Outdoors

Hiking the Longs Pass Trail offers remarkable views of Cascades

Longs Pass is one of the most rewarding hikes in the east-side Cascades for the time and distance from the Tri-Cities.

It is one of my absolute all-time Cascade Mountain favorites that gets you to one of the most remarkable viewpoints available of Mt. Stuart.

If you are driving I-90 to Seattle, you may be familiar with the view of the Stuart Range from the Indian John Hill Highway rest area four miles east of Cle Elum. Longs Pass is the last ridge in front of Mt. Stuart, and that is where you are heading for this hike.

From the Tri-Cities, it is three hours and 35 minutes to the trailhead, which is located northeast of Ellensburg 23 miles up the North Fork of the Teanaway River Road.

From Tri-Cities, head north on Highway 240 and take the Vantage Highway. Make a left at Vantage and follow Interstate 90 just past Ellensburg. Then go on Highway 97 for 15.7 miles and make a left on Highway 970 for 3.4 miles. Then make a right turn on the Teanaway River Road for 23 miles. The last eight miles are a decent gravel and dirt road that ends at a well-marked trailhead.

This trailhead is a popular destination, especially for those coming from Seattle. While there’s a fair amount of parking, it tends to fill up fast by mid-morning, especially on weekends. So leaving Tri-Cities early and getting there around 9 a.m. is highly recommended.

There are a number of amazing day hiking and backpacking options you can experience. There are trails that go to Esmeralda Basin, Ingalls Lake Trail, Longs Pass, and many other trails from this location.

The Longs Pass Trail, which is one of the day hiking options, is rated moderate. It is seven miles round trip, with a net gain/loss of 2,100 feet. The pass itself is at an elevation of 6,250 feet.

The well-marked and well-maintained trailheads is due east from the parking lot. It is a steady climb from its start in the cool forest of the valley. It slowly transitions to exposed rocky slopes filled with summer wildflowers.

As you gain elevation, the views to the north open up and reveal colorful rocks, avalanche paths carved into steep slopes, and some lingering patches of snow. Closer to the top, there are a few short switchbacks, and the view continues to expand. If you look backward over your shoulder, more and more of Mt. Rainier towers above the mountains to the west.

Before you know it, three miles has gone by and you cross some wildly colored talus slopes. Then you hit the bare, rocky crest of the windswept ridge and … voila – a knock-your-socks-off take-your-breath-away full-face head-on view of Mt. Stuart.

You can linger and soak up the majestic views, take a nap in the sun, or scramble up the ridgelines to the north and to the south to get a little higher.

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Mountain goats on Longs Pass. Paul Krupin

If you are lucky, you might see mountain goats. They inhabit the area year-round and are somewhat adapted to humans. Still, it’s best to leave them alone and keep your distance. Take photos using your zoom and don’t get too close.

This trail is rated moderate — it is a reasonably strenuous hike, like doing three Badger Mountains in one day. It is for people who can climb steps steadily and maintain a decent pace without too many breaks.

You are in the wilderness area, so plan appropriately. Bring food and plenty of water — at least two liters per person.

Mt. Stuart makes its own weather, so bring the hiking ten-plus essentials and hiking poles. Bring extra clothes so you can be comfortable and dry in case of a rapid, unanticipated weather change. Snow happens even in July and August at these elevations.

A National Forest Pass or a Senior Pass is required for parking. Dogs are allowed on leash only on the Longs Pass Trail to the top of the ridge, but not on any of the other trails inside the Wilderness Area.

Paul Krupin is an avid local outdoor enthusiast and a member of the Intermountain Alpine Club www.imacnw.org . He can be reached at pjkrupin@gmail.com.

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