Cutthroat Lakes and Bald Mountain
(Walt Bailey Trail / Mallardy Ridge Trail)

Trail Highlights:Lake views; panoramic views; wildflowers; autumn foliage
Round-trip Distance:6.80 miles / 11.00 km (Cutthroat Lakes)
10.00 miles / 16.00 km (Cutthroat Lakes and Bald Mountain)
Location:Morning Star Natural Resources Conservation Area,
Mountain Loop Highway / South Fork Stillaguamish River Valley, Washington North Cascades

Ancestral lands of the stuləgʷábš, or, Stillaguamish
  • From State Route 92 in Granite Falls, Washington, turn left onto the Mountain Loop Highway
  • Proceed 17.90 miles / 28.80 km
  • Just before a red truss bridge (Bridge 537), turn right onto Mallardy Road, per signage for "Mallardy Road"
  • Proceed 1.30 miles / 2.10 km
  • Turn right onto Forest Road 4032, signed for "Walt Bailey T.H."
  • Proceed 5.60 miles / 9.00 km to trailhead at end of road

    Forest Road 4032 receives little maintenance and may be high centered and potholed; be sure to check recent trip reports at the links below for current conditions.

  • Required Pass:

    Northwest Forest Pass or equivalent for U.S. Forest Service sites. (Although the trail enters the state-managed Morning Star Natural Resources Conservation Area, the trailhead lies within national forest.)

    Additional Trail Info:Washington Trails Association
    U.S. Forest Service

    This page profiles the trail to Upper and Lower Cutthroat lakes, located in Snohomish County, Washington; the single lake of a similar name, Cutthroat Lake, is also found in the North Cascades, but on the mountains' eastern slopes in Okanogan County, Washington.

    The Walt Bailey Trail’s serene lakes, ponds, and tarns are its signature feature.
    Walt Bailey Trail,

    The Walt Bailey Trail climbs through alternating woodland and bogland along Mallardy Ridge to a pair of placid lakes set amid a labyrinthine network of tranquil reflection pools.  The Cutthroat Lakes’ “basin” is more of an upland plateau riddled with ponds, tarns, and bogs and bounded on the south by a ridge of peaks stretching westward from Bald Mountain, just above the lakes, to the distant Mount Pilchuck.  It is no wonder that water spatters the landscape:  just beyond Bald Mountain, the much larger and deeply delved Spada Lake Basin traps incoming coastal moisture that creates one of the wettest regions in the North Cascades.

    Little-maintained since it was built, the rugged trail is rocky, root-writhen, and often rain-slickened throughout.  Hikers who prefer trekking poles may find them especially useful on this trail.  The trail climbs moderately to steeply, but, once the lakelands are attained, rewards the diehard hiker with a tranquil stroll along a network of paths that entwines the patchwork of lakes and ponds.  Upon reaching the lake basin, head generally right to reach Lower Cutthroat Lake and generally left to reach Upper Cutthroat Lake.  The trail to Bald Mountain switchbacks directly upward from the east end of Upper Cutthroat Lake before arcing westward to the summit.

    The trailhead is reached by a very narrow, one-lane road, often with steep drop-offs along one side.  Drive slowly around corners and keep note of the many small pull-outs along the way, should you need to back into one to permit an oncoming vehicle to pass. Expect to encounter a few, but not many other hardy hikers in this backcountry stretch of wilderness.

    The moist trailside and lake basin are verdant during the summer months.  Blueberries (Vaccinium spp.) are abundant throughout the lake basin and up the slopes of Bald Mountain, providing a bounty of summer fruits and a flush of warmly hued autumn leaves.

    The trail that bears his name was built at the inspiration and insistence of Walt Bailey, an active member of the local community who led its construction while in his 70s. His handiwork provides opportunity to experience a truly unique environment and the relative solitude of the high backcountry.

