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Thunder Creek

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Hike one of the deepest, wildest, and most accessible wilderness valleys in the North Cascades National Park Complex. Let Thunder Creek's incessant bellowing woo you into this primeval pocket. Enjoy scenic creekside resting posts perfect for whiling away the afternoon. Admire ancient cedars and towering firs and, from holes in the thick forest canopy, gaze out to jagged peaks cloaked in glacial ice. And while the surrounding high country is blanketed in white, enjoy this hike early or late in the season thanks to its low elevation.

A large information board greets you at the trailhead and it's worth a gander before setting out up the valley. Yes, this is cougar country and necessary precautions should be exercised. But for your first mile or two, you'll probably need to be more concerned with saying hello to the throngs of people who venture out from the campground.

The wide, smooth trail immediately enters an impressive stand of old-growth forest. Hugging the thickly forested shore of Thunder Arm, an aquatic protrusion of Diablo Lake, the trail passes the Thunder Woods Nature Trail, a recommended diversion. On still mornings and evenings, catch glimpses of emerald ridges reflected in the placid turquoise waters of Thunder Arm.

Continue on a near-level course under giant firs and cedars and past big boughs of ferns, reaching Thunder Creek in about 1 mile. Soon new tread is encountered where the trail was rerouted in 2004. The old steel suspension bridge that once crossed Thunder Creek and that many hikers thought was sturdy and reliable evidently wasn't. The destructive floods of 2003 claimed this span along with many others throughout the Cascades and Olympic Mountains.

Continue alongside the west side of the creek, passing several inviting gravel bars. At 2 miles the trail comes to a new bridge. Pass through Thunder Camp, set in a centuries-old grove of behemoth firs.

Leaving the riverside, the trail now travels through a much younger forest and at 2.5 miles comes to a junction with the Fourth of July Pass Trail. Proceed right, cross a creek, and in 2.8 miles come to a junction with a short side trail that drops back to the river, landing in Neve Camp-a nice place to call it quits if you're content not to carry on.

Those inclined to experience more of the Thunder Creek valley can continue following the trail deeper into the wilderness. The thundering waterway is nearby the trail, always audible but not seen. Undulate between old-growth groves and younger forests that are replacing stands scorched by fires over the last few decades. Enjoy periodic openings in the dense canopy and impressive views of the array of towering peaks that line the valley. Their extensive glacial systems help feed the roaring creek beside you.

At 6 miles and only 1900 feet elevation, come to the junction with the side trail to McAllister Camp. This is a good place to call it a day, though you may still want to push the 0.5 mile to the camp to get a good glimpse of the narrow gorge where McAllister Creek roars into Thunder Creek. Savor the wildness. Return when you must.
Driving Directions:

From Marblemount follow the North Cascades Highway (State Route 20) east for 24 miles. Just past milepost 130, turn right into the Colonial Creek Campground and proceed 0.5 mile to the trailhead, near the amphitheater at the day-use area (elev. 1250 ft). Water and restrooms available.

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Recent Trip Reports

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There are 70 trip reports for this hike. See all trip reports for this hike.
Thunder Creek — Mar 11, 2014 — jalexand05
Day hike
Issues: Snow on trail
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I decided to finally head up and check out this hike on a beautiful bluebird day. Drive from West S...
I decided to finally head up and check out this hike on a beautiful bluebird day. Drive from West Seattle to trailhead took about 3 hrs though that was partly due to hitting morning traffic. The road is in great shape but the parking lot is not plowed - park across the road at the trailhead to Thunder Knob.

The trek thru the parking lot to the actual trailhead took 15-20 min; once actually at the trailhead I was fortunate to encounter some intrepid soul's footprints which made the hike much easier. Hiked to the bridge crossing the creek about 2 miles in; there the footprints stopped and I turned around, I wasn't in the mood to posthole up to two feet with every step (and I'm not sure I could've found the trail past there). Overall a lovely hike though not as long as advertised, trail is in great shape except for the snow
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Thunder Creek — Jan 02, 2014 — glenncro
Day hike
Issues: Mud/Rockslide | Water on trail | Snow on trail
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I only went as far as McAllister Camp. The trail is pretty clear up until the last 1.5 miles before...
I only went as far as McAllister Camp. The trail is pretty clear up until the last 1.5 miles before you get to McAllister. After that, trekking poles are a big help. “Sir-Hikes-A-Lot” left fresh boot prints in the snow. Otherwise the trail was deserted. The bathrooms at the trail head are all locked for the winter.

The bank is eroding just north of McAllister on the east side of the creek. Rocks are continually falling down the face of the slide into the creek. Use caution when approaching the edge when you get to the McAllister stock camp and just beyond. A big chunk of the edge collapsed into the creek while I was standing at the stock camp.
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Thunder Creek — Jan 01, 2014 — Sir-Hikes-A-Lot
Day hike
Issues: Snow on trail
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Looking for some New Year's Day solitude I decided to head up Thunder Creek. From the trailhead t...
Looking for some New Year's Day solitude I decided to head up Thunder Creek.

