Whittier Ridge Lakes Trail is a 13 mile moderately trafficked out and back trail located near Stevenson, Washington that features a lake and is rated as difficult. The trail is primarily used for hiking, walking, nature trips, and birding and is accessible from July until November.
Arrived at the Norway Pass TH by 9:00 am on Thursday, November 3. Sole car in the parking lot and the only human tracks on the trail. 2 1/4 miles of gradual elevation gain over the next hour up to Norway Pass. Soak in picturesque views of Mount St Helens and Spirit Lake before continuing to the Lakes Trail junction (less than a mile). Turn right up to Bear Pass. This will start the desired counter clockwise loop route (clockwise toward Mount Margaret is definitely an option as well). Descend .5 miles to Grizzly Lake, the first of four lakes visited before the Mount Whittier cutoff. Obscurity, Panhandle and Shovel Lakes also await over the next 4.7 miles. The terrain is an impressive mixture of devastation and regrowth. Streams flow frequently and the views are endless - you are never fully closed in. Reached the Mount Whittier TH by 12:45 pm.
There may be a couple of ways to tackle the first part of the Mount Whittier trail, depending on your comfort level and experience. Consider taking a rerouted path that leads east and then climbs south up to the ridge. My chosen route led Southeast along an exposed section (Snow Lake below), where two climbers ropes aided in crossing an eroded area. A short climb later and you emerge in a small saddle. Immediately turn uphill (north) until you reach the ridge. Now, the really enjoyable part begins. Follow a fairly well defined game trail along the ridge. A bit of route finding skills may be necessary. Scramble up two false summits until you finally reach Mount Whittier (~5,883 ft elevation). Spooked a trio of mountain goats and spotted many more below. Stellar views of St Helens, Adams and Rainier. Spotty snow in a few places on the north side. Keep right after descending Mount Whittier and continue to follow the ridge until you meet up with the Boundary trail. An optional side trip (on the right/South) to Mount Margaret may tempt you along the way. Back to Norway Pass at 4:00 pm; parking lot by 4:40 pm. Spotted a total of at least 25 elk and nearly 30 mountain goats on my trek. A truly amazing experience in an area I will most certainly visit again!
Amazing hike! More difficult than the 2k elevation puts on. You ascend and descend into 3-4 valleys with lakes. The lakes are quite beautiful, but not all of the 5 lakes along the way are easily accessible. We started at Norway pass and went right at the lakes loop. The first few miles before the loop fork is pretty straight forward with an amazing view of Spirit Lake and Mount St. Helens. The loop starts to get difficult. The bugs pick up at this point as well. But the views from the loop are some of the best I've ever experienced. Constant views of the Goat Rocks, Adams, Rainier, Hood and St. Helens. And a few moments where you can see all 5! This occurred during the 2.1 mile ridge line traverse about 3/4 of the way into the loop. This section is slow going and a bit sketchy. If you are slow and steady there is no danger though. But expect this section to take 2+ hours. We got lost a few times in this area by following goat trails. Be wary they are well worn but as you get further from trail they start to get very rugged and choppy then eventually disappear. This was a long and strenuous hike but well worth it. Absolutely stunning!
On the weekend of September 15th 2012 we went for a backpack to circle Spirit Lake. Unknown to us the road to Independence Pass and Windy Ridge Trailhead was closed to vehicles and hikes. So we decided to do Mt Margaret Loop: starting at Norway Pass Trailhead, take the Boundary Trail to Bear Pass, drop down on the Lakes Trail follow it to the Whittier Ridge Trail, up it to the Boundary Trail and follow it back to our vehicle. We had no clue as to the terrain of either the Lakes or the Whittier Ridge Trails.
The Whittier Ridge Trail is a short 2.1-mile trail. However nearly half of that distance is on 2nd class terrain (hands required for balance), with a few short 3rd class rock climbs (easy climbing but hands are required, a fall is unlikely) thrown in for good measure. To cover this trail in 2 hours would be a good pace, 4 hours with a backpack is still reasonable.
There are many short exposed hiking sections en route. Two of the more exciting ones are:
The final climb up Mt. Whittier has the most significant 3rd class climbing. Mt Whittier at 5,883 is the highest point on the ridge, higher them Mt Margaret.
And a ramp on the side of a pinnacle between Mt. Whittier and the Mt Margaret ridge climbs about 40 feet and is very exposed 2nd class hiking.
Route finding is another issue. Once you find the correct path on the rock cliffs, the route is easily followed. The route finding problem is mostly an issue in the easy hiking terrain where people wandered off the scantly marked trail and where animals paths intersect the trail. In a few sections the mountain goat paths are more obvious than the hiking trail.
A question came up when talking with other hikers, if it is easier to go from the Lakes trail to the Boundary Trail or visa versa? Technically they will be about the same, however many sections we went up could be scary looking when hiking down. From my experience mountain climbing I think hiking up the trail (Lakes to Boundary) is easier psychologically than the reverse.
Unless you are extremely experienced with steep snow/ice I would not attempt this trail under snow/ice conditions.