.

We did encounter PCT hiker Legend who we passed on return to car. He was headed for border, seeking an alternate route up spider gap, and had quite a scary story. He had been on PCT near Johnson Mt on PCT, when snowstorm kept him tentbound for 4 days. he retuned to Steven's Pass to resupply and on the way found numerous very scared PCT hikers who had attempted getting through the storm with no adequate gear. He hiked down Hwy 2 to Cole's Corner, then up to Trinity and without accurate map was trying an alternate route over spider gap and Cloudy Pass to rainey Pass. we gave him copy of our map, and loaned him a pair of micro spikes for his trail runners. He had about 1 clear day to get through before the next storm came through, Go Legend!!
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Spider Meadow and Phelps Basin — Oct 04, 2013 — wolfwoman
Multi-night backpack
Features: Fall foliage
Issues: Snow on trail
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Yo yo, Cathy and I had planned to do a trip to Schaeffer Lake with scrambles of Sylvester and Bandit...
Yo yo, Cathy and I had planned to do a trip to Schaeffer Lake with scrambles of Sylvester and Bandit, but became less ambitious with reports of snow in the high country. So, we settled for Spider Meadow hoping for some roaming to Phelps Basin and Spider Glacier. We were surprised to find that we had to park about 3/4 miles before the trailhead due to snow on the road and brush leaning over the roadway. This was all gone on our return and the road is very accessible, at least for now. The trail was snow free and the stream crossings a cinch until about 1/2 mile before the meadow when snow began, although the going was very easy. Still, gaitors were handy. The snow in the basin was about 6 - 8 inches, and melting. Still, the temps were cold as soon as the sun went behind the ridge at around 3 PM.........really cold. However, we're prepared for such things and had a very nice night out in the meadow star gazing. This is a good time to overnight at Spider Meadows since summer brings the crowds, and we only had a few parties for company. Finding a dry campsite was a bit challenging for those arriving late since the only snowfree spots were small and under the trees. We scored with a nice spot large enough for two tents. Next day, we started out for adventures, but were a bit discouraged about Spider Glacier after we spoke with someone who reported several feet of snow well before Larch Knob. We were feeling uncharecteristically laid back and settled for Phelps Basin. It was perfect for us since it was only an easy 1/2 mile from the Spider Gap Junction and just enough exercise to justify lunch and lounging in a beautiful spot. The snow here increased to about a foot deep, but still easy going. Then back to camp for more lounging, dinner, stargazing, and sleepy bye. The temps during the day here were very warm....probably in the 60's, but the sun was really intense......definitely T-shirt and shorts weather. However, the nights were probably in the low 30's, although Yo yo thought the mid-20's. Compfy enough if you're prepared. We could see larch just above us and they had just begun to turn by Friday, but by Sunday some were looking pretty golden. We might yet have another week until peak larch time!
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Spider Meadow and Phelps Basin, Upper Lyman Lake, Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) Section K - Stevens Pass - East to Rainy Pass — Sep 13, 2013 — ADK377
Multi-night backpack
Features: Ripe berries
Issues: Blowdowns
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Two of us hiked thirty miles over Spider Gap, past Lyman Lakes, over Cloudy Pass, then along the Pac...
Two of us hiked thirty miles over Spider Gap, past Lyman Lakes, over Cloudy Pass, then along the Pacific Crest Trail through Sitting Bull Basin and along Agnes Creek to Stehekin, WA. We had three days of great late summer/early fall weather, ate our fill of blueberries and met more than a handful of PCT through-hikers.

