Area: Chinook Pass
Hike Type: Dog-friendly Pass: Northwest Forest Pass
Distance: 4 mi RT Duration: 3 hrs Difficulty Level: Moderate
Elevation Start: 4,888 Elevation End: 6,011 Elevation Gain: 1,100
Snow-Free: July – Sept  

Though this hike is one of the most scenic hikes in the region the “getting” there takes a bit of mettle – thus, Noble Knob is seldom – if ever – crowded except, perhaps, on a sunny weekend.

It’s a long drive to an inconspicuous trailhead but more than worth the effort. There are in fact, a few ways to access this trail including the trailhead we accessed off Forest Road No. 7222. There is another trailhead at the end of the Corral Pass Road but keep in mind this road necessitates a vehicle with high clearance as does the last stretch of Forest Service Road No. 7222. Other approaches include the Deep Creek trail (from SR 410) and the Dalles Ridge trail.

Our chosen approach to Noble Knob is short enough that you can allow plenty of time to savor the many delights along the trail. The trail begins with a short climb through cool, shady forest. On a hot day, you’ll appreciate the shade and thank the trees for providing it.

Then, as if in a dream, the forest opens its doors to a spectacular walk along a ridge with views of Mount Rainier and rocky outcrops beribboned with flowers – you might even spot a raven or two surveying the landscape from an outcrop (we did!).

During the summer wildflower season, the trail offers a colorful medley of just about every wildflower you can think of. Along the ridgeline we saw lupine, valerian, stonecrop, bear grass, lomatiums, desert parsley, magenta paintbrush, mountain rhododendron, saxifrages, wild strawberries, arnica, and even a few glacier lilies.

In addition to the wildflowers are tall grasses, scattered with weathered stumps and snags, providing a spectacular frame for a panorama of sky, roller-coaster ridgelines and depending on where you stand, a hazy Mount Rainier presiding over it all. You may even spot elk or mountain goats in the vicinity.

In about a mile you’ll come to an unsigned junction (N 47° 03′ 03″, W 121° 29′ 45″) – stay straight (the right fork goes to the trailhead at Corral Pass). Follow the main path as best you can as it climbs to the site of a once-upon-a-time lookout. Game trails and hikers’ social paths over the years have created other paths but as long as you are climbing you are on the right track. Lake George comes into view as you gain elevation – a sparkling treasure nestled in a bowl of meadows on one side and edged by forest on the other.

The lookout site (Noble Knob) is a broad high point along the ridge; there is no trace of the lookout today. There’s enough room at the lookout site offering plenty of perches you can claim as your own if other hikers have arrived before you.

From the knob, look over to two towering crags that beckon for further exploration; these are best left to hikers who are comfortable hiking cross-country and/or rock scrambling with some exposure. Easier – you can also wander down to a saddle between the lookout site and the crags if the lookout site feels crowded.

We couldn’t resist exploring so we dropped down to the grassy saddle on game trails and then climbed a sketchy path to another saddle below the rock formations. This turned out to be a good decision as the hanging meadow between them was abloom with bear grass, compelling us to reach for our cameras.

We’ve often seen penstemon clinging to rocks and cliffs but never to the extent we saw here; the clumps of penstemon were so numerous and bright you could spot them from the distance. Here four of us continued climbing toward the crags and went our separate ways to explore and to take photos. Two climbed to the highest point of one of the outcrops; I didn’t quite dare, so settled for photography then watched my companions dance their way down from the heights.

We made our way back to the saddle and descended a path more frequently used by elk than humans to George Lake. This lovely setting called for more “down” time before we even considered climbing back toward Noble Knob and wending our way homeward. It is not often you have an entire lake to yourselves. At the lake it was so quiet you could almost hear the wings of butterflies beating as they flitted from flower to flower.

Quiet lakes are conducive to introspection and in such a setting there is a sense of poignancy as well – you know too well such moments of perfection are fleeting and cannot last except in memory or in a photograph that will in time be put away and eventually fade. Over time even memories lose their luster. The solution: come back again – perhaps with a backpