Like many of the day hikes in North Cascades National Park, the hike up to Thornton Lake actually involves relatively little time in the park. We approached this particular hike as a relative rest day. This notion is pretty laughable given that we climbed over 3,000 feet of elevation and hiked over 10 miles. Still, in the North Cascades, that’s not so bad. After hiking Sourdough mountain a few days earlier and with Sahale Arm on the agenda for the following day, Thornton Lake seemed accessible. It was also relatively closer to our house rental down in Concrete than some of the other options.
The drive out to the lake involves a decent stretch on a dirt road. Our Subaru Forester with standard wheels and tires handled the road quite well but smaller cars might not. I believe this road hit our highest angle to date on the car—about 12 degrees. When we arrived at the trailhead, we found one empty car, a few younger adults sleeping in the back of their car, and a suitable outhouse.
The hike itself starts out lovely. It’s a long slow and mostly wide old roadbed for the first 1-2 miles. The further you go, the more elevation gain you start gaining. A few thin spots in the trees revealed amazing clouds off in the valley. A few lingered for our views later in the climb but it was a bit of a bummer not to have open views for some of the magic of the day. The trail narrows and starts climbing as you enter the national park proper and get closer to the destination. Pretty woods, though. Eventually, the threes start to thin and you get a few side trails that take you to some views. If Trappers Peak is your destination (it wasn’t ours because this was hiked as a rest day), the unmaintained trail to the peak is marked.
After continuing past the turnoff for Trappers Peak, we found a lovely rock overlooking Thornton Lake. We sat for brunch and shot a time-lapse, enjoying pleasant weather and relatively few bugs. We hemmed and hawed about whether we should hike down to the lake. This was supposed to be an ‘easy’ hike and the hike down looked rough, especially since we’d have to turn back around and hike right back up. But the blue waters were calling our name so down we went. The trail was rough, tough, steep, and barely maintained. The views were almost worth it. The nap we took while sunning on boulders as Kelly shot another time lapse was most definitely worth it.
The hike down was splendidly easy after we resubmitted to our brunch spot overlooking the lake. It was still 5 miles down but with the trail leveling out the closer we got to the trailhead, our legs got happier and happier. One last adventurous drive on the dirt road and we wrapped up the day.