Trail Running with a Twist
What is adventure running? Is it ultra running? Extreme Running? Mountain running? Fast walking with trekking poles? To me, adventure running is taking a strong base of trail running and applying it to more remote, scenic routes. “Trail running with a twist”, as Sam likes to say. It might require a bit more mountain skills like scrambling, navigation, and snow travel, but should not be over the top.
Even though I fundamentally identify as a trail runner (“climberkyle” is a misnomer), I honestly get bored with general trail running. Adventure running is a way to spice up long trail runs in the mountains while still maintaining a pure, fast and light philosophy. Along the way, you might see some pretty incredible things.
Previously, I wrote a pretty thick list of Washington High Routes and Traverses. There might be some overlap between the two lists, but this list is intended to be far more running oriented and less technical. As a rule of thumb, if a route is less than 50% runnable, it does not count as an “adventure run”. A run should also not require technical gear like ropes. Those are really the only requirements. Oh yeah, it should be doable in running shoes – but isn’t everything? (for more about shoes, see my footwear post)
This list is not intended to be comprehensive; I am not listing out every trail run in the state. Instead, I am trying to highlight some of the more interesting or aesthetic routes with a keen eye to the truly adventurous ones. I have given a strong preference to loops and point-to-point runs instead of out-and-backs. I will include TRs (trip reports) for certain routes where I think a TR is helpful (or simply for self-promotion).
I have broken the list down into three “levels” of routes:
- Should be completable for an experienced ultra runner in just part of a day (< 10 hrs), so usually under marathon distance.
- A big day (8-16 hours) for most runners. Generally under 50 hours and reasonable in a single push for mortals like us. Accomplishable in under 24 hours with no running, just fast hiking.
- A monstrous day, a lifetime achievement, something that deserves a true round of applause.
Sam once again mapped at all these routes on caltopo. Click here for the map. Thanks Sam!
Level 1: Partial Day
These routes, in no particular order, are at the lowest tier, but that does not mean they are not worthy of running.
- High Divide Loop: the ONP classic.
- Tyler Baldy Sky Run: great views overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca, short approach, epic ridge line. Can extend it to all of Grey Wolf Ridge.
- Northern Buckhorn Loop: Start up Deception Creek to Marmot Pass, tag Buckhorn, then out Copper Creek. What makes this run? The fact you can find an old wrecked bomber along the way.
- Townsend Buckhorn Ridge Run: This variation has miles of delicious class 3 and 4 ridge scrambling, with great views out to Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The descent down the Tubal Cain trail from Buckhorn deserves an entry in “50 classic running descents of North America”. My TR.
- Melakwa Pass Loop: The Snoqualminix classic adventure run, can be combined with the Granite Mountain Circumnavigation. My TR.
- Silver Tinkham Loop: Another good Snoqualmie route, the crux here is finding the connector trail down off the John Wayne. My TR.
- Golden Lakes Loop: Perhaps the primo larch loop. Lakes, views and larches galore. My TR. You can do it as a ridge traverse (class 2-3) between Switchback, Martin, and Bigelow too. That TR.
- Carne High Route: If you go late summer there’s basically a trail all the way. Abundant larches but also wonderful scenery any time of year. Tag on Maude for the easiest 9k peak in WA.
- Big Snow Loop: Up Dingford Creek, climb the north side of Big Snow, down the south side and out. TR.
- Snoqualmie Mt Circumnavigation: Run to Snow Lake, down into Middle Fork, jump in Goldmeyer Hot Springs. Then slog up to Red Mt. Pass and out the Commonwealth.
- Lennox – Canoe – Morpheus – Dog Traverse: I honestly have not verified this one, but it makes for a nice loop from the west side, circumnavigating the headwaters of the North Fork Snoqualmie.
- Squire Creek Loop: Fair bit of road running here, but this loop starts in Darrington and takes you up Squire Creek beneath the incredible east face of Three Fingers before descending down Clear Creek.
- Ida Pass Loop: Run up to Goat Lake, ascend snowfields up to Ida Pass, then descend to Monte Cristo and run out.
- Miscellaneous Teanaway Loops: You can make these as long as you want, lots of options between Ingalls and Iron Bear. Melts out early, has larches in the fall. Also plenty of potential around Hawkins.
- Dishpan Gap to Cady Pass Loops: You can do this loop either from the west or east side of the crest, with longer loops from the west side. This area south of Glacier Peak on the PCT has a great network of trails and is wildflower heaven in mid summer.
- Rock Howard Mastiff Traverse: This is a popular ski traverse, but I bet it could also work on foot. Visits some nice lakes along the way.
