Hike anywhere in the Pacific Northwest and you'll experience some sort of natural wonder, whether it's deep river valleys, lush old-growth forests, high mountain lakes, alpine meadows, or sweeping panoramic views. But the 17-mile (round trip) Twin Lakes Trail is one of the few paths that has all of the above plus an authentic ghost town.
The trail starts off benignly, climbing slowly through thick forest lining the banks of the South Sauk River, and then leveling off in the turn-of-the-century mining boom town of Monte Cristo. This wide trail was once a narrow dirt road, but heavy flooding in 1996 and 1997 finished much of the road-removal work begun by the flood season of 1980.
From Monte Cristo, the trail climbs relentlessly to Poodle Dog Pass and nearby Silver Lake. From Poodle Dog, there is no respite as the route climbs steeply until you top out on a jagged ridge--with a 360-degree view--3,000 feet above Monte Cristo. The last half mile of trail drops 800 feet to the lake basin. The two lakes are surrounded by heather meadows and flanked to the east by the vertical granite wall of Columbia Peak and to the west by a deep trailless drop into Troublesome Creek Valley.
LENGTH: 16.8 miles. An out-and-back trip takes two days.
RATING: Moderately strenuous. The total elevation gain is 3,200 feet, most of it coming in a 31/2-mile stretch.
WHERE: The trailhead is at Barlow Pass on the Mountain Loop Highway, 311/2 miles east of Granite Falls, about 2 hours from downtown Seattle.
MAPS: Green Trails' topographic trail maps Sloan Peak (# 111) and Monte Cristo (#143) cover the area. Maps are $3.30 apiece, plus $2 shipping and handling per order. Contact: Green Trails Maps, P.O. Box 77734, Seattle, WA 98177; (206) 546-6277. To obtain USGS topographic maps for the area, ask for Monte Cristo and Sloan Peak quads.
CONTACT: Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Darrington Ranger Station, 1405 Emmens St., Darrington, WA 98241; (360) 436-1155.