Having lived here in the North Cascades for more than 11 years now I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of hiking. Reading trail guides is a hobby of mine, trying to envision the scenery. There are so many fantastically scenic trails near by that sometimes, when deciding where to go, I opt for a trail I know, rather than one I have never visited.
Saturday I broke that habit and made it up (finally!) to Twin Lakes and the Winchester Mountain Lookout.
Located on the north side of the Mount Baker Highway (Route 542) the trail is approached via the Twin Lakes Road. It’s 7 miles from the highway to the start of the trail, 4.5 miles are easy for any car, and the last 2.5 miles require a high clearance vehicle, its a bit rough!
Weekends in the late summer and early fall will find more than 200 cars and pickups parked along the road over the last 3 miles. There is a veritable network of trails originating along the Twin Lakes Road such as Yellow Aster Butte, Tomyhoi Peak, High Pass and more.
If your vehicle can make it up to Twin Lakes there are camp sites along both lake shore, out houses and camp fire rings/grates. I saw quite a few parties there car camping with bikes for kids, small boats for fishing along with lawn chairs and coolers.
The trail zigzags up the mountain side, 1,300 feet in about 2 miles to the summit. The lookout tower is open to the public, and you can spend the night there. If you get up there and its already taken there are plenty of spots close by to pitch tents.
The view from the top is choked with stark jagged peaks. Goat Mountain, Mount Larrabee, the Pleiades, Tomyhoi Peak crowd the horizon. Mt Shuksan and Mount Baker loom up about all other summits.
The crisp air is perfect for hiking up a steep slope and the fall colors create a luscious palette.
The Winchester Mountain Lookout was clean and spacious, sporting a table, chairs, bed and a wide selection of books.
Saturday was the new moon, and one of the reasons of our visit was to hope for clear skies at night to capture images of the Milky Way.
The low angle of the setting sun set the blue berry bushes on fire.
An hour after sunset the sky exploded with stars.
I opted to sleep out under them, with no tent.
The early morning found the mountain surrounded by clouds. Just as I arose the sun breached the canopy and the sun dance atop the summits across the valley commenced.