- Nason Ridge Run: For those looking for a nice cruiser ridge and lakes, start up the Rock Lake Trail and run Nason Ridge all the way to Lake Wenatchee.
- Skookum – The Levoure – DeRoux Traverse: From the east, you can link these easy peaks together in a nice little loop.
- Davis Goat Traverse: Take the trail up to Davis, find a way down to Lake Terrance, then take the trail out north to Tucquala Meadows. You could stash bikes to bike the road back or hitch back.
- Easy Pass to Thunder Creek: A mostly downhill run. Climb three miles up to Easy Pass and then 5k of gradual downhill to Thunder Creek! Hitch back or stage a car or bike 20.
- Stiletto Copper Loop: Another great larch march, surprisingly quiet compared to other routes in the area. Could also do this by approaching from the Twisp River Road. My TR.
- Rock Tiffany Clark Traverse: Epic views abound from this 8000 ft ridge line high above the Methow Valley. It feels like you are looking at the Cascades from afar.
- Salmo Priest Loop: Giving some love to the NE corner of the state.
- Mother Loop: Start at Mowich Lake, descend to Carbon River, climb up to Spray Park, return to Mowich Lake. TR.
- Big Jim – Big Jay: The ridge line between these two peaks makes for a great little run. Enter/exit via Lake Augusta.
- Mt. Margaret Loop: This is a loop in the northern Mt. St. Helens area. Start and end at Coldwater Lake and run the ridge around Mt. Margaret and Coldwater Peak.
- Goat Lake Loop: This is the standard little loop in the Goat Rocks Wilderness, but there definitely are bigger routes you could piece together here with some XC travel.
Level 2: Big Day
A big day. This is the challenging, but not too painful, level.
- Gold Creek Orbit: Take the PCT from Snoqualmie all the way past Four Brothers. Forge a way off trail to Alta Mountain and exit the Rampart Ridge Backdoor.
- Excelsior Ridge Run: Start up the trail to Excelsior, then start running east. Could easily get to Yellow Aster Butte, Tomyhoi, and maybe even Winchester. Cruise back down Twin Lakes Road, possibly on a bike you stashed.
- Tyee Ridge Loop: One can make many loops on this high alpine ridge just outside Lake Wenatchee.
- Cascade Pass to Stehekin: Could eat lunch in Stehekin, then turn around and head right back to Cascade Pass.
- Stehekin to Holden: I am unsure of the ferry logistics, but could be cool to run from Stehekin up the PCT to Cloudy Pass, then down Railroad Creek into Holden.
- Devil’s Dome Loop: Classic North Cascades Loop with surprisingly little elevation gain (8-9k) given its 40+ miles.
- Loowit Trail: The ultra classic circumnavigation of Mt. St. Helens. My TR.
- Aix Adventure Run: There are great ridges and plentiful abandoned trails in this surprisingly rugged region of the Cascades. My TR. Another cool route would be to go from Aix to Bismarck on the ridge, then loop back on the ridge to the west to the trailhead.
- Crystal Mountain Orbit: Not particularly remote, but aesthetic. The idea is to summit every peak from Northway all the way to Norse, orbiting around the Crystal Mountain Ski Area.
- Northern Loop: This is a classic MRNP loop starting at Grand Park and crossing westward to the Carbon river, then return eastward on the Wonderland. A fun variation would be to go on easy off trail terrain over Sluksin and Old Desolate.
- Teanaway Traverse: This is one of the best ridge runs in the state, combining 9 peaks with great scrambling and ridges. My TR. There are shorter variations, starting and ending from the Beverly Trailhead.
- Adams Traverse: Up the north side of Adams, down the south, then back around the mountain. This is one of my favorites. My TR.
- Kettle Crest Trail: A great point to point trail through a very beautiful, under appreciated corner of the state.
- Mailbox to Granite Traverse: If treed ridge schwacking is your thing, this could be a great day for you. Then you will forever be able to brag to friends as you drive I90.
- Alpine Lakes High Route (Foss Lakes Loop): This classic loop hits many incredible alpine lakes and has some moderate off trail travel. Watch out for mosquitoes!
- Mt. Daniel Circumnavigation: Some stunning terrain encircling the crown peak of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Substantial off trail travel. TR.
- Fisher Outpost High Route: A very creative route through some of the most remote terrain in the North Cascades. TR.
- Hart’s to Rainy Pass: This 33 miles section of the PCT is absolutely stunning and extremely runnable. Best during larch madness. My TR.
- Cathedral Ampitheater Loop: A lollipop loop passing the Tungsten Mine and Cathedral Pass in the Eastern Pasayten. If you wanted to make this into a huge (level 3) day, take the Boundary Trail out to Horseshoe Basin and back over Windy Peak for a 55-60 mile day.