    The trailside terrain alternates between close forest and lush, boggy meadows. Walt Bailey Trail, Washington.
    Often slick from the area’s abundant rainfall, treacherously exposed roots and worn, uneven stone are the typical surface of this undermaintained trail. Walt Bailey Trail, Washington.
    Even before the trail reaches the alpine lakeland that is its destination, it passes numerous small reflection pools along the way. Walt Bailey Trail, Washington.
    Frogs are abundant along the trailside’s many bogs, ponds, and streams. This one is likely either a Cascades frog (Rana cascadae) or a northern red-legged frog (R. aurora), which are virtually indistinguishable from one another when viewed from above. The underside of the Cascades frog will typically be yellowish and that of the northern red-legged frog predictably reddish, although the extent of the pigmentation can vary and individuals of each species can sometimes exhibit coloration similar to that of the other. Walt Bailey Trail, Washington.
    The trailside’s moist woodland litter also hosts a variety of fanciful fungi — and mushroom-mimicking lichens, as in the upper right photo, which is likely the lichen Lichenomphalia umbellifera.
    Walt Bailey Trail, Washington.
    Near its midpoint, the trail passes through a massive meadow strewn with debris and swathed in ferns and wildflowers. Walt Bailey Trail, Washington.
    Just beyond the midsection meadow, the trail encounters two large boulderfields where the path is easily lost among the stones. Look for small cairns built by earlier hikers to guide the way. Walt Bailey Trail, Washington.
    As the trail climbs out of the bogland, glimpses of the panorama to come begin to appear, including Vesper Peak (center), Morning Star Peak (center right), and Del Campo Peak (right). Walt Bailey Trail, Washington.
    Upon reaching the lake basin, the trail levels as it begins to meander about the many rock-rimmed tarns that surround the lakes. Walt Bailey Trail, Washington.
    Lower Cutthroat Lake occupies one of the terraces in the stair-stepped lake basin. Upper Cutthroat Lake lies just beyond the ridge above the lower lake’s eastern shore. Walt Bailey Trail, Washington.
    An array of summer wildflowers dots the wayside woodlands, bogs, and lakeshores, including, first column from left, pink mountain-heaths (Phyllodoce empetriformis) (top), white heather (Cassiope mertensiana) (center), copperbushes (Elliottia pyroliflora) (lower left corner left), and partridgefoots (Luetkea pectinata) (lower left corner right); second column, Pacific coralroot orchids (Corallorhiza mertensiana) (top) and western, or, Sitka columbines (Aquilegia formosa) (bottom); third column, slender bog orchids (Platanthera stricta) (top) and Columbia lilies (Lilium columbianum) (bottom); and, fourth column, subalpine spiraeas (Spiraea splendens) (top), subalpine fleabanes (Erigeron glacialis) (center), broadleaf arnicas (Arnica latifolia) and broadleaf lupines (Lupinus latifolius) (lower right corner left), and alpine speedwells (Veronica wormskjoldii) (lower right corner right). Walt Bailey Trail, Washington.
    Upper Cutthroat Lake’s placid waters create a dreamy, abstract image of the surrounding lakeside.
    Walt Bailey Trail, Washington.
    Autumn warms the lake basin with caramel hues. Upper Cutthroat Lake, Walt Bailey Trail, Washington.
    Most of the lakesides’ colorful autumn foliage is borne by the blueberries (Vaccinium spp.) that cloak the slopes and provide luscious, late-summer fruits. Walt Bailey Trail, Washington.
    The trail to Bald Mountain climbs from Upper Cutthroat Lake’s far eastern shore, providing glimpses of the lake’s bonsai-tipped islet and the mountains emerging on the horizon. Walt Bailey Trail, Washington.
    As the trail climbs the mostly forested slope above Upper Cutthroat Lake, beware of an almost hidden fork in the trail, marked only by a fallen sign that faces away from the incoming hiker. The trail to Bald Mountain leads downward to the right. The left fork, with a few branches scattered across it to indicate that it is not the proper route, leads approximately 0.50 miles/0.80 km to impressive mountain views before disappearing into brush. Old maps indicate that it was an early route to the lake basin and mountain when the Walt Bailey Trail was first constructed.
    Walt Bailey Trail, Washington.
    Beyond the lake basin, Bald Mountain rears its stony pate. From here, the trail curves around and approaches the summit from the mountain’s opposite side. Walt Bailey Trail, Washington.
    From the upland meadows along the trail to Bald Mountain, sweeping views unfold across the now distant Upper Cutthroat Lake and on to the horizon topped by the side-by-side peaks of Three Fingers and Whitehorse Mountain.
    Walt Bailey Trail, Washington.
    As the trail wheels around to Bald Mountain’s southern flank, Spada Lake comes into view far below and, on the horizon, Mt. Rainier. Spada Lake was created when the Sultan River was dammed to provide drinking water and electric power to Snohomish County, Washington. On the clearest of days, the skyscrapers of Seattle, Washington are visible to the far west between shiny ribbons of Lake Washington and Puget Sound. Walt Bailey Trail, Washington.
    Approximately 1.50 miles/2.40 km from Upper Cutthroat Lake, a short, unmarked bootpath zigzags upward to Bald Mountain’s summit. Here again, look for cairns built by other hikers to guide the way. Walt Bailey Trail, Washington.
    A short scramble across the bouldered mountaintop leads to a viewpoint at a notch in the massive stones on Bald Mountain’s summit (here, on the left) and, along the way, affords increasingly grand views of Spada Lake, Mt. Rainier, and the surrounding North Cascades. Walt Bailey Trail, Washington.
    The boulder-framed, cliff’s-edge viewpoint on the tip of Bald Mountain provides a soaring vista of the Cutthroat Lakes far below and Three Fingers and Whitehorse Mountain far beyond. White Chuck Mountain, sometimes confused with Whitehorse Mountain, rises on the far right and is identified by its double, splayed peaks. Walt Bailey Trail, Washington.
    Beyond the side trail to its summit, Bald Mountain arches its rugged spine. The trail, a remnant of the old route to Ashland Lakes, appears to continue, but soon disappears into the bush. The “Location” link above provides directions to the current trailhead for Ashland Lakes, as well as a link to a map of the Morning Star Natural Resources Conservation Area that preserves both the Ashland and Cutthroat lakes. Walt Bailey Trail, Washington.

    © 2016-2024 Anthony Colburn. Images may not be used or reproduced in any form without express written consent.

    2 thoughts on “Cutthroat Lakes and Bald Mountain
    (Walt Bailey Trail / Mallardy Ridge Trail)

    1. Kelly McAllister says:

      The frog is a Cascades Frog. I don’t need to see the underlegs. It’s got that typical Cascades Frog look. I’m glad to see it as this area is close to the zone where Cascades Frogs start to drop off the landscape to be replaced by Columbia Spotted Frogs (Rana luteiventris). At least, that’s my memory. The actual zone in question may be a bit further north but it’s a question of which species dominates those high elevation meadows. Thanks for the great pictures.

      1. HesperosFlown says:

        Thanks for the ID! I thought so, too, but, not being a biologist, I’m always careful about IDs. There were many of them in the area. Thanks for the information about ranges and Columbia spotted frogs, too — the complex factors that create individual species’ “neighborhoods” are fascinating. Glad you stopped by and enjoyed!

        ~ HesperosFlown



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