Spider Gap is a walk at this time of year, but an icy one. Bring a walking pole. Yaktraks add an extra level of safety if you have them. The trails are in excellent condition. There are a couple of downed trees on the PCT between Sitting Bull Basin and the Stehekin Road--nothing to slow you down or worry about.
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Spider Meadow and Phelps Basin — Sep 02, 2013 — Hikes With Kids
Multi-night backpack
Features: Wildflowers blooming | Ripe berries
Issues: Bugs
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Spider Meadow has achieved almost mythical stature in my household, fueled by my kids’ memories of...
Spider Meadow has achieved almost mythical stature in my household, fueled by my kids’ memories of camping there years ago, in the rain, with a big wet dog, clambering the Spider Meadow Crags (more below), and eating pancakes peppered with wild blueberries on the sunny morning of our departure. That was 2008, and for five years Mrs. HWK and I heard nothing but cries of “Spider Meadow! Spider Meadow! Take us back to Spider Meadow!” - day in and day out, relentless and merciless, in the impressive manner of pestering that is only fully mastered by children…

Okay, perhaps I am exaggerating - that, in the words of Lisa Loeb ,“I only hear what I want to” and so forth. Whatever the path we took, it seemed good and right to my family to return to this beautiful spot for our annual family backpack trip. A last-summer-weekend-before-the-tyranny-of-the-school-calendar-begins sort of outing was clearly in order.

First, for the prose-a-phobic among you, whom I can sense sitting out there, fingers drumming impatiently, about to unceremoniously cut me off with a humiliating click on the little “X” in the corner of your web browser window – I will cut to the chase. There are three things you really need to know about the Spider Meadow (a.k.a. Phelps Creek) trail.

First, the road to the TH is, to put it mildly, the Road from Hell. As opposed to the Biblical Road to Hell, which is wide and smooth, the Chiwawa River Road is narrow, rutted, potholed, washed out, wash-boarded, and at times downright white-knuckling. Given a choice of vehicles to take, I recommend a hovercraft, or at least a manly SUV with high clearance and super-tough tires. If, like me, you are not so fortunate as to own either, and must take a sedan or (ahem) minivan, it is possible to do so. But if you value your tires, axles, suspension, and sanity, plan on at least an hour to drive the 22 miles of the Chiwawa River and Leroy Creek roads. Bear in mind that the first 11 miles are paved and you can make 40-50 mph on this section – the remainder of the speed-you-can-expect-to-average equation is left as an exercise for the interested student. (A special shout-out to the Forest Service on the impressive mine field of pointy rocks planted just short of the TH on the Leroy Creek spur. You’ve sculpted a nearly perfect 3-D scaled replica of the Cascade Mountain range in that lovely ¼ mile – complete with Lake Chelan! Kudos).

Second, the Spider Meadow trail is one of the most backpacker-friendly trails in the entire state. By this I mean it is nearly level and well-graded (better than the road in most places) and after a very walkable (or stagger-able) 5 miles reaches a spectacular amphitheater-like setting of lush green meadows, a picture-perfect creek, and splendid views up to high mountains and tumbling waterfalls on all sides. You can view this in two ways: the glass-half-full way, which is “what a great place to introduce newbies to backpacking,” and the glass-half-empty way, which is “what a mob up there, introducing all those newbies to backpacking.” In other words, do not expect solitude. On the plus side there are many great campsites in the forest on the way and all about the meadow and surrounding area. Campfires also appear to be allowed – all the cool kids were making them, though I can hardly believe there is a burnable twig left in the entire last mile of that valley. At night it is like a scene from some ancient medieval war movie, with signal fires burning in a plea for aid from afar, dotting the valley along the river and then up the wall to impossible heights, far above.

Third, and lastly, the B&B report. If you are a newbie hiker this may conjure up pleasant thoughts of small Victorian houses in picturesque locations, complete with afternoons of soft classical music and vintage port wine, evenings in cozy feather beds by river rock fireplaces, rising to a breakfast of French press coffee, scones, and homemade jam in some nice lady’s sunroom. Lovely as all that sounds, you must banish those thoughts - this B&B report is shorthand for the two things all late summer hikers really care about: bugs and berries. As for that, there was an abundance of both, with the berries outnumbering the bugs (just barely). Huckleberries start in the forest about a mile before the meadows and can be found here and there to the valley end. Blueberries start in abundance about halfway through the meadow and continue all the way to, oh, southern Canada. Bugs were not bad the first two days but started to earn their namesake on the third (anyone remember Bono from Rattle and Hum - “Am I BUGGING ya? I don’t MEAN to BUG YA”). Mostly flies, mostly non-biting, just swarming and being generally annoying. Some bees too, and a few skeeters but not too bad unless you are the unlucky member of the group the skeeters find the sweetest.

There – now you have the facts and I can continue my novella with clear conscience. If you persevere and read it all, I promise at least three good tips for you, garnered from personal experience. Don’t bother trying to skip to the end to get them because I’m not dumb enough to put all of them there.

With Mrs. HWK benched by a bum knee, it was just me and the two kids heading out from the TH about noon on Friday, 8/31. Though the kids can carry much more now than they did five years ago, going it “bachelor-style” without my lovely partner to help bear the burden (there’s a life metaphor in there somewhere) meant I had a sizable share of the group gear. My pack weighed in at 50 pounds at the house, before the 5 or so pounds of sneaky TH weight that always seems to make it in at the car, and while that is not so much by stud PCT thru-hiker standards, it is still the equivalent of piggybacking a medium-sized Labrador Retriever (albeit not as squirmy). Nevertheless between cooler temperatures and the blessing of almost continuous shade, we made decent progress, counting creek crossings and playing word games to pass the time, as is our way. The Carne Mountain trail branches off after about a ¼ mile, then you cross the Glacier Peak Wilderness boundary around the halfway point and meet up with Leroy Creek and its associated side trail at about 3 miles, give or take. Here we took a pack break to toss rocks in the creek, in the time-honored tradition of all kids who sit by wild creeks (or any body of water). At one point my son tossed a rock into a pool and, to our amazement, it actually floated. Hands down the weirdest thing I have seen in the month of August - and I went to Sturgis during the Biker Rally. We fished it out just to make sure it was a legit rock, and lo and behold, for all appearances, it was just what it seemed to be. Unwilling to simply accept a natural wonder on its own, my engineering mind formulated a theory that this rock must contain a sizable air pocket within its closed surface. A short search of the shoreline revealed it was not unique –a number of these small geological oddities inhabit a patch of nearby river gravel. If you have curious kids (or are just curious yourself) it is worth checking out.

After this episode we continued on, climbing a bit here and there, and after five miles and 18 creek crossings we arrived at the start of the meadows. Here is tip number 1 if you are heading up there to camp: if you value early morning sun, look for a site across the creek from the trail, on the west (left side of the valley when facing its end). We camped on the east (right) side and though the camp spots are pleasant enough they do not get any morning sun, just a few hours in the middle of the day. Depending on whether you want sun or not, camp location here can make a big difference. A plus for camping off the right side of the trail is that you have easier access to the wilderness privy, more privacy, and a grand collection of Spider Meadow Crags to play upon – big rocks jutting up from the valley floor that make for excellent natural jungle gyms. A nice big flat rock near our site proved to be an excellent location to cook and eat, with plenty of space and unparalleled views. There are also Crags on the left side of the trail, but not as cool as these. So choose wisely.

We had dinner, cleaned up, and had an unexpected encounter with a large doe, who was less than impressed by my attempts to shoo her off with banging pots. She became a regular visitor to our area over the course of the trip and we eventually got used to it, but it is strange to encounter a deer so lacking in skittish behavior. Other groups started campfires and my children longingly coveted them, but we toughed it out with warm clothing and attitude. The next morning we arose to a dewy tent, glad we’d put the packs under the rainfly.

After a breakfast of tortillas, breakfast bars, and French press coffee (at least one taste of that “other B&B” life - can’t say enough good things about the Snow Peak company!), we hit the trail for the big climb to Spider Gap. It’s a long mile from the south end of the meadow to the north, and here is tip number 2: there are many sidetrails wandering off the main trail, some of which can look convincingly like the trail to Spider Gap. Don’t be fooled – the actual junction where the Spider Gap trails heads off from the spur into Phelps Basin is well marked by an obvious trail sign, just after a huffy climb through the forest at the end of the basin and some nice (but dry) campsites. The trail to Spider Gap heads up and then sharply left across the northern wall of the amphitheater that hems in the meadows – from below you would hardly believe there was any route up, but it is actually easy to follow, if steep. It’s another long mile up the wall with about a zillion switchbacks – and in full sun from early morning until late afternoon, making an early start advisable. We didn’t get an early start so we got to sweat it out, until the trail leveled off near a knob where 5 tents sat, improbably perched on a narrow outcrop of rock, overlooking the brink of a big cascade that pours out of the Gap. The viewpoint is impressive – I felt like King Theodon, watching from on high the mustering of his Riders, in preparation for the Battle of Pellinor Fields.

