The Chiwawa River Trail offers hikers the rugged scenery that's the signature of the Glacier Peak Wilderness but for less effort than other hikes nearby. Try this trail to enjoy solitude while basking in sublime mountain scenery.
The way to Chiwawa starts on the Buck Creek Trail, No. 1513, and completes a semicircle around the Trinity mine, which is private property. Immediately cross Phelps Creek on an iron bridge. The forest is made up of primeval Douglas fir and Engelmann spruce above a luxuriant understory of fern and thimbleberry.
At 0.4 miles the trail comes to an intersection where the hiker should go left, staying on the Buck Creek Trail as it climbs gently on a wide, old road. On weekends hordes of climbers bound for high peaks, including Dakobed, ramble up and down the dusty first two miles on their way to Buck Creek Pass.
At 1.9 miles the trail splits. Go right here onto “Chiwawa River Trail No. 1550”, leaving the Buck Creek Trail behind, along with the majority of its traffic. The way to Chiwawa Basin, the ultimate goal of the hike, continues to follow the same dusty road, but now with a noticeably more deliberate uphill grade.
Soon the forest is replaced by dead snags of an old fire, and views open up across the valley. Buck Mountain, capped with ice, towers to the left and across the valley. The trail is often overgrown here with thimbleberry, which loves the sunny aspect of the post burn. Frequent streams are a blessing in hot weather.
At 3.5 miles the trail leaves the wider valley below and enters the upper Chiwawa River valley. Steep chutes filled with cow parsnip are broken by small stands of quaking aspen that become animated and cheerful in a breeze. Butterflies flit about in search of nectar and potential mates. The scene is divine.
Now in the upper valley, the trail eases its grade in a mix of meadow and forest. Massie Ridge looms over the Chiwawa River on the left, which crashes unseen through the valley below. Soon the way climbs a little bit more noticeably until reaching a junction at 5.3 miles. Turn left here onto trail number 1550A.
Now the way begins to descend gently through open, pleasant forest full of huckleberries. A large avalanche chute is encountered and suddenly the headwall of the Chiwawa shows itself. Back into forest, the way crosses two small streams before heading immediately left at another large avalanche chute.
Here a large swath of trees was flattened to reveal many high and snowy peaks. Pass an excellent campsite on the verge of this meadow before descending toward the river, which is met for the first time here, at 6.3 miles. Good camp sites lie on both sides of the river, which makes a good turnaround spot.
If further exploration is in order, cross the river, which runs knee deep in late summer, and find the path continuing on for just a short distance to where it disappears in the forest next to a large and beautiful meadow. From here on the way is for climbers, with only high peaks ahead. Return by the same route.