A hidden gem in my (limited) Cascades experience. Just off I90 but with great views, especially if you can ignore the fact that you’re looking across I90.
- Distance: 8 miles round trip
- Elevation: 3400ft gain, most of which is in the last mile
- Weather: 60’s, sunny
- Commute from Seattle: just under an hour
- Did I trip: Nope! (playing it safe after Annette Lake)
I had no idea how beautiful this hike was going to be. I went before work, so I knew I’d be in a bit of a time crunch, but I didn’t realize how much I’d regret not being able to spend more time at the top. It was well worth the miles of abuse my poor Honda Accord endured on the terrible potholed road. Bandera is right off I90 which means you do have to listen to the highway for a lot of the hike, but that’s a fair trade for the views that you get, which start about halfway up the trail.
The first two or so miles are completely runnable, on a wide foresty trail with a slow uphill. Eventually, it turns into switchbacks, which are where you’ll get your first glimpse of the views to come. After a smoother stony section, part of which is a good looking set of stone steps, the trail will split into Bandera and Mason Lake.
The Mason Lake trail heads down, whereas the Bandera trail does just the opposite: straight up the side of the mountain. Switchbacks are a luxury this part of the trail just can’t afford, and you end up gaining something like 500ft in altitude in just a fifth of a mile. But you reach the ridge quickly, and follow that east to the false summit. There are a few boulder fields that require some scrambling, but nothing too difficult. It’s easy to lose the trail as well, but if you stay along the sides of the fields, it’ll turn up. Views from the top are incredible. 360 degree panoramas. Mason Lake is down below if you look behind you, and you’re surrounded by peaks on all sides with Rainier looming in the distance. Don’t worry, I took another mountaintop selfie just to make sure I was there.
One thing to note is that the views at the false summit are actually better than views at the real summit, which is mostly covered in trees. The real summit is only around a hundred feet taller anyway. It’s about a half mile past the false summit, so if you have time, it’s worth going just to say you did it, but I preferred the views from the rockier, lower peak. What I regret is not bringing a picnic for the top. When I ran Kendall Katwalk, I was so absorbed in the views that I forgot to eat the pork taco I had brought, so I’m telling myself that’s what would have happened again. If I’m forgetting food because of views, you know the views are insane.
I’m just waiting for an excuse to do this hike again. Worst case scenario, I’ll wait until the spring, because I think the alpine meadows (the incredible steep part) would be beautiful when the spring flowers are in bloom. Everything was dying when I was there, which meant some fall foliage but also lots of brown. Spring wildflowers with Rainier in the background… yeah, I’ll be there.
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