Section J Detail: Stevens Pass to Snoqualmie Pass

Northbound or southbound?

Going southbound will save you 1,016 feet of elevation gain overall, but that is less than 5% of the total elevation gain in this section.

The main difference between northbound and southbound is whether you prefer to gain elevation slowly over miles and have steep rapid descents, or if you prefer to gain elevation rapidly then enjoy long miles of downhill.

Going southbound gives you the most downhill miles, but three fairly steep ascents. Going northbound gives you that 1,016 ft of extra elevation gain, but spreads it out so you only really have one step climb.

Even if you split the section into parts using one of the many access trails, the facts above remain essentially the same.

Besides elevation, here are some other reasons I like going southbound: I would rather not have to time my exit to catch the one bus out of Stevens Pass.I prefer to take the bus to Stevens Pass, then find a ride from Snoqualmie Pass when I exit.People are more willing to come get me at Snoqualmie than at Stevens. (Note, there may be a bus to Snoqualmie this year.We will see.)

Also, If I exit the trail late in the day at Snoqualmie, there are a bunch of restaurant and bar options now, but at Stevens Pass everything will close out early and all you can do is camp.

And finally, I like going south because I will typically start on a weekend, and since this section is only 70 miles long, That means I can exit at Snoqualmie before I have to encounter all the day hikers that infest Kendall Katwalk on the weekends. If I take the Friday bus up. I can easily be out long before the next weekend.Maybe I can even talk a friend into a day hike to Kendall Katwalk on my pickup day so we can meet on the trail and hike down together, then have a beer and dinner in Snoqualmie (You know who I'm talking about).

Splitting the section

If you want to split the trail and do shorter trips, here are some options. There are many access points for section J (that is part of what is great about it).These five are pretty popular ones for splitting this section roughly in half.They all require driving from the Salmon La Sac Campground to a trailhead. Here they are listed from north to south.

1). Hyas Lake and Deception Pass: 4.55 miles on trail, and 12.4 miles of dirt road.

2). Cathedral Pass: 4 miles on trail, and 12.2 miles of dirt road

3). Waptus Lake: 9.25 miles on trail, and 0.7 miles of dirt road

4). Pete Lake: 6.2 miles on trail, and 1.75 miles of dirt road (this is the most popular option, if you can just get dropped off here you won't need to seek a parking space).

5). Park Lakes: 4.74 miles on trail, and 5 miles of dirt road (this trail is less maintained).

These five options, all accessed by the same road, give you a 34 miles spread of access points with the PCT.

If you do just Stevens Pass to Pete lake you will save 1,000 feet by going southbound.Escondido Point is an equal up and down so if you start at Waptus Lake you still save 1,000 feet by going southbound.If you just do Pete Lake to Snoqualmie Pass you will save only 20 ft by going southbound, so it really does not matter which direction you go.One reason I like the Pete Lake option is that I prefer the lower crossing of Lemah Creek to where the PCT crosses it (I don't like getting my shorts wet).

Getting There

There is a daily bus to Stevens Pass. The Greyhound phone app is a convenient way to get tickets.There might be a new shuttle at Snoqualmie Pass this year.That schedule is TBD.

The Trail

Total distance 69 miles with 21,173 ft of elevation gain and 22,195 ft of elevation loss, going southbound.

[0 miles] The first two miles is just climbing up to the top of the chairlift at Stevens Pass. If the lodge is open you can use the facilities and maybe get a snack before you start hiking. You will have excellent mobile phone signal the entire way.

[1.95 miles] Make your last call at the top of the chairlift and maybe download the latest FarOut comments.You may get some phone signal later on but don't count on it for a while.

[4 miles] Get water at the outlet from Lake Susan Jane.You will need water for 4 miles.This is a nice place to camp if you have a short first day, but it may be crowded.

[ xx miles] Get a glimpse of Lake Josephine below.

[5.5 miles] You will pass above a small lake to the east, then go thru a pass with steep switchbacks on the west side.

[7.2 miles] Mig Lake is surrounded by nice campsites.

[8 miles] Hope Lake has one great camp site, but overall itís not as pretty as Mig Lake.A very popular access trail connects the PCT here.

[9.16 miles] Here you will have completed a fairly steep climb from Hope Lake.From here to Trap Pass is mostly flat and incredibly beautiful.First you will descend a bit through an open meadow so full of flowers itís as if someone spread seed there. You will pass in front of two hanging valleys with creeks that should flow year-round.Both are really lovely places to snack or refill.Along the way you will be getting great views across the valley of Lorraine Point to the S and jagged Thunder Mountain to the SW.

[11 miles] Trap Lake is a really beautiful lake.Most people just look down on it as they hike past it because its 0.23 miles and 161 ft below the trail.But if you are willing to cross the deep outflow, there are a couple great camp sites there and the water is a beautiful blue.Hikers get consistently great views of the lake, and long valley below it, as they climb up to Trap Pass.

[11.5 miles] Trap Pass is where you lose sight of Trap Lake.There is a technical side trail there that heads south to Thunder Mtn.

[12.2 miles] On the way down toward Surprise Lake be sure you do not pass the intersection with the PCT at 5,120 ft.You will not be happy if you end up at Surprise Lake and have to regain 365 ft of elevation to reconnect with the PCT.

If you want to exit the PCT to Highway 2, Surprise Creek is your last chance.If you continue south the closest trailhead is 13.2 miles away and is accessed by Interstate 90.

[13.2 miles] The PCT crosses the source of Surprise Creek which should offer year-round water.If not, Glacier Lake is nearby.

[13.5 miles] Glacier Lake is a water source and a good place to camp.I recommend the SE edge of the lake.From the ruins to Pieper Pass is 1,081 ft of gain over 1.75 miles (617 fpm).

[16 miles] Pieper Pass is the 2nd highest point in this section, at 5,890 ft.From Pieper Pass to the sketchy creek crossing you will enjoy 7 miles of continuous gradual downhill.

[17.3 miles] Deception Lakes/Daisy Lakeis known for bad bugs.From the lakes to Deception Pass any of the creeks on the map should offer year round water.From here to Deception pass is all downhill.

[21 miles] Deception Pass. There is not much there other than a five-way trail intersection.This is your first bail-out point to the south.There is a pond if you really need water, but I recommend you wait to get water from one of the five streams you are about to cross in the next 3 miles.

[22.6 miles] ďThe creekĒ Here is a creek constrained by tall rock walls (especially the wall on the north side) that cause it to flow fast.In the late summer this creek is no problem Ė you might not getyour feet wet. But in the spring this creek can be treacherous.

If things look stretchy, take the time to look up and down stream for options.If you are alone wait for another hiker to come along and ask them to spot you as you cross.Unbuckle your waist belt and chest belt on your backpack so you can escape your pack if you fall.Use trekking poles if you have them. If things look really sketchy you could also just camp there.Most streams flow slowest when the sunrises, at the days low temperature.

[24 miles] You will enter a creek valley that experienced an avalanche in the winter of 2021. The remaining obstacles are minimal. From here you will climb clockwise up and around Cathedral Rock to Cathedral Pass.

[26 miles] Cathedral Pass.If you need water there is a large pond just SE of Cathedral Pass on the Cathedral Pass Trail.I highly recommend you go just a few steps down a side trail; the Deep Lake Ridge Trail to take in the view which includes views of Mt Stuart and the Enchantments to the east.

From Cathedral Pass to where the PCT crosses the Waptus River is a continuous gradual downhill of 9.77 miles, losing 3,441 ft along the way.

[28.7 miles] Deep Lake.The trail will cross the outlet of Deep Lake.Get water here.You only need water for 4 miles.

[33.6 miles] You can use Spade Lake Trail to drop down to the shore of Waptus Lake if you prefer that route.It will reconnect with the PCT in 1.3 miles.

[35.7 miles] Waptus River Bridge. This is the lowest spot in this section, 3,365 ft. which is 292 ft higher than the southern trailhead. ††This is a popular camp area. Get water here for the climb that is ahead of you. The NE side of Escondido Point is 2,592 over 5.14 miles (504 fpm).The entire PCT from here to Snoqualmie Pass is new since 1976.Before then the route would have taken you west up the river to Dutch Miller Gap.

[41 miles] Escondito Point. Above 5,300 ft is a really lovely 2.51 miles of flat-ish trail.

[42.1 miles] NO CAMPING, Sensitive area. At the head of Cooper River, you only need water for 1.32 miles.For the next 10 miles there are many water sources.

[42.83 miles] As I recall, when you could see Cooper Lake you could also make phone calls.

