North Cascades National Park

Thunder Creek Trail

Summary
This is an ideal trail for a short walk, a long day hike, or an extended backpack. Along the Thunder Creek Valley are ancient forests, streamside openings, and, from higher points, magnificent views. A recommended walk is to the junction with Fourth of July Pass Trail at 1.7 miles (2.7 km). Following Fourth of July Pass Trail up 3.2 miles (5.1 km) of switchbacks to Fourth of July Pass, or continuing along Thunder Creek for about the same distance provides beautiful mountain views. Thunder Creek Trail divides again 9.7 miles from the trailhead to go up Fisher Creek and Easy Pass (11.3 miles/18.2 km further) to exceptionally fine meadows and vistas, or climbs to Thunder Basin and over Park Creek Pass (9.3 miles further) and on to the Stehekin Valley. Descriptions for Diablo and Colonial Creek area day hikes and Easy Pass are on separate handouts.

Access
Follow State Route 20 to Diablo Lake. Enter the south side of Colonial Creek Campground at milepost 130. Park in the lot above the boat ramp. One of the two trailheads for Thunder Creek Trail lies uphill from the parking lot behind the trailer dump station. This is the preferred trailhead for horses. To reach the other trailhead, walk the length of the campground, following the signs to the amphitheater. The main trailhead is marked by an informational display nearby.

Thunder Arm
The first half mile (.8 km) follows Thunder Arm of Diablo Lake. Note the colors of the lake and stream. This is because Thunder Creek carries a heavy load of "rock flour," ground by the many glaciers of its headwaters. This trail was opened by prospectors and trappers. Mining developers and the USFS made major improvements in the early 1900s. Look for old blazes, telephone insulators, and a few cut stumps along the way. At 300 yards (90 m) from the trailhead, a spur leads to Thunder Woods Nature Trail, a self-guided intrepretive walk along a 0.9 mile (1.4 km) loop. At .8 miles (1.3 km), a modern suspension bridge crosses at the historic bridge site.

Forest Fires
The trail winds through some exceptionally large old cedar and fir trees. Forest flowers abound in season. This is the home of many birds, including owls and woodpeckers. Look for deer and other animal tracks in the sandy soil and mud.

Old Forest
Along Thunder Creek Trail, the first open view is from a 1970 burn at about 4.5 miles. Here an emerging forest of young Douglas-fir and a profusion of seed bearing herbs and shrubs attracts birds, rodents and their predators. Across the valley, note a newer burn from lightning strikes in 1990. Rock cliffs and McAllister Glacier provide natural fire breaks and a splendid backdrop for this evolving forest scene.

Campsites
Short spur trails to Thunder Camp and Neve Camp branch off at 1.4 & 1.9 miles (2.3 & 3 km) from the trailhead. McAllister Camp at 6.2 miles (10 km) is a popular overnight destination. It is in a forested, creekside setting isolated across Thunder Creek from the main trail. Tricouni Camp lies 1.3 miles (2.1 km) beyond McAllister.

The Junction
A relentless 2.2 mile (3.5 km) climb from the valley bottom at Tricouni Camp leads to Junction Camp and a major trail junction. From this high ridge, enjoy an expansive view of Boston Glacier and Tricouni Peak. From here, one may either take Fisher Creek Trail to Easy Pass, or continue on Thunder Creek Trail to Park Creek Pass. Both ways lead to grand trail experiences.

Mining History
From Junction, Thunder Creek Trail drops steadily for 2.6 miles (4.2 km) into the valley through stands of old fire-scarred Douglas-fir and even-aged lodgepole pine. Then, a steep 1 mile (1.6 km) climb through silver fir forests brings the hiker to Skagit Queen Camp. Just beyond the camp are relics of early 1900s mining development. The water-powered generator ran an air compressor which supplied piped compressed air to drill rigs up Skagit Queen Creek. Look for signs of mining activity further along the trail. Much effort and money was expended before developers left this remote and rugged land.

Thunder Basin
Above Skagit Queen, the trail rises steeply for a mile (1.6 km) into the mouth of Thunder Basin, a hanging glacial valley. More hiking through avalanche paths and stands of silver fir leads to the fringes of the subalpine zone where Thunder Basin Camp is located, 2.9 miles (4.7 km) beyond Skagit Queen.

Park Creek Pass
The trail continues its climb 2.6 miles (4.2 km)through steep meadows and snowfields to the pass (6,100 ft/1860 m), a notch between Mt. Logan to the northeast and Mt. Buckner to the southwest. Total distance from Colonial Creek Campground to the pass is 19 miles (30.6 km). An ice axe is recommended for travel on steep snow through mid-summer. The subalpine meadows surrounding the pass have been eroded from past uses. With camping restrictions in these fragile meadow areas, the delicate plant life is beginning to recover. Camp in designated sites only.

To Stehekin Valley
From Park Creek Pass, the trail descends quickly through heather and wildflower meadows into a hanging valley and Buckner Camp. Contouring down the forested slopes of Park Creek Valley, the trail intersects the Stehekin Valley Road 7.9 miles (12.7 km) from the pass at 2,300' (700 m) elevation. Check schedules and make a reservation in advance to take the Park Service shuttle bus to Stehekin Landing.

Permits/Information
Pets and firearms are prohibited in the National Park. Pets are allowed on leashes only in Ross Lake National Recreation Area. Fires are allowed in some low elevation camps. Washington State fishing regulations apply. Be sure to stop at the Wilderness Information Center in Marblemount (360-873-4500 ext. 39). A permit (no charge) is required for all overnight stays in the backcountry. Rangers have maps and current information to assist you in planning a safe, fun trip.

 

  

 

For Additional Information Contact:

North Cascades National Park
2105 State Route 20
Sedro-Woolley, WA 98284-9394
(360) 856-5700

 

For more information visit the National Park Service website