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Hiking Granite Mountain in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness

Hiking Granite Mountain in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness

The backside of Granite Mountain

Granite Mountain is said to offer great views, but at a price. The trail climbs nearly 1,000 vertical feet per mile. It’s steep, with only a few gentler slopes to catch your breath on. Access is straightforward, with the trail beginning off I-90 and less than an hour east of Seattle. Time your trip right (like I did) and you’ll enjoy an all-you-can-eat feast of huckleberries.

Trail Details
Summit: 5,629′
Distance: 8.6 miles
Time: 5 hours
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation gain: 3,800 ft
Dogs: Yes
When to go: After snow melts

Getting to the Trailhead

The trail begins at the Pratt Lake Trailhead. Heading east on I-90 from Seattle, take Exit 47, turning left at the stop sign to cross the highway, then left again at the “T” intersection. The Pratt Lake Trailhead is ahead on the right. You will need a Northwest Forest Pass or an interagency pass (like an annual National Parks pass) to park at the trailhead.

There is a pit toilet at the trailhead, and parking for about 35 cars. Get turn-by-turn directions to the trailhead via Google Maps. There is an information board at the trailhead with the latest on trail conditions and stern warnings about avalanche danger when there is still snow on the trail. A few yards further and you reach a self-issue permit station. Permits are free and there is no quota, but they are required here, even for day hikes (one per party). Take a moment to fill one out before hitting the trail.

Hiking Granite Mountain

You begin on the gentle, forested Platt Lake Trail, climbing through a shady forest on a soft trail with the occasional root or rock. On this particular Wednesday morning, I was the first to park at the trailhead, and had the mountain to myself. The light morning rain completed the forest bathing experience.

Starting up the trail to Granite Mountain

Roughly one mile in, you reach a sign informing you that you’ve entered the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

Entering the Alpine Lakes Wilderness

Another quarter mile beyond, you reach the junction to Granite Mountain. The trail to the left continues to Pratt Lake, but take the fork to the right and begin climbing in earnest. The trail quickly becomes steeper and rockier.

At about 4,000 feet you cross the avalanche chute, easily identified by the lack of trees.

Looking down the avalanche chute

From here you get a short respite, as the trail climbs more gradually along the side of the mountain, and the views begin to open up to the south and east. Here you see the first huckleberry bushes.

As the trail climbs over the shoulder of Granite Mountain, the lookout tower may come into view (not the case on this cloudy day). You travel through an alpine meadow on the east side of the mountain before the final, rocky push to the summit. It’s steep, but you’re nearly there, and before you know it, you’ve reached the lookout tower.

Reaching the fire lookout tower on Granite Mountain

It’s been said that the views from Granite Mountain are the real payoff for the steep climb. Not so much the case on this cloudy, drizzly day, but it was still beautiful, and I had the summit to myself. I ran into about a half a dozen other hikers on my way back down the mountain, but nothing close to the crowds that can be found here on sunny weekends, when you might be sharing the summit with a hundred other hikers.

The solitude was wonderful, but the real pay-off on this particular hike? The huckleberries. I had never picked huckleberries before, and the bushes were abundant. Chatting with another hiker-forager on the trail, this year had been particularly good for the huckleberry crop. Picking them required patience, but I took an empty Nalgene bottle and filled it nearly half-way with the delicious berries before continuing back down the trail.

Picked nearly half a liter of huckleberries on my way back down Granite Mountain

I made good time on the way back down, even breaking into a light jog when the trail smoothed out enough to do so safely. Though I didn’t get the amazing views Granite Mountain is renown for, it was still a beautiful hike.

Still misty and foggy

What do the views look like on a clear day? Check out bikejr’s Granite Mountain photo album on Flickr.

Granite Mountain Trail Map & Elevation Profile

Download file: Granite Mountain Hike.gpx

Note: my GPS tracker had a lot of “noise” interference from the trees, so the mileage shown on the elevation profile is exaggerated. My actual mileage total was 9.2 miles, about half a mile longer than the posted mileage, accounted for by meandering at the summit and picking huckleberries…and totally worth it.

Granite Mountain Tips & Hiking Resources

Granite Mountain Weather Forecast

[forecast width=”100%” location=”98045″]

Originally hiked on September 12, 2018.

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