Valley of the Trails
This 18.1-mile (total mileage) out-and-back treats riders to some magnificent scenery near and at Cooney Lake. It tests intermediate-level riders and provides a great workout for advanced riders as it makes its way up the sometimes dusty, sometimes rocky trail. The climb, through stands of Douglas fir, lodgepole pine, and larch, culminates in a soothing meadow and tranquil Cooney Lake.
Bask in the beauty of the lake and the jumping cutthroat trout, the wildflower-laden meadow, and 8,000-foot-high Angel Staircase above the lake to the west before the return descent (which includes about a mile of climbing). Look east through the trees on the way back, where you'll get some views as far below and beyond as the Colville Indian Reservation.
The trail, especially in the corners, gets dusty in exposed areas as it's baked by the summer sun and ridden on by mountain bikers, motorcyclists, and equestrians. The motorcyclists, at least, give back to the trail; a sign at the trailhead notes that the trail system has been adopted and maintained by the Coulee Riders Motorcycle Association.
This ride can be a jump-off point for loop and shuttle rides using other area trails, including Eagle Lake Trail #431 and spurs #431A and #431B, Foggy Dew Ridge Trail #438, and Foggy Dew Creek Trail #417.
For the most up-to-date trail conditions, stop by the Methow Valley Ranger District Office in Twisp. Then drive over to Michaelisa Espresso, a block away on WA 20. Owner Michael Marchiney, a nice guy and avid mountain biker, will serve up your favorite coffee drink and some hot tips on the local trails, if he's not out riding them himself!
General location: Trailhead parking is approximately 27 miles south of Twisp, 36 miles south of Winthrop, 50 miles north of Chelan, and 86 miles north of Wenatchee.
Elevation change: Starting at 4,800' elevation, the route takes you up to Cooney Lake, at a cool 7,241'. Additional climbing both ways brings total elevation gain to about 3,140'.
Season: The upper reaches of the route usually won't be snow-free and rideable until sometime in July. You'll have better chances at solitude on the trails during the week and postLabor Day, until the end of the season in October. Check with the ranger district office for trail conditions.
Services: If you forgot water or snacks, a little store in Carlton is your last chance. Services are available in Pateros to the south, and Twisp and Winthrop to the north. Camping is available nearby.
Hazards: Rocky climbs and creek crossings, some of which demand dismounts. Your footsteps are hazardous to the grasses around Cooney Lake, so stay on the well-worn paths.
Rescue index: Maybe you'll be lucky and a motorcylist or fellow mountain biker will cross your path when you need help. If not, help can be summoned back down in the Methow Valley, at Carlton, Twisp, and Methow.
Land status: Okanagan National Forest, Methow Valley Ranger District.
Maps: Green Trails #115 Prince Creek will do the trick, while the Twisp Ranger District map shows these trails and a wealth of others in the region. (With the recent consolidation of the Winthrop and Twisp Ranger Districts into the Methow Valley Ranger District, a new district map will eventually be produced.) If you're too cheap to buy a map, the Wenatchee and Okanogan National Forests jointly produce a Sawtooth Backcountry Recreation Trails flyer showing this route and a few others in the area.
Finding the trail: From Twisp, 9 miles south of Winthrop, travel south on WA 20, continuing south on WA 153 when WA 20 turns east in 2.9 miles. Pass the town of Carlton 11.1 miles south of Twisp. From Carlton, continue south on WA 153 for 3.5 miles and turn right (west) on Gold Creek Loop Road (CR 1029). In 1.5 miles turn right at the junction, onto CR 1034, Gold Creek Road. (From the south, turn left onto Gold Creek Loop Road 5.8 miles north of Methow and 17 miles north of Pateros off WA 153. Meet CR 1034 in approximately 1 mile and turn left.) In 1.1 miles continue straight and climb as the road turns into FS 4340, and follow the signs to the Crater Creek Trailhead and Eagle Lake Trail. Continue straight past the junctions to a one-lane bridge in another 4.0 miles; veer right, staying on FS 4340 as the pavement ends. Come to a Y junction 1.5 miles past the bridge; veer left and down on FS 4340-300. In 2.9 miles, pass a horse packing area to the left; continue straight, climbing steeply and steadily. Come to the trailhead parking area 1.6 miles past the horse packing area, and 4.4 miles total on FS 4340-300. Trailhead parking is available. See MAP of trail.
Winthrop Visitors Center
Notes on the trail: Click into or strap onto the pedals, and start on Eagle Lake Trail #431, steadily traversing an exposed area. Get into the trees by 0.7 mile, and cross the bridge over Crater Creek where a horse crossing goes left. After the bridge, pass the Crater Creek Trail, which climbs to your right. In another 0.3 mile an unmarked trail descends to your left; stay right and climb steadily. At 2.3 miles (1.3 miles after the unmarked trail) you've done 800' of climbing when you come to the junction of the Martin Creek Trail on the left. If you stay on the Eagle Lake Trail you'll come to Horsehead Pass in 5 miles, but turn left onto the Martin Creek Trail, and descend to Eagle Creek in 1 mile. Resume climbing past the creek. At 4.0 miles (0.7 mile after the creek) the climb levels out and traverses, and then climbs gradually, with a few steep grinders. On your right at 6.6 miles, pass Martin Lakes Trail #429A, which climbs steeply and technically to Martin Lakes in 0.6 mile. It'll be a hike-a-bike but you can make it up for some nice views if you're not spent on the return trip.
Continue on the Martin Creek Trail with a respite from the climb. Dismount for a rocky creek crossing, and then gear down for more climbing. Steep sections, including steep switchbacks, are interspersed with more gradual sections as you make your way up. The climb gets steeper, and the views more majestic, as you near the lake; at 8.1 miles you'll come to a meadow, with a rugged scree and sawtooth peaks soon filling in the picture. A few steep switchbacks signal the last of the hard climbing at 8.9 miles, just 0.1 mile from Cooney Lake. Very quickly, a creek crossing gives way to a small climb to the right. At the crest of this little climb, look down at the 1 o'clock position on the right. That is the trail on which you'll make the short final ascent to the lake. Descend less than 100' and come to the junction, where the trail takes off at a creek crossing at the 4 o'clock position. If you go straight you'll continue the Martin Creek Trail to the Foggy Dew Ridge Trail in 0.7 mile. But cut right, cross the creek, and in a few hundred feet you'll near the shore of shallow, peaceful Cooney Lake. (As mentioned, take special care not to tromp along the grassy area near the lake; in this area, the grasses take a long time to regenerate from any damage.) The descent is brisk but controlled; you want to keep those digits on the brake levers in anticipation of the rocky terrain and many turns along the way. At the Crater Lake Trail junction close to the finish, a hard left leads to the Crater Lake Trail, a soft left leads to the bridge, and straight ahead is the horse crossing. Take door number two, to the bridge, and you'll be back to the trailhead in another 0.7 mile.
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