Area: Chiwawa River

Length: 6.3

Elevation: 2800 +2150 -200

Condition: unnecessarily brushy

Solitude: moderately high to high

Appeal: medium

Features: river meanders, scenic isolated basin

Difficulty: moderately easy

Administered: USFS, Wenatchee River R.D.

Trailhead: Trinity

Connects to:
   Buck Creek
   Massie Lake
   Red Mountain

Guides: No

   Green Trails 113 Holden
   USGS Trinity
   USGS Suitattle Pass




For all practical purposes, the upper Chiwawa River has been forgotten. An easy valley trail leads northward from the end of the road to a classic high-Cascades alpine basin. While it is called a trail today, it was once a narrow gauge road, for moving scanty hauls of minerals and vast herds of sheep. Today, those activities offer too little economic return, and have been abandoned. You can pass miles along the wide gentle grade with relative ease. Given how easy this is to maintain, you can understand why the USFS has chosen to neglect trail maintenance and let the brush take over. As long as you understand the hazards and consequences, there are some unmatched opportunities.

Almost all of the foot traffic splits away onto the vastly popular Buck Creek access trail into the heart of the Glacier Peak area of the Pacific Crest Trail. At least, this was true while an intact foot bridge crossed the river. We will see how this plays out in the future.



The trail starts on the west side of the relatively large trailhead lot at Trinity, the end of the valley road. Go west about a hundred yards to a major foot bridge across Phelps Creek. On the other side, veer north and pass along the west edge of the toxic zone of the Trinity industrial works, passing a couple of soft wet areas and then gradually ramping back up to join the original road bed. Follow easily for 1.7 miles to the junction where the Buck Creek Trail splits off to the left — taking almost all foot traffic with it.

Stay to the right. About 100 yards past the junction, find one of the most serious and unnecessary cases of trail damage I have ever seen.

Deep gully cuts trail

trail damage

This is actually very dangerous, because you can't see how far back erosion has undercut the sides of the trail, and the gash is as deep as 7 feet in places, with ragged boulders at the bottom. Human feet must pass carefully and safely along the side.

The trail becomes wilder beyond that point. You will find some places where a healthy burn cut through part of this area from the Buck Creek fire in 2016, other places that were untouched. Encroaching brush and trees are better in some places, worse in others.

trail damage

2.1 miles further, you pass left of a sheared-off large rock in timber. Just beyond on the left, you can find the a side route to Massey Lake (for hard core and somewhat masochistic travelers). This can be a useful place to stop for water if necessary.

trail damage

In 0.6 more miles, the road grade veers to the right, while the Chiwawa River trail, now a true trail and very pleasant one, continues on a more gentle course to the left.

The tall pines become sparse ones, as the trail enters partially open alpine meadows. Follow about 1.0 miles to camps where the river begins to branch into numerous meandering tributaries.

trail damage

If you have a high tolerance for pain, you can barefoot across the tributary stream straight ahead to reach additional camp possibilities. From here, wander along the right edge of the meadow, and scramble up and to the right to peer into the high basin which is the source of the Chiwawa River, often featuring pockets of snow through the end of the summer.

A couple words of warning: the trout you are likely to see in the crystal river waters are probably rare and protected bull trout or dolly varden trout. These pristine waters are one of their few remaining spawning grounds. If you do fish for them, please use a barbless hook and "hook and release" only, as there is no legal bag limit.

One of the reason trout can succeed here is the abundant population of mosquitoes, which like the warm days of summer even more than you do. If you can't tolerate the bugs, or can't visit in appropriately cool season, this might not be your first choice for camping.