From the trailhead to ~ 3.75 miles in, aside from a few stretches of icy trail, it's snow free. From that point to Tricouni Camp the trail is a combination of snow and ice (think skating rink), with an average depth of only an inch or so. The switchbacks up to Junction Camp from Tricouni are mostly snow and ice free, with snow/ice returning for the last mile+ to Junction Camp.

Snow free camps are available at Junction.

No creek crossing issues, as there are rocks provided and only one small blow-down to Junction Camp.

This easy access up the Thunder Cr Trail won't last much longer.

Happy New Year!
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Thunder Creek — Sep 06, 2013 — otterbhikin
Multi-night backpack
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My wife and I arrived at the Thunder Creek trailhead later than planned, but then we're out here to ...
My wife and I arrived at the Thunder Creek trailhead later than planned, but then we're out here to have fun. And fun has no schedule. We heard from the ranger station that the area received two inches of rain the night before, so I was a little worried about the trail conditions. Though Thunder Creek was a thundering river, the trail was in terrific shape. We hiked in 7.7 miles to the Tricouni Camp, our home for the next couple of nights, without crossing a single puddle on the trail. The trail was in amazing shape.

We arrived at our camp with the setting of the sun and the return of the rain. Luckily, I brought a tarp along that we tied up above the tent to help diffuse water away from the tent because it rained all night and into the morning. By mid morning, the rain finally stopped.

With the weather apparently on the upswing, we had a leisurely breakfast and started hiking toward Junction Camp. This is when my plan to make it to Park Pass was blind-sided by, of all things, the mushrooms. I was amazed, enthralled even, at the variety of different shapes and sizes of the fungi along every turn of the trail. My camera was working hard all day looking for the best shrooms to immortalize in digital format.

We finally made it to Junction Camp where we were rewarded with some great glaciated peak views. This would surely be a great place to set up camp next time. After lunch, my wife headed back to camp and I continued on my mushroom mission. I knew I didn't have time to make it to Park Pass, where I'm told the views are spectacular, but I was still in the mood for exploration.

More shrooms and more pics. I met the ranger on the way to Skagit Queen Camp. She told me of a mushroom just before the camp that couldn't be missed. Now I had a mission. Hike to Skagit Queen, photograph the great mushroom, and get back to camp by 6:30, after which my wife goes into worry mode.

It wasn't until after Junction Camp that I found trees across the trail. There were several between Junction and Skagit, but all were easily stepped over or under. And though the elevation differentials between camps is very modest, it should be noted that there is a lot of up and down, sometimes quite steeply. I'm an avid hiker and trail runner, and I found this trail to be a great work out.

At any rate, I made it to Skagit, where there is a temporary log bridge in place of a recently washed away bridge, photographed an incredible mushroom, and high-tailed it back to camp where my wife had a great fire going. The entire day, I saw seven people. A group of older ladies on there way to Park Pass, the ranger, and a couple who had just arrived at Junction Camp for the night. This was definitely the right area to get away from everyone.

After a leisurely dinner in total solitude and a good night's sleep, we somewhat sadly headed back toward civilization. We will be back. It's difficult to find solitude like what we found here, plus I still need to got to the pass.
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Thunder Creek, McAlester Trail, Rainbow Creek, Park Creek Pass — Jul 28, 2013 — Magzy
Overnight
Issues: Overgrown | Water on trail
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2 day trail run/hike. Took McAlester Pass/Rainbow creek to Stehekin, just about 20miles, with a det...
2 day trail run/hike.
Took McAlester Pass/Rainbow creek to Stehekin, just about 20miles, with a detour up Copper Pass, total 30miles that day. McAlester was a beautiful tidy trail, enjoyed the meadow at the top quite pretty with lots of wildflowers. Rainbow Creek very enjoyable until you come to the fire stricken area, trail sandy and not very enjoyable to run through burnt trees. However views of Lake Chelan quite beautiful. You pop out just a half mile to the Bakery! AWESOME! Another 2 miles to get to the landing.
Ate delicious bakery food and spent the night at the lodge.
Next day took the shuttle to High Bridge.
Followed Stehekin River Road to Park Creek, then took it back to Colonial Campground where we left our car. Difficult 40 mile day. Park Creek Pass very steep, beautiful views, we were so close to the glaciers it was distracting! Clear of snow. After descending the pass it was quite over grown and difficult to run through. Very prickly. After several miles soft open forest floor again which was very nice. Thunder basin is gorgeous and eerie, loved it. Enjoyed the creek crossing and cool log bridges. Very long hike to get here though, 20 miles from Colonial Creek. We were going through at the right time for water, walked over many small creeks, did not treat the water, tasted SO good, water bottles and packs always full.
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Thunder Creek by George Chambers.jpg
Thunder Creek Bridge at McAllister Camp. Photo by George Chambers.
WTA worked here!
2013
Location
North Cascades -- North Cascades Highway
North Cascades National Park Visitors Center (Newhalem)
Statistics
Roundtrip 12.0 miles
Elevation Gain 650 ft
Highest Point 1900 ft
Features
Rivers
Old growth
Ridges/passes
Established campsites
User info
National Park/Refuge entry fee required
Guidebooks & Maps
Day Hiking: North Cascades (Romano - Mountaineers Books)
Green Trails Diablo No. 48

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  • Youth Vacations 2013
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