- Ladies Loop: Get away from the crowds of the Icicle with this great loop through the southern Chiwaukum. Can extend to the Chain Lakes. My TR.
- White Pass Pilot Ridge Loop: Wildflowers and Glacier Peak views galore on this 30-35 mile loop.
- Lost Loop: Head out Lost Ridge past Lake Byrne, up the PCT to Red Pass, then down North Fork Sauk and back along the road.
- Little Giant High Pass Loop: Plod through the fabled Napeequa and gawk at views of Glacier Peak. Trails are rather primitive in the Napeequa. My TR. You could do a variation by going through Louie Creek Basin and over Berge.
- Spider Gap Buck Creek Loop: This might be the quintessential Glacier Peak Wilderness route with well maintained trails, glacial lakes, wildflowers, and lofty peaks. My TR.
- Little Giant Spider Loop: Combine the best of the previous two routes for an epic route over Little Giant, High, Buck Creek, Suiattle, Cloudy Pass and Spider Gap. In my opinion, this is THE BEST SUB 50 MILE TRAIL RUN IN THE COUNTRY. During the peak of fall colors, it is simply unbeatable. My TR.
- Triple Rainbow High Route: Much of this route is not runnable, but it goes through some spectacular, remote feeling larch country. It will make you forget you are even in the Cascades. My TR.
- Copper Ridge Loop: I tend to think this route is a little overrated, but I’ll include it here.
- Devil’s Backbone Ridge Run: Surprisingly high ridge trails on the cusp of the Entiat and Chelan. Melts out early. Only downside is you gotta share the trails with bikers. My TR.
- North Fork Entiat Run: Here is my proposed route: North Fork Entiat Trail to Graham to Pyramid, off trail to Grouse Pass, then back along the North Fork Entiat Trail. You could also go over Saska Pass and back over Duncan Ridge and get real sendy, but watch for blowdowns.
- Billy Goat Loop (Pasayten): Start at the Billy Goat Trailhead, out to the Hidden Lakes, back over Dollar Watch and Three Fools Pass. If you can find a way to incorporate Ashnola Basin, do. A lot of this area burned a few years ago, but I think it has been logged out. As always with the Pasayten, make sure to check trail conditions before you go.
- Hart of the Pasayten: A full value Pasayten Experience. Beginning at Slate Pass, go downhill to the valley floor of the Middle Fork Pasayten. Up over Tamarack, Ptarmigan, Dot, and Lago. Incredibly wild. My TR. You could make this loop bigger by going out on the PCT from Harts Pass to Windy Pass.
- Grand Loop: This is one of the best trail runs anywhere, period. 43 miles and 13k gain will kick your butt, but the wildflowers and views in the Olympics are incredible. My TR. An interesting point to point variation would be to continue down the Dosewallups, climb to Constance Pass, go over Marmot Pass, and out.
- Northern Baileys Traverse: Start at Sol Duc, go up to High Divide, do the Northern Baileys, out Dodger Ridge, down to the Elwha. In late summer, this route is completely snow free and non technical.
Level 3: Run of a Lifetime
These routes each could be the run of a lifetime. Some are theoretical, so follow my ideas at your own risk.
- Trans Cascadia: There are a few different east-west Cascade routes that I could see being fun:
- Trans North Cascades: Start at Hannegan, cross Whatcom Pass and run down to Little Beaver. Pull out your inflatable or coordinate a Ross Lake Water Taxi and cross the lake. Follow Ross Lake south until you branch off to the trail that climbs up to Devil’s Dome. Intersect the PCT at Holman Pass and trot down to Hart’s Pass. If you wanted to truly cross the bulk of the Cascades, Pasayten included, I would descend to the Middle Fork Pasayten from Holman Pass, climb over the Tattoosh Buttes, pass the Hidden Lakes, start up East Fork Pasayten. Then I would do a short XC section to get into Whistler Basin and connect to the Boundary Trail around Pevee Pass. Then take the Boundary Trail through Cathedral Pass all the way to Horseshoe Basin. Woweee this would be amazing! Are you excited? I’m excited!
- Trans North Central Cascades: Start at Suiattle, climb to Cloudy Pass, descend to Holden, get a ferry across the lake, and climb up to Fish Creek Pass in the Chelan Sawtooth and exit east.
- Trans Alpine Lakes: Enter via the Middle Fork Snoqualmie to Bear Lake, then connect to the Alpine Lakes High Route. Cross Hinman and get to Dip Top Lake and Jade Lake. Head to Robin Lakes and Klonoqua Lakes and then descend down to the Icicle Creek. Climb to Frosty and Ladies Pass and then run out via Lake Augusta and Hatchery Creek.
- Western Pasayten Tour: This one has a reasonable car shuttle or even downhill bike connector. Start on the east bank of Ross Lake and begin the Devil’s Dome Loop by climbing up to Jackita Ridge. At Devil’s Pass, branch off to Holman Pass on the PCT and then take the PCT all the way back to Rainy Pass, possibly dipping off early at East Creek. Then cruise down highway 20 on your bike back to the start.
- Chelan Sawtooth Summit Trail: Luke and Patrick did this incredible run along the entire Chelan Sawtooth Summit Trail. They took a ferry up to Stehekin and then ran the trails nearly all the way back to the town of Chelan. Incredible route. Their TR.
- Wonderland Trail: The ultra classic circumnavigation around Mt. Rainier. It might not be creative, but you gotta do it. Eventually.
- Snow Lake to Snow Lake: This UPWC route has gained popularity. It covers some great terrain from one Snow Lake to another Snow Lake, crossing the heart of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. See the route page.
- Complete Bailey Range Traverse: The Bailey Range Traverse is perhaps the quintessential high route in the Olympics. It is a long alpine ridge with tons of sidehilling, snow travel, and incredible view of Olympus. Completing it in a single push would be an incredible accomplishment for the rugged mountain runner.
- Trans Olympic: I have a few different Trans Olympic ideas:
- East-West Trans Olympics: When I was doing the Grand Loop this summer, I met Isaiah H doing an incredible trans Olympic run. His proposed route was Marmot Pass to Constance Pass to Hayden Pass to Appleton Pass to Bogachiel to Hoh River Trail.
- North-South Trans Olympics: There are no connector trails to enable this, but here is a proposed route. Start at Obstruction Point, cross Grand Pass, Cameron Pass, Lost Pass, and Hayden Pass. Now the real fun begins. Find a way over Sentinel Peak and up the Eel Glacier and down the Anderson Glacier. Then a long run out the Enchanted Valley. The off trail section here is pretty serious and requires glacier expertise.
- Glacier Peak Circumnavigation: Luke and Ben did an incredible 100+ mile loop around Glacier Peak many years back, staying completely on trail. See their TR. Personally, I would have gone for a tighter loop, going over High Pass through the Napeequa. The tightest, most aesthetic circumnavigation would be to go down the Honeycomb Glacier, over Butterfly Pass, and up to High Pass in the Napeequa. However, this requires serious glacier travel and falls outside the scope of a “run”. For more information on this route, see my TR.
- Entiat Super Tour: Start at the North Fork Entiat, go over Grouse Pass, Saska Pass, and into the main fork of the Entiat. At the head of the Entiat Valley, climb over the ridge between Fernow and Bucksin into Copper Creek. One could regroup at Holden and then climb up to Cloudy Pass, around to Buck Creek Pass and exit to Trinity. One could also connect from Buck Creek Pass to many other larger routes like the Glacier Peak Circumnavigation for a super Glacier Peak Wilderness Tour.
- PCT Section J: Another ultra classic. Many people complete this route from Snoqualmie to Stevens Pass each summer, but that does not diminish the level of accomplishment.
- Old Meets New PCT: My friend Chris did this route a few years back. He started on the new PCT from Snoqualmie Pass until branching off towards Dutch Miller Gap. Then he took the old PCT down the Middle Fork to Goldmeyer and climbed up to Red Pass and back to Snoqualmie Pass. It is a deceptively long route.
- Ptarmigan Traverse: Most would consider this a multi-day mountaineering route, but it can be done safely in a day by runners with a strong mountaineering background. The scenery is, mile for mile, as good as any route in the lower 48. But that’s partially because the miles won’t come as quickly as trail miles… My TR.
- Alpine Lakes Crest Traverse: This route is very similar in nature to the Ptarmigan, but less popular. It features less side hilling and more fall line (more ups and downs). In my opinion, the terrain feels equally remote and stunning compared to the Ptarmigan, which is surprising considering the starting point is Snoqualmie Pass. My TR.
Wow that is a lot of ideas! Someday I hope to complete most of those routes, but I know the list will just keep growing as I have new idea and that is the way it should be. Please take the time to research routes that interest you, tweak them, and make them their own. Creativity is an essential part of the mountain experience.
As a sport, I feel like we are reaching an inflection point. More than ever before, runners are the mountain athletes who are pushing boundaries and redefining what is possible. Here in Washington, there are so many possibilities for epic adventure runs, encompassing experiences that were previously unthinkable. I hope this list can inspire others to explore, create, and adventure. Happy trails!