Long time, no post! I’ve been a little busy with a birthday trip and illnesses so hiking has fallen a bit by the wayside. I had a few people tell me in person they missed reading though, so last weekend with gorgeous weather I decided it was time for some new content and to spend Mother’s Day with Mother Nature and Mama Boots.
With both of us fighting bum hips, my mom wanted something easy for our hike. She chose Thunder Knob, inside North Cascades National Park (celebrating its 50th Anniversary now!). This hike was advertised as perfect for kids or even for a quick break when driving on across the North Cascades Highway pass, so we figured it’d be perfect for our aching bodies–and easy this hike was. The drive was more of a slog than the hike! This quick 3.6 mile out-and-back hike offers stunning views and a surprising amount of solitude for its beauty and easiness.
The parking for this trail is across the highway from the Colonial Creek Campground, but if trailhead parking is full the campground has a large boat-launch parking area that might suffice for overflow parking. Pit toilets are at both lots, with a fully functioning bathroom available in the summer (typically post-Memorial Day) at the campground. Once you embark on the hike, the signage could be better. There’s a road you want to follow before a large rock field (which may or may not be under water), where you should keep an eye out for Thunder Knob signs or a bridge. Every year, snow melt floods Colonial Creek in this beginning area, so there isn’t much point in maintaining the trail here (WTA says they even remove the bridges for the winter to prevent damage), but twice my mom and I went ten or so feet in the wrong direction before realizing it due to this lack of clarity.
After crossing a couple bridges, enjoy the cool mossy area around you–in just a few dozen steps, the moss and cedars will entirely disappear and you’ll be in what feels like an entirely separate land. Pines and rocks take over, and temperatures rise as the cover of trees thins out. This hike is great because there are multiple stops with amazing viewpoints–and benches–along the way. The first rest stop deposits you right under Colonial Peak, in a stunning view. The earlier season meant the naked eye could still see avalanche chutes on the peak. A little farther along the trail, there was another rest area with two benches along a scenic marsh (water levels will vary depending on time of year). I was shocked at the lack of bugs near the marsh, but am sure with summer approaching they will soon be out in full force.
Not long after the marsh, you will arrive at the top. There are two separate areas at the top, one facing to the west(ish) and one more facing eastward. Both will offer stunning views of majestic Diablo Lake and snow-capped Cascade mountains. Diablo Lake, again depending on the time of year, can be a remarkable shade of blue, green, and any where between. This is a natural phenomenon (although the lake is actually a reservoir caused by damming) caused by glacial snow melt bringing silt with it down to the water’s edge. While the lake’s color on this day wasn’t the most breathtaking (I’ve seen it looking copper-green and an almost electric blue), I love it because every visit to the lake can feel new!
For me, as great at this hike was for many reasons, it was maybe a little too short and easy to justify the four-five hours in the car. However, if you are ever staying at North Cascades NP or driving through the area for other sites and hikes, it’s an easy one to tack on. I’m hoping to return to the park for more hikes soon!
Distance: 3.6 miles round-trip
Elevation: 635 feet according to WTA, well spread-out
Parking: No pass needed
Bathrooms: Pit toilet at trailhead