This 40-mile backpacking trip passes through pristine river valleys, up snowfields and glaciers, past clear, icy lakes, and over high mountain passes loaded with wildflowers. The trek offers several side trips that one can take to visit places like Image Lake
(one of the most photographed locations in the Glacier Peak Wilderness), Flower Dome, and Liberty Cap, but the loop could be done in a shorter amount of time without the scenic detours. Along the main section of the loop, great views of Glacier Peak can be had near Cloudy Pass and Buck Creek Pass, but the side trip along Miner's Ridge to Image Lake
will be well worth it.
A 2.5-mile section of dirt road connects the two parking lots at either end of the trail. If you have multiple cars, you can park one at the lower lot (Trinity Trailhead) and the other at the upper lot (Phelps Creek Trailhead) and save yourself a couple miles of running along a dirt road. The trailheads are fairly active, so you could probably hitchhike your way from one trailhead to the other as well.
Regardless of how you get there, start by heading up the Phelps Creek Trail towards Spider Meadow. It's a very gently ascending trail that wanders for about 5 miles through the woods and meadows along the creek. You'll reach Spider Meadow, which has numerous campsites to set up a tent for the night. If you got a very early start, you could continue on from here, but this is a good place to camp.
After Spider Meadow, the trail gets far steeper and rockier as it heads up towards Spider Gap
. After an hour or so of running, you'll reach the bottom of the Spider Glacier (more of a snowfield), which you'll have to run up to reach the top of Spider Gap
. No technical gear is required most of the time to ascend the glacier, but an ice axe couldn't hurt. The view from the top of the glacier at Spider Gap
looking towards the Lyman Basin is quite spectacular.
Heading down from the Spider Gap
into the Lyman Basin can be very tricky (depending on how much snow is left below the pass), as the trail is very hard to follow as it goes through rock piles and scree fields. You'll pick it up and lose it again, but in general you can make your own path as you head towards the eastern shore of Upper Lyman Lake. At Upper Lyman, the trail becomes very easy to follow again, so continue on it down the Lyman Valley to (lower) Lyman Lake. There are more campsites in this valley and plenty of water.
From Lyman Lake, continue up towards Cloudy Pass through some pretty spectacular high meadows full of babbling streams and endless wildflowers. On top of the pass, there are additional campsites if you want to spend the night there. You'll get your first view of Glacier Peak here. Below Cloudy Pass, several valleys and trails converge as you head downhill to Suiattle Pass.
At Suiattle Pass, you'll meet up with the Pacific Crest Trail and follow it for about a mile until you get to a junction with the Miner's Ridge Trail. It's just under 4 miles along the Miner's Ridge Trail to Image Lake
, with gorgeous views of Glacier Peak and the valleys below at the lake and on the way. The 7.5-mile detour might add a night to your trip, but it's likely well worth it. If you choose to go to Image Lake
, follow Miner's Ridge Trail there and then retrace your steps back to the junction with the PCT where you left it.
Take the PCT downhill into the Miner's Creek Valley, where you'll find some campsites and water along Miner's Creek. Follow the PCT about 0.5 miles past Miner's Creek and make a left onto the Buck Creek Pass Trail. Follow it over ridges and through valleys for the next 5 miles, and you'll make it to a side trail going up to Flower Dome. It's a short jaunt up to the top, but well worth it for the flowers and views. Once down from Flower Dome, it's about 0.25 miles to campsites at Buck Creek Pass. Some sites are further away from water than others (there aren't any major streams flowing by), so you might need to search around a bit to get water.
There are several trails starting at Buck Creek Pass that you can take to explore the area (including going up to Liberty Cap) if you have time. From Buck Creek Pass, it's a mile or so of steeper, rocky sections that involve a couple of stream crossings as you head around to the other side of the head of the Buck Creek Valley. You'll then start a steady (not too steep) descent into the valley, with a little under 10 miles of trail until you reach the lower parking lot (you'll be happy that your car is here instead of 2.5 miles up the road!)