Okanogan National Forest Overview

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Okanogan National Forest is one of the oldest national forests in the country, set aside in 1897. There is a variety of country from craggy peaks and rolling meadows to rich old-growth forest and classic groves of ponderosa pine. Unlike forests west of the Cascades, the forecast in this forest usually calls for sun. Summers here are hot and dry, and winters are famous for brilliant clear skies and plenty of snow. The forest has two distinct sides, east and west, referred to as the Okanogan (o-ka-na'-gun) and Methow (met'-how) Valleys. The 1.7-million-acre Okanogan National Forest encompasses scenic drives, wilderness areas, hiking trails, and old mining towns.

Bike Goat Wall
Climb a huge granite outcropping that looms high above the western end of the Methow Valley. You'll feel like one of the mountain goats as you stand among the jagged peaks that surround Washington Pass and gaze at the pasturelands below. This demanding 28 mile loop is a gratifying climb for fit cyclists — the first seven miles switchback up 2,560 feet. Then there's a dip into shady Black Pine Basin. Then there's a four mile descent from the mountain that's like a drop off a high dive. Looking for excitement? You've found it. Just go to the western half of the Winthrop Ranger District — bring water bottles and courage.

More on biking in Okanogan National Forest

Find Trout in Hidden Lakes
Maybe it's the 12-mile trek to these wilderness lakes that keeps them so secluded. Plan the trek out there between July and September to avoid snowfall. Once there, you'll realize you've hit a gold-mine—there are four lakes to choose from, each with its own personality. Best of all, it's likely you won't face too much competition. There's Cougar Lake, First Hidden Lake, Middle Hidden Lake, and finally Big Hidden Lake. Try a small red-and-white Dardevle spoon or Panther Martin spinner—drop it into the depths, let it sink several feet, then retrieve it just fast enough to keep it working enticingly through the crystalline water. Early and late in the day, find a log or boulder to cast from and try your hand with a dry fly. Expect rainbow, cutthroat, and brook trout.

Drive through the Cascades
The North Cascades Scenic Highway is the oldest in the nation. State Route 20 from Burlington to Twisp will give you plenty of lakes and overlooks to check out, and lots of places to get out for a short hike or a spectacular view. The North Cascades Scenic Highway offers one of the best views of the mountain landscape, which includes the Sawtooth Mountain Range and the Cascade Range. Outstanding views can be enjoyed from Washington Pass Overlook, Slate Peak Vista, at 7,500 feet, and Buttermilk Butte.

Take a Hike
Hiking in the Okanogan ranges from the rugged Cascades to gentle open rolling meadows. Elevations range from 2,000 to 7,000 feet. Each wilderness area has something different to offer. The Lake Chelan-Sawtooth Wilderness is characterized by rocky canyons, deep valleys, and jagged peaks. Alpine meadows and glacial streams are typical of the Pasayten Wilderness. Washington pass overlook is a five-mile path that overlooks Kangaroo Ridge, the headwaters of Methow Valley and Spiral Peak. Lost River Canyon is an outstanding geological area, and a more challenging hike through a deeply cut gorge. And of course, the Pacific Crest Trail is always a good bet—it promises to be pristine and rewarding. This section of the trail exits North Cascades National Park and moves up through Okanogan, leaving the forest at the Canadian border. With 1,600 miles of trails, it's hard to pick out just one. We suggest that you check in at forest headquarters for suggestions and the latest scoop on trail conditions.

Ski the Methow Valley
There are over 150 km of ski trails in the Methow Valley, where you'll find excellent skiing between November and April, dry, powdery snow, and temperatures in the 20s. Many of these trails are groomed; they are all kept in good condition. The area offers a wide variety of trails, including snowshoe trails and a place to ski and snowshoe with dogs. Nordic and alpine heli-skiing is also available in the Methow Valley. Loup Loup, a 4,000-foot summit, boasts Loup Loup Ski Bowl, a popular site for downhill skiing.

Chill Out in Lake Chelan
Lake Chelan is a lake, a community, and a wilderness area within the forest. On the other side of Lake Chelan lies Wenatchee National Forest. Basically, Lake Chelan is surrounded by wilderness, and there's plenty to do on both sides. Stehekin is a great place to use as home base—it's an isolated mountain community, pretty much cut off from the "civilized" world. You can't drive to Stehekin, but you can hike or boat. Take the ferry from Manson or Chelan to Stehekin. This wilderness community, some 55 miles uplake from Chelan, Washington, is popular with hikers, backpackers, canoeists, boaters, and campers. The Stehekin Valley, surrounded by towering mountains, enjoys a rich history of fur trapping and mining. From here you can hike along breathtaking Lake Chelan, or you can move toward 9,000-foot Oval Peak. This is one of the most fascinating and rewarding areas you'll find.

Spot Some Wildlife
If you're lucky you might see some traces, or even a glimpse of, the area's big cats—mountain lions, bobcats, and occasional lynx have been known to haunt the area. It's more likely that you'll spot mule deer, white-tailed deer, and an occasional moose or elk. Bring along your binoculars, and you can probably find some mountain goats—from a distance, they look like white specks, but they move quickly, which is their giveaway, and they stand out against the rocky areas they tend to frequent. A wide variety of songbirds, seasonal migrants, and birds of prey call the forest their home. Expect several types of grebes, herons and waterfowl such as the Canada Goose, mallard, and American Widgeon. Hawks, golden eagles, bald eagles and owls can also be spotted. Grouse, white-tailed ptarmigan, California quail, and ring-necked pheasants are a few of the species you might scare up from the underbrush.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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