After a short break we tackled the long snowfield to the Gap. It appears one could, if one so wished, probably also ascend the ridge to the right side of the snowfield, with lots of loose rock and ups and downs. We stuck to the snow as it was more obvious and well-traveled, though moderately steep in places – trekking poles and good boots are a big plus but in sunny weather not required as long as you don’t mind a couple of slips and a damp bum. Another 45 minutes of parboiling on the sun-soaked snowfield earned us the crest of the Gap and the view we had been seeking. Alas, I must admit, I was a bit underwhelmed at the Gap itself, which was somewhat closed in by the rocks on all sides, affording only a narrow view out to the north. This, however, was happily resolved by tip #3: from the Gap, you can follow a way trail out along the northeastern slope (avoiding the nasty, switchbacking path down to the snowfield that leads to a quite possible and almost certainly awful death in the freezing waters of Upper Lyman Lake, unless you have an ice axe and the will and know-how to use it). About a third of a mile along the upper way trail, it rounds the hillside and the views open up to something much more like it, with the entire Lyman Lake basin spread out before you, backed up by the high and rugged peaks of the North Cascades. Great views across to the broken face of the Lyman Glacier, which at one time must have ravaged this basin, and the turquoise green waters of the upper lakes, dotted with icebergs. As a bonanza, you can even get a rare-ish glimpse of Bonanza Peak (trivia question: What is geographically significant about Bonanza Peak? Answer at the end of the report).

Upon return we went blueberry hunting, filling our little tub full in prep for the traditional last-day pancake feast. We returned to the camp to find our friends awaiting us at our camp, having only one night free instead of two. Dinner again on our nearby crag, followed by more coveting of campfires by the kids and of a truly neat-o multicolored, battery-powered LED light string by yours truly.

More dew on our second morning in the meadow, and much shadow on our campsite, so we moved breakfast to a large rock near the creek that had sunshine and dry seats. The blueberries in the tub outlasted the pancake mix, although I admit I threw a few chocolate chip cakes in here and there on request, and all went away well fed. As I mentioned earlier, the flies were worse on this day than the first two, and our friends, lacking time to make the trek to the Gap, wanted at least a small adventure, so we trekked up instead to Phelps Basin, where we gathered more berries, soaked feet in the creek, and broke my friend’s Frisbee after one too many overzealous tosses landed it in the creek. Fewer flies in Phelps Basin but more bees, so it was a matter of picking your poison as far as bugs went.

We returned to camp to pack up, followed by two hours out to the car, where we feasted upon Pirate Booty and Cheez-its, and I savored a Talking Rain, still surprisingly cool in the ice chest. The road did not improve over the three days we camped in the basin, so it was another long drive out, followed by burgers and brats in Leavenworth and late evening drive back to Puget Sound. All told a fabulous and fitting finale to a beautiful summer.

BTW, I didn’t give away all my gemstone tips – so you’ll have to go up there yourself to discover the rest. As for the promised answer to the trivia question, if you made it this far you are surely deserving, so here you go: at 9511 feet, Bonanza Peak is the highest non-volcanic mountain in the state of Washington. There now, kids, something you can impress your teachers with as you sit there, captive in your desks, watching the last sunny days of September slip by while you diagram sentences. But not us – we homeschool!

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Phelps Basin bev.jpg
Phelps Basin. Photo by Bev.
Location
Spider Meadows (#1511)
Central Cascades -- Stevens Pass - East
Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, Wenatchee River Ranger District, Leavenworth
Statistics
Roundtrip 13.0 miles
Elevation Gain 1900 ft
Highest Point 5400 ft
Features
Old growth
Wildflowers/Meadows
Mountain views
Wildlife
Established campsites
User info
Northwest Forest Pass required
Guidebooks & Maps
Green Trails Holden No. 113

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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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