July is one of the best times to hike the Sauk Mountain Trail, just east of Mount Vernon, Washington. After a long and cold winter, even July might be too early for this hike, if you want to reach the best viewpoint. But this year, thanks to a mild winter and a warmer than usual summer, the third week in July was the perfect time to hike this scenic trail.
To get to the trailhead, exit highway 5 at highway 20 and head east. It’s always a good idea to stop at the ranger station in the town of Sedro Wooley to get the most current information on the trails. The staff are always up to date on trail and road conditions and they also offer great advice on all aspects of hiking in the Northern Cascades. They also provide excellent, free maps of the trails and a nice three dimensional display of the region’s mountains.
Just past the small town of Concrete and just before Rockport, look for the turn off called Sauk Mountain Drive. The gravel road has plenty of ruts, so it’s a good idea to drive a car with good clearance. It should take about thirty minutes to reach the parking lot at the trailhead where there’s a nice view of the valley and the blue-green Skagit River.
The trail starts off along the exposed side of the mountain that’s blanketed with colorful wildflowers this time of year. After a short and gentle ascent, be ready for the steeper climb with twenty-six switch backs. Although it’s uphill all the way, there are shady spots for a short rest and good views along the way. For most of the hike, there is the view below of the winding Skagit River and verdant farms. Once you get a bit higher on the trail, be sure to look north for a great view of snow-capped Mount Baker.
After the last switchback, the trail turns away from the southern views and you might find a bit of lingering snow. But the snow is resting on a wide, flat meadow with an easy trail running through the middle. On this hike we were greeted by the sharp whistles of a bold marmot sitting on a nearby rock. Just past the patch of snow there’s a nice tree and rock outcrops for a perfect shady lunch spot. You can look out towards the Cascade Range and look down on a small, turquoise-blue mountain lake.
After lunch, we hiked through some steeper patches of snow to reach the final trail that leads up to the highest viewpoint. Often, this final part of the trail is under the snow until much later in the season. If the snow has receded, there’s a narrow and fairly steep trail that climbs to a rocky outcrop, with plenty of space to admire the scenery. You will find a 360 degree view of Mount Baker to the north, the Cascade Range to the east, the Skagit Valley and San Juan Islands to the west and maybe Mount Rainier to the south. This part of the trail adds only about twenty minutes to the hike and is well worth it. But bring poles and bug spray.
Sauk Mountain has become a popular hike because of its beauty and accessibility, so even on a weekday, you won’t be alone. But the trail is long enough that you can enjoy the sounds of nature and a bit of solitude. In the middle of summer, it can get very hot on the mostly exposed trail so plan to start your hike early in the day and bring plenty of water and sunscreen—there’s no place to find water along the trail. However, even in the summer, there are usually some nice breezes blowing in from the west.
If you are ever visiting Anacortes, Mount Vernon or Bellingham, Washington, you won’t have to go far to enjoy the beauty of the Cascades with a day hike to Sauk Mountain.