Hidden Lake Lookout – 4.5 miles (7.2 km) return, difficult, 8 hrs, elevation 884 meter (2.900 feet), highest point: 2,1 km (6.900 feet)
Access: starts at the end of Sibley Creek Road 1540 east of Marblemount. Drive rocky road for 4.5 miles, and park at the trailhead.
I can say with confidence that Hidden Lake is one of my favourite day hikes in North Cascades National Park, and many hikers on Internet place it on top of all North Cascades destinations.
Although the hike is marked as difficult, it is not as challenging as other trails I did which were marked the same. Unlike eg. Wedgemount Lake trail, this one offers you great versatility, and changing sceneries with outstanding landscapes all the way to the top. It gets better and better with the increasing elevation.
The view of the lake at the end of the trail is an added bonus. You can’t expect a glacier there, but the lake itself and surrounding peaks are somewhat magical. It feels secluded, innocent, and abandoned if I can describe it that way.
The trail begins in a dense forest. You will cross some runoff streams on your way, and in about 1.6 km (1 mile), the trail opens up a bit, and you will be able to see the valleys cliffs. Soon you will also pass Sibley Creek for the first time. Not all the hike is entirely broken especially in the beginning, once you get out of the forest. This is due to some heavily overgrown plants that cover the path. Once you start walking on the side of the valley, you are protected from wind.
As you proceed upwards the trail begins its switch backing, and the surface becomes slightly elevated. On both sides you will see densely spread perennial plants, including tall veratrum viride and nettle. After a short walk the landscape changes again to a sub-alpine one. What starts to be on a display now are meadows with wild colorful flowers, lush green plants, and again Sibley Creek.
The next section of the Hidden Lake Trail (around 1.2 km) is mostly flat and leads through a rocky slope. To your left and right there are plenty of heather plants and blueleaf huckleberry – the best of the blueberry kind I have ever had. No kidding. Stay alert here, as bears like them too, and they are in the area.
In a short time the Eldorado’s, Mount Shuksan’s and Mount Baker’s peaks will manifest their presence. Short pines start to dominate the view, and also sturdy underbrush and small plants including glacier lily. Soon after you pass the area of large granite slabs with lichens on them. At 4.8 km (3 miles) the landscape changes again, but this time to an arctic one, and the hike becomes progressively steeper. It can start to get foggy and cold at this point, as the humidity increases, so remember to bring warm clothing with you.
From here, the trail becomes harder to follow. You basically continue your way up on and in between large granite boulders. You’ll have to cross over a couple of large snowfields as you proceed towards the Lake, and at this point it is easy to loose the track, especially when the fog starts to spread out. It also can get muddy or slick in some areas, so proceed with caution.
As you continue upwards at 6,7 km (4.2 miles), the Hidden Lake comes into view. It offers a magnificent landscape with the clouds dancing around the peaks, constantly hiding and unhiding dark azure waters of the lake. I think I know where the lake got its name from.
We were able to enjoy the view for only 10 minutes and it didn’t matter that we were climbing on a sunny August day. The weather changes quickly up there. The surrounding peaks from north to south: Mount Forbidden, Sahale Mountain, Johannesburg Peak and Boston Peak (unfortunately not visible in the photo). Please look here: Hidden Lake Peaks
You can climb farther for 482 m (0.3 mile) to the summit if you are into scrambling and hiking over large granite boulders. It is short but challenging climb. There are no markings anywhere, and people tend to find the easiest way to go up.
On a clear day you will be able to see 360-degree panorama encompassing all North Cascades Park peaks.
We didn’t get the chance to see it entirely, as a dense fog covered the whole area in a short time by the time we got there, but here you can enjoy the pictures of some who were able to see the beauty of all mighty peaks: Sahale, Triad, Eldorado, Torment, Boston, Forbidden, Klawatti, Sharkfin, Mt Baker: Hidden Lake Panorama
The fire lookout cabin was built in 1931 and has been added to the National Register of Historic Places. It is being claimed on a first come, first serve basis, so if you get there sooner, you can spend the night here providing nobody decides to spend more nights there.
Dogs are not allowed on this trail
Snow can turn to mush and the area can get muddy in the upper section of the trail
Bring warmer jacket as it can get cold at the top
Watch for bears, especially in the valley
Trail is open in July, August, September, October