[43.55 miles] Donít miss the right turn to a side trail which leads to a small nameless lake just a few steps away from the PCT.There is another smaller lake 0.2 miles NW from here that is also a nice place to camp.

Get water here, but you donít need much. You will cross water every couple miles for the next 8 miles. The SE side of Escondido Point is 2,732 ft over 4.69 miles (582 fpm).

[49.57 miles] Lemah Creek is the other of the two stream crossings in this section that can be challenging. You will see the large footings on either side of the creek where the sturdy 50í bridge was before it was washed away in the spring of 2009.In late summer this creek crossing may be no problem at all.If it looks challenging, read the safety suggestions above at the 23 mile mark.You might also try the crossing that is 0.41 miles downstream (see the map).

After you cross the creek, enjoy the stark beauty of this recently burned forest and floral meadow.

[50.76 miles] At the intersection with the Delate Meadow Trail is where a brutal climb begins 2,284 ft over 3.28 miles (696 fpm).But you will likely split that climb over two days by camping at Spectacle Lake.

[52 miles] Its far better to descend to Spectacle Lake using the southern route than to climb up to it from the eastern route.Delate Creek is usually raging.There is a sturdy bridge over it.

[52.8 miles] One year I had some GPS weirdness near the intersection with the trail to Spectacle Lake, but that was with a big Garmin device.I bet any cell phone will do better there.

Next you will climb up to the unnamed ridge, which is the NW ridge of Three Queens Mountain. Above 5,160 ft be sure to look back to the north to see the spectacular view of Spectacle Lake and Lemah Mountain. You should also be able to see the tip of Glacier Lake to the NW. and Chickamin Peak to the left of it.

[54 miles] At the top of this climb stop, rest, and take in the incredible views. This is also a nice place to camp if you have water. In the spring there are some ponds up there.They will dry out before summer ends.

[55 miles] You will need to take a short side trip to the unnamed lake here to gather some water. You will need water for 7.6 miles.The next water is Gravel Lake/Ridge Lake.This is the longest dry area in this section.

After the intersection with Mineral Creek Trail a 1.16 mile climb of 614 fpm begins to a ridge with a sharp right turn.That is your last climb for this section! You should get mobile phone signal consistently from a little beyond that ridge, to the SE edge of Huckleberry Mountain.

[56 miles] After that sharp right turn at the top of the ridge there is 2.5 miles of rocky traverse under Four Brothers and Chickamin Peak.Itís my least favorite part of this section, but it ends at a spot that I love.

[58.3 miles] The highest point in Section J, 5,927 ft. I love this spot where the trail stops going NW and turns SW. You know you are there when you have a brief view to the north into the next valley. That area only continues for 0.5 miles until you start going around the east side of Huckleberry Mountain. On the SE edge of Huckleberry Mountain, you will lose mobile phone signal until after Kendall Katwalk.

[61 miles] Alaska Mountain is amazing. The south slope is incredibly beautiful but also makes me nervous because of the narrow trail and the tree-less drop of 2,365 ft to Gold Creek below. Itís a very exposed slope that you will remember. The slope stays steep all the way around Alaska Lake. This is another reason I like going southbound; I prefer to pass on the uphill side of the trail here.

[62.3 miles] without warning you will find yourself at Ridge Lake and Gravel Lake.This is likely the end of your day.Most people camp here. Campsites at Ridge lake will fill up first.They go to the far side of the lake.There are also good sites on the slope down to Gravel Lake.

At Ridge Lake get water.There should be a stream crossing the trail in five miles.Total distance to Snoqualmie Pass is 7.2 miles.

[63.4 miles] the famous Kendall Katwalk.People are usually surprised how wide it is.It opened in 1976 creating an entirely new route for half of Section J.Here is where you will start encountering day hikers, especially on the weekends. People talk about Katwalk being scary because of the sheer drop to the east, but I have never heard of anyone being injured there.However, the mile south of Kendall Katwalk is extremely dangerous, especially a fatal spot about 0.6 miles south of the Katwalk where the trail is narrow and crumbly over a steep ravine.Most of the danger comes not from the trail but the overconfident behavior of the people on the trail.You should get good mobile signal 0.5 miles south of the Katwalk, but only for a while.

[66.2 miles] the trail will cross over this creek twice.If the upper crossing has no water, the lower crossing probably will.Near the point of the big switchback there was an avalanche in 2022.You may see the damage it caused.

[69.2 miles] The trailhead.