Mount Catherine

Trail Highlights:Panoramic, mountain, and lake views
Round-trip Distance:4.10 miles / 6.60 km (Cold Creek trailhead)
3.20 miles / 5.20 km (Forest Road 9070 trail crossing)
Location:Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest,
Snoqualmie Pass / Upper Yakima Basin, Washington Central Cascades

Ancestral lands of the Kittitas
  • From east- or westbound Interstate 90, take Exit 54
  • From Exit 54, turn right from eastbound/left from westbound onto State Route 906 (road name may not be posted) and proceed to the intersection of State Route 906 and Hyak Drive
  • Proceed straight onto Hyak Drive
  • Proceed 0.50 miles/0.80 km to end of Hyak Drive and turn right onto Treatment Plant Road/Forest Road 9070
  • Proceed 0.50 miles/0.80 km to a broad fork and take the left fork
  • Proceed 1.00 mile/1.60 km to a "T" intersection and continue straight (right)
  • Proceed 1.30 miles/2.10 km to the Cold Creek Trail trailhead and small parking area (for a total of 3.30 miles/5.30 km from the State Route 906/Hyak Drive intersection), which is marked by an easily missed sign to left of a sharp right turn (the small pull-out for parking is on the right immediately after the turn)
    -- OR --
  • Proceed 3.00 miles/4.80 km to the trail's intersection with Forest Road 9070 at Windy Pass, marked on the right by a small sign indicating "1348" (for a total of 5.0 miles/8.00 km from the State Route 906/Hyak Drive intersection) (Forest Road 9070 is wide enough to accommodate parking along the road)

    Note: Pavement ends shortly after Hyak Drive turns onto Treatment Plant Road/Forest Road 9070. Watch for potholes and washouts.
  • Required Pass:Northwest Forest Pass or equivalent for U.S. Forest Service sites
    Additional Trail Info:U.S. Forest Service (via the Cold Creek Trailhead)
    Washington Trails Association (via the Forest Road 9070 trail crossing)

    Mount Catherine’s near perfectly conical pitch is evident in this view from nearby Silver Peak. The trail zigzags up Mount Catherine’s western slope, shown here on the left. Silver Peak Trail, Washington.

    Looking for a quick, hard hike rewarded by a mountaintop panorama just before the elevation gain becomes too intense?  Mount Catherine is your answer.

    There are two, somewhat confusing starting options for this trail. The trail officially starts at the Cold Creek Trail trailhead. About 0.70 miles/1.10 km from the trailhead, the Mount Catherine Trail branches right from the Cold Creek Trail and continues almost another 1.00 mile/1.60 km to Forest Road 9070, merging with and following it north (left) for approximately 0.10 miles/0.16 km before continuing on the other side of the road. The trail’s upper section on the opposite side of the road is marked only by a small sign with the number “1348.”  Most hikers forego the lower trail and take Forest Road 9070 by vehicle or by foot all the way to the trail crossing.  (Beyond the Cold Creek Trail trailhead, Forest Road 9070 is often impassable to vehicles without high clearance, forcing many to take the lower trail or walk the road to the trail crossing, which adds about 1.00 mile/1.60 km to the round-trip distance.  If returning via the lower trail, do note that it is not marked where it departs Forest Road 9070; from the upper trail, remember to walk south — left — down the road approximately 0.10 miles/0.16 km and look for the lower trail ducking into forest on the right.)

    A parade of peaks lines Mount Catherine’s northern view, including, from left to right in this keyhole view, Snoqualmie Mountain, Lundin Peak, Big Snow Mountain, Red Mountain, and Kendall Peak.
    Mount Catherine Trail, Washington.

    The lower trail ambles through mostly old-growth forest along Cold Creek and its north fork until it reaches Forest Road 9070.  This section of the trail is little used and may be somewhat overgrown.  After crossing Forest Road 9070, the trail’s inexorable pitch begins in earnest and continues to the summit with few breaks.  Because Windy Pass, the low saddle between Mount Catherine and Silver Peak, was recently logged, the woodland surrounding the trail near the road still resembles a clear-cut, but does afford limited views of some surrounding peaks.  Old-growth forest resumes after approximately 0.50 miles/0.80 km from the road.  Both sections of the trail are rocky and rooted throughout; furthermore, the stony summit block is reached by either of two short (20-foot/6-meter), earthen scrambles — be prepared with the traction gear of your choice for such terrain.  The upper trail can be popular on weekends and holidays, but delightfully serene on less visited weekdays.  Other than the occasional vehicle passing on Forest Road 9070, little mars the woodland quietude on either the upper or lower trail.

    From the lower trail, Cold Creek is seldom far from sight or sound. Cold Creek Trail, Washington.
    The upper trail begins at Windy Pass and branches to the right off of Forest Road 9070, marked only by a small sign bearing the number “1348.” Because Windy Pass was recently logged, the upper trail’s lower elevations are bounded by young, relatively open second-growth forest. Mount Catherine Trail, Washington.
    Above Windy Pass, Mount Catherine’s old-growth forest persists, layering the trailside from the carpeted understory to the lofty, lichen-clad giants overhead. Mount Catherine Trail, Washington.
    The trail reaches its destination atop Mount Catherine’s treeless summit block, which affords nearly 360-degree views. Mount Catherine Trail, Washington.
    Mount Catherine’s summit views include the headlong flight back down to the Cold Creek valley where the climb began far below. For obvious reasons, great care should be exercised along the peak’s precipice.
    Mount Catherine Trail, Washington.
    To the north and east, views skim the treetops to Cascade mountaintops beyond, including, left to right across the horizon, Granite Mountain, Kaleetan Peak, Chair Peak, Denny Mountain, Snoqualmie Mountain, Red Mountain, Mount Thompson, and Chimney Rock. Mount Catherine Trail, Washington.
    On a clear day, Mt. Rainier features on the southwestern horizon. Mount Catherine Trail, Washington.
    Completing the mountaintop vista, Keechelus Lake lies amid wooded folds to the east. Although Keechelus Lake is a natural lake, its volume is regulated by a dam to provide irrigation for the Yakima River Valley far away. Its name is derived from an indigenous phrase meaning “few fish” (as opposed to that of nearby Lake Kachess, which means “many fish”). Mount Catherine Trail, Washington.
    In summer, butterflies flock to Mount Catherine’s barren summit block in what is believed to be a courtship behavior called “hilltopping,” by which the highest-flying males win discerning mates. These are Colonia checkerspots (Euphydryas editha colonia), one of many subspecies of Edith’s checkerspots. Look closely at the specimen in the upper right photo and you will see that even the checkerspot’s large, compound eyes are checker-spotted!
    Mount Catherine Trail, Washington.

    © 2020-2024 Anthony Colburn. Images may not be used or reproduced in any form without express written consent.


    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.