Loomis State Forest: Hike Washington's Cascade Secret

Hike to the edge of the Cascade Range in this forgotten corner of the Washington wilderness.
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Hike to the edge of the Cascade Range in this forgotten corner of the Washington wilderness.

Ever wonder what your favorite weekend backpacking destination is worth? Have you tried to put a price tag on a trail? Recently, I learned that one of my beloved parcels of Washington wilderness is worth $16 million. That's a bargain, in my opinion.

Just a few years ago, it seemed all but certain that 25,000 roadless acres in Loomis State Forest, on the edge of the Cascade Range in northern Washington, would be included in a large timber sale. But local environmentalists launched a novel campaign to save the forest by paying the state for the trees—then not cutting them down. The successful effort raised $16 million, enough to keep Loomis wild.

After its brief moment in the spotlight, Loomis State Forest is once again an obscure wilderness where towering peaks nearly 8,000 feet high give way to the hot, dry Okanogan valley. The Loomis boasts pristine stands of lodgepole pine, sublime alpine meadows, and a population of the threatened lynx.

The Loomis backcountry has only about 20 miles of official trails, but they connect with trails in the vast Pasayten Wilderness, so you'll have plenty of room to wander if you have more than a weekend. There's potential for off-trail exploration, too, especially on the historic sheep trails still visible here and there. My favorite is the route from Cold Springs Campground to the former grazing grounds high on the slopes of a summit called Disappointment (which appears as Peak 7160 on maps).

The misnamed peak straddles a transition zone between high country and sage country. To the east, you can look down on Palmer Lake, 6,000 feet below the summit of Chopaka Mountain. British Columbia's Snowy Mountain dominates the northern horizon. Pitch a tent on any high ridge and chances are you'll be the only one gazing at all this splendor.

To people who value our remaining wilderness, Loomis State Forest is priceless.

Expedition Planner: Loomis State Forest, Washington

DRIVE TIME: Loomis State Forest is 3 1/2 hours (200 miles) northwest of Spokane.

THE WAY: From Tonasket, at the junction of US 97 and WA 20, go north and west on County Roads 9437 and 9425 to the town of Loomis. Drive west on Forest Service Road 39 for 10 miles to DNR T-1000 (Nine Mile Creek Road), then go north to Cold Springs Campground and the trailhead.

TRAILS: Developed trails are poorly marked. Link the Chopaka Mountain and Snowshoe Meadow Trails for a 15-mile round-trip hike into the heart of the Loomis backcountry. From Snowshoe Meadow (a good basecamp), it's another 5.5 miles into the spectacular Horseshoe Basin of the adjacent Pasayten Wilderness.

DAYHIKE: For an 8-mile round-trip hike, follow the old sheep drive trail from Cold Springs Campground to the summit called Disappointment for a view of Palmer Lake and British Columbia's Snowy Mountain.

ELEVATION: The Loomis ranges from about 5,500 feet along valley bottoms to a shade under 8,000 feet at the peaks. The open summit of the

7,823-foot Snowshoe Mountain is an easy scramble.

CAN'T MISS: The view of nearly all of Loomis State Forest from the summit of Disappointment (shown on maps as Peak 7160, just west of Chopaka Mountain).

CROWD CONTROL: Late fall attracts a handful of hunters, but otherwise, you're on your own.

GUIDES: Green Trails map No. 21 Horseshoe Basin is the best for hiking (206-546-6277; www.greentrails.com; $4).

WALK SOFTLY: The summits of Chopaka Mountain, Joe Mills Mountain, and Hurley Peak are part of a state nature preserve and off-limits to protect rare alpine flora.

CONTACT: Washington State Department of Natural Resources, (509) 684-7474; www.wa.gov/dnr.