Trappers Peak embodies the ruggedness and remoteness of the North Cascades. While the trail will make you work, the reward at the end is well worth the sweat. When you reach the lowest of the Thornton Lakes you’ll be faced with a decision: relax near the alpine waters, or scramble the rocky ridge that leads to Trappers Peak. Either way, you can’t go wrong. Keep in mind, if you want to overnight here, you'll need a backcountry permit from the ranger station in Marblemount.
The trail starts modestly, traversing the hillside through the forest and crossing a couple creeks with minimal elevation gain. Look closely and you’ll notice remnants of the decommissioned logging road you’re hiking on as you ramble along the first two miles. When you reach the end of the road, the trail will start to your left and begin to gain elevation. This section switchbacks through dense forest, and careful footing is needed to avoid the numerous roots that protrude into the trail.
At roughly mile four you’ll enter North Cascades National Park, where the trail will continue to climb until you reach a signed junction, about 4.2 miles in and 2,673 feet of elevation gain from the trailhead. Here you’ll need to decide if you want to spend some time by the lake, or continue ascending for sweeping panoramic views.
If you choose the lake, head left at the junction and travel downhill for 0.4 miles. This steep, and potentially very muddy trail, has spots of exposure, while also losing over 600 feet in elevation to reach the first of the three lakes. Accessing the second and third Thornton Lakes requires some scrambling along a climber's path through heavy brush.
If you decide to scramble the peak, take the right fork and get ready to gain some more elevation. The scramble to Trappers Peak will take you almost 1,000 feet higher in less than a mile before you can enjoy the views.
The trail to the peak is rugged, and at times requires the use of your hands to assist the climb. There isn’t much to speak of in exposure, but use careful footing, as there are sections where taking a fall could mean tumbling downhill a good ways.
As you reach the top, just under 6,000 feet, you’ll be treated to sweeping views of a number of North Cascades gems. In front of you, the Picket Range, with spiny, dagger-like peaks and dramatic glaciers. To the west, Mount Triumph looms above and the upper Thornton Lakes are visible down below. Turning around, you’ll find incredible views of the Skagit River and farmlands stretching as far as you can see, and the town of Newhalem can be spotted nestled alongside Highway 20.
WTA Pro Tip: A backcountry permit is required to camp here. These are available from the ranger station in Marblemount before you begin your hike and are $26.