Area: Crystal Mountain
Hike Type: Overnight Pass: Overnight Camping Permit and Norse Peak
Wilderness use permit required. Free, self-issued at trailhead.
Distance: 15.8 mi Loop Duration: 2 days Difficulty Level: Strenuous
Elevation Start: 2,400 Elevation End: 6,400 Elevation Gain: 4,000
Snow-Free: Late-June – October  

Situated within the shadows of 6,856-foot Norse Peak, Big Crow Basin is an alpine wonderland of lush meadows and parkland forest flush with wildlife. Bears, deer, mountain goats, and marmots are abundant here. Elk are prolific! Come in the fall for the bugle and experience an evening that is hauntingly beautiful.

Set up camp in the basin and explore nearby lakes, ridges and high open summits granting views of Rainier and nearly everything else within a 50-mile radius. And all the while as you traipse through this wild backcountry, you may have to remind yourself that Crystal Mountain with all of its hubbub lies just on the other side of Norse Peak.

Big Crow Basin is indeed a destination within itself, but consider extending your trip to both Goat and Basin Lakes. Straddling opposite sides of the Cascade Crest, these lakes offer excellent camping opportunities and superb wildlife watching. Both Goat and Basin Lakes tend to be lightly visited by hikers, too. But come fall they can get a fair amount of visitation from horse packers and hunters.

Big Crow Basin, Goat Lake, and Basin Lake are all protected within the 52,000-acre Norse Peak Wilderness, located just to the northeast of Mount Rainier. Lying within the mountain’s rain-shadow, this wilderness is influenced not only be lighter precipitation than what falls north and west, but by forest fires as well. Past fires have greatly influenced the area’s vegetation leaving open forests favoring large game.

Past human activity, particularly mining has also left some marks on the land too with old mines, bores, and structures scattered about in the sprawling wilderness. And if you don’t stumble upon some of the many mining relics littering the landscape, passing through place names like Cement Basin, Bullion Basin, and Pickhandle Gap will certainly remind you of the area’s past human activity.

From the trailhead, cross the road and walk up gravel FR 410 for .2 mile to the Norse Peak Trailhead. Now, start climbing via a series of long dusty switchbacks. The forest cover is scrappy, not providing much shade. Get an early start to beat the sun. In early summer, the way is lined with lupine and other brilliant wildflowers. Continue ascending, traversing resplendent meadows granting excellent views of Mount Rainier rising from behind Crystal Mountain. At 3.8 miles, you’ll reach a junction (e. 5,900 feet). The way straight heads 2.0 miles to Norse Peak and a more direct trail into the Big Crow Basin. The views from 6,856-foot Norse Peak are superb, so plan on bagging this summit at some point on your outing. If you want the fastest way to Big Crow Basin continue straight for 1.3 miles-then take a trail left dropping several hundred feet in about a mile to the basin. If you want the wilder, less-traveled route, bear left here.

Climb steeply for .3 mile to a 6,100-foot gap with good views north of Castle Mountain and Goat Lake below cradled in a secluded basin. Now losing elevation, traverse the lake basin (where snow may linger-use caution) across meadows and talus slopes. At about 4.7 miles from your start reach an unmarked trail junction. The path left drops to Goat Lake (el. 5,570 feet) with good camps and lots of elk activity. Spend the night here or push on to Big Crow Basin following the main trail.

Traverse more talus slopes and climb to another gap. Then wander across meadows reaching the Pacific Crest Trail at 6,150-foot Barnard Saddle at 5.7 miles. Now in the Norse Peak Wilderness, turn right and hike south along the PCT across spectacular meadows punctuated with showy rock gardens. Be sure to take your time soaking in the views east to craggy Fifes Peak and the verdant Crow Creek Valley. At 6.7 miles from your start, come to a junction with the Crow Lake Trail. Take it a short distance dropping into Big Crow Basin where you’ll find an old shelter and some good camps. Leave the shelter for the resident rodents, but do stake out a nice tent site. Elk are prolific in these high meadows (el. 6,100 feet) at the headwaters of Crow Creek. In late September the basin comes alive with the bugling of randy bull elks.

The Crow Lake Trail continues east for 6.0 lonely miles to Crow Creek Lake. It makes for a good day trip from the basin, just save energy for the 1,600 foot climb on the return. The Crow Lake trail continues west here too, climbing 300 feet or to the Norse Peak Trail. This is the direct route to the basin, and your return route making for a nice loop variation.

For Basin Lake, continue south on the PCT wandering through the lush basin passing bubbling springs and creeks and lots of camping spots. At 7.4 miles reach another junction (el. 6,400 feet). The PCT continues straight along high open slopes granting excellent views of Crystal Mountain, the Silver Creek Valley and Mount Rainier. Feel free to roam it after setting up your tent at Basin Lake, which you reach by taking the trail left.

After .3 mile, come to yet another junction. The trail right, is the old PCT now called the Lake Basin Trail. From your camp, consider following this trail for three miles to its terminus on the PCT near Pickhandle Gap. From there you can make a loop returning north on the PCT. Be sure to scramble .25 mile up 6,470-foot Crown Point for supreme views of Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, Goat Rocks and American Ridge.

Basin Lake still awaits your arrival. Descend .5 mile across open meadows reaching the lovely lake (el. 5,825 feet) set beneath towering slopes of ancient volcanic rock and surrounded by meadow. Lots of good camps here. Lots of good wildlife viewing opportunities too! Look for elk feeding in the meadows, mountain goats up in the surrounding crags, and ground squirrels scurrying all over the basin.

When it’s time to hike out, retrace steps to the Crow Lake Trail junction and head left climbing out of the basin reaching a junction at a 6,400-foot shoulder after about a mile. Norse Peak’s 6,856-foot summit can be reached by following the trail left for .7 mile. Otherwise head right returning to your vehicle after 5.1 miles.

Special Rules: Wilderness rules in effect. Visit www.fs.fed.us/r6/mbs for information; No camping within 100 feet of Goat Lake and Basin Lake

Special concerns: Heavy horse use and popular hunting area

Trailhead directions: From Enumclaw head east on SR 410 for 32 miles turning left on the Crystal Mountain Road (just before the Mount Rainier National Park entrance). Continue for 4.2 miles to parking area for Norse Peak Trail on your right.

Craig Romano

Waypoints
Starting Point: 46.96442, -121.48349000000002
Notable Waypoints:

Trailhead: N 46° 57.864′, W 121° 29.009′
Goat Lake: N 46° 58.288′, W 121° 27.730′
Basin Lake: N 46° 57.261′, W 121° 26.371′


About The Author

Craig Romano

Since relocating from New Hampshire to Washington State in 1989, award winning guidebook author Craig Romano has thoroughly hiked the Evergreen State. He has logged over 17,000 miles on the trail from the San Juan Islands to the Salmo-Priest Wilderness. And he has hiked nearly every trail within Mount Rainier National Park, one of his absolute favorite places.

An avid hiker, Craig counts running, paddling, cycling, and protecting natural areas also among his passions. Content provider for Hikeoftheweek.com, Craig has also written for over two dozen publications. Author of nine guidebooks and co-author of four other books, Craig is one of the most prolific trails writers in the Northwest. He is currently working on 100 Classic Hikes in Washington (Mountaineers Books) which includes many Mount Rainier area hikes. His Columbia Highlands, Exploring Washington’s Last Frontier, was recognized in 2010 as a Washington Reads book for its contribution to Washington’s cultural heritage.

Visit him at http://CraigRomano.com and on Facebook at “Craig Romano Guidebook Author.”