Hiking Tiger and Granite Mountains
Travelers with a little more time and gumption, or those seeking a more alpine mountain experience, will delight in a day hike up Granite Mountain. Though not for the week-kneed, this mountain rewards willing hikers with delightful gardens of granite splashed with wildflowers, sweeping views of Mount Rainier and teardrop alpine lakes, and a historic Cascade Mountain fire tower. And the best part: Granite Mountain is less than a one-hour drive from the bustle of downtown Seattle, easily accessible from Interstate 90.
Granite Mountain is located on the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and in the heart of the region's self-named Mountains to Sound Greenway straddling Interstate 90. The summit sits just west of the crest of the Cascade Range and south of the rugged Alpine Lakes Wilderness. The trail up Granite Mountain, though only one of many throughout the region, is also popular, like Tiger Mountain. But its easy accessibility and the sweeping views that reward those reaching the summit make the sacrifice of sharing this trip with your fellow hikers well worth it.
If you're anxious to hit the trail but have been a little lax with your workout routine, take caution because Granite Mountain is not a mere walk in the woods. The steep trail gains 3,800 feet from trailhead to summit in about four miles, and its south-facing, open slopes can be scorching on hot summer days.
Cool Forests and Switchbacks
Hikers should allow about six to eight hours for the round trip. And although its south slopes largely melt free of snow by early summer when many of the region's other mountain trails are still buried, hikers should be wary of an avalanche gully at about the 4,000-foot elevation mark that may pose dangers through June. Be sure to check trail conditions with the U.S. Forest Service ranger station in North Bend if you're planning an early-season hike. Finally, as with all alpine mountain hikes, make sure you're prepared for changeable weather conditions.
Starting at the Pratt Lake Trailhead, the first mile of trail meanders gently through cool forest to a junction near a small creek, then turns right and starts a challenging grind up a series of switchbacks. Forest gives way at about two miles from the trailhead to views down the valley, of jumbled slabs of rock, and of lush carpets of grass and wildflowers. Here, the trail opens to views of a sea of peaks to the south, east, and west.
The remainder of the trail winds up through increasingly open and pleasant meadows, crossing a few small creeks cascading down avalanche-carved gullies. Splashes of alpine flowers, beargrass, heather, and thistle carpet the mountain's upper slopes in early summer, while blueberries abound in the fall. A final series of steep switchbacks delivers hikers to the summit ridge and the just rewards for the effort.
From the summit, elevation 5,629 feet, you'll find 360-degree views of snowy peaks including the massive Mount Rainier and the glacier-carved peaks of the Alpine Lakes wilderness, verdant green valleys, and sparkling blue lakes. For even better views and a close-up look inside a classic Cascade fire lookout, climb the summit fire lookout tower. If you're lucky, you'll catch a summer volunteer on duty to let you take a peek inside.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication