While commonly used to access the Alpine Lakes backcountry, the trail up to Cathedral Pass is a worthy destination on its own. Old growth forest, lakes, subalpine meadows, and an up-close view of the dominating Cathedral Rock make for a satisfying and scenic day hike or short overnight.
Begin at the Cathedral Pass trailhead, at the sign for Cathedral Trail No. 1345, and follow the dirt trail into the forest. Reach a seasonal stream just beyond the meadow, then cross the bridge over the Cle Elum River. The forest quickly takes over, and the trail can be wet in the spring and fall. Cross into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness at 0.5 mile, and continue following the steady switchbacks up the hillside. In the late summer, ripe berries can be found the whole way up.
At 2 miles, continue straight at the junction with Trail Creek Trail 1332. The trail becomes steeper and rockier after the junction, but a short time later, arrive at a small lake at 2.5 miles. This lake is Squaw Lake. The word squaw is considered a derogatory and offensive slur by North American indigenous groups. WTA supports the ongoing efforts to rename the many geographical places that bear this name.
The lake and has several established campsites located around it, including a designated horse camp on the north side of the lake. Follow the trail to the right and along the northeast shore of the lake.
Once away from the lake, the trail begins to climb again, steadily rising until you reach the meadow at about 3.25 miles. Take care sticking to durable surfaces throughout the meadow, and steer clear of areas signed for revegetation efforts. Flowers fill the meadow until fall, when the berry bushes turn fiery red. Mountain blueberries found up here are ripe into autumn, well after their lower elevation counterparts have faded.
The trail skirts a couple of small pretty lakes, but the real showstopper is the andesite tower of Cathedral Rock rising 1,084 feet above the ridge. While there are unmaintained paths that get a little closer to Cathedral Rock, rock climbing experience and gear are necessary to climb it. At 4 miles, the trail meets the Pacific Crest Trail at a signed junction. There is room to rest and enjoy the views before turning around and returning the way you came.
WTA Pro Tip: From the junction with the PCT, continue west for just another tenth of a mile to catch some next-level views of Mount Daniel, Cathedral Rock, Deep Lake, and the mountain ranges to the west.