Dirtyface Lookout

Dirtyface Mountain is a prominent, 6,200-foot summit that sits beside Lake Wenatchee’s northwestern shore. Since arriving in Leavenworth back in March, we’ve taken Sanchez to the lake at least two or three afternoons a week. With the park absolutely devoid of people in the off/shoulder season, she’s had the entire North Campground and adjacent beach to herself for weeks. Each time we’ve visited, Stephan and I have found ourselves staring up at the peak – a dramatic backdrop for an already gorgeous mountain lake. After two months of yearning to hike Dirtyface, and watching anxiously as the snow sluggishly receded, we were finally able to make it to the top on the penultimate Saturday in May.

Although there were still several feet of snow blanketing the peak above 5,000 feet when we hiked, Dirtyface is known for being one of the earliest high trails in the Central Cascades to melt out each year. The Dirtyface Lookout (#1500) Trailhead is just off Lake Wenatchee Hwy (WA-207), about thirty minutes north of downtown Leavenworth.  An 8.5-mile out-and-back with around 4,000 feet of elevation gain, the trail tops out at a false summit just over 6,000 feet in elevation. The site was once home to an old fire lookout, originally built in 1920 and later replaced in 1957. Unfortunately, the updated cabin burned to the ground in 1975, just before it was slated to be relocated to nearby Alpine Lookout.

After lusting after the mountain from Sanchez’s favorite lakeshore retreat week after week, we were beyond stoked to finally hit the trail. We didn’t have a whole lot of expectation going into the hike, however it turned out to be a really fantastic outing. Dirtyface had pretty much everything a trail could offer – beautiful spring wildflowers, a cascading waterfall, a fun snowy climb to (and glissading down from) the top, and stellar views of Lake Wenatchee, Fish Lake, Glacier Peak, and the alpine peaks out along Nason Ridge.

The trail starts off with a series of switchbacks that zigzag through a lush forest burgeoning with wildflowers. Along the first section of trail where there’s a little more sun exposure, paintbrushes and lupine flourish. After just a mile on the trail, a short spur leads to a small waterfall with the first views looking out over Lake Wenatchee.

From the waterfall, the canopy becomes thicker and the terrain wetter. There was an abrupt transition in the wildflowers we spotted, with small mountain violets and fairy bells (drops of gold) now blossoming in the more sheltered sections. We even spotted a handful of elegant mariposa lilies that looked like they’d just come into to bloom.

After about two miles the trail steepens considerably. As we climbed through the last swaths of forest at around 4,000 feet, the ground was suddenly blanketed with trillium. I’d never seen so many in one place before, and some of the blooms were just massive.

As we neared 5,000 feet, we began to encounter some spotty snow that quickly transitioned to several feet of snowpack. With the trail now completely covered and indiscernible, we headed on a straight line to the top. Having lost/abandoned the switchbacks, it made for a pretty steep climb, gaining the last 1,000 vertical feet in just over half a mile. It wasn’t overly slick as the temperature was fairly warm (we managed just fine without putting on our spikes), but it was definitely more work with the shifting snow. I think that last half mile to the top took us a solid half hour. Looking back at our final tracked distance, we were surprised to find out we’d shaved almost a full mile off the hike by way of this steeper approach.

When we finally reached the highpoint (6,071’ per my Garmin), we were kind of blown away by the panoramas. We expected the bird’s-eye view of Lake Wenatchee, but we weren’t prepared for how gorgeous and abundant the surrounding peaks would be. To the west, we could see Dirtyface Mountain’s true summit (Dirtyface Peak, 6,243’) across a pretty gnarly looking ridgeline with a second false summit (note: there’s no trail to either peak beyond the lookout). Just beyond Dirtyface Peak, we got a peek-a-boo view of Glacier Peak’s soaring 10,541-foot volcanic crest. Luckily, a couple of scurrying chipmunks were enough to hold Sanchez’s attention while Stephan and I sat and soaked up all the stunning scenery.

We thought the trip down might be a bit of a slog on all the steep snow, but some fun glissading changed all that. The warm sun had made the snow fairly soft and slow, and it was perfect for a little controlled slide down the hillside. Even better? The few hikers who descended just before us had left some beautiful tracks to slide down on. Sanchez wasn’t so sure about all this ‘fun’ her people were having, but she was ever the good sport sprinting alongside Stephan (and was handsomely rewarded with gullet bites once we regained the trail).

Overall, Dirtyface wildly exceeded our expectations. It really did have everything, and being able to slide down on our asses like we did when we were kids in New England made it even more fun. Better still… it was also the first mountain trail we’ve ever had that’s been just fifteen minutes from our doorstep. It was so nice to just hike without the three or four hours of driving roundtrip. If it wasn’t our last day in Leavenworth, I think this might have become a weekly outing for us. It was by no means epic in the grand scheme of hikes, but there was just something about this trail I really loved.

Total distance: 7.8 miles
Elevation gain: 3,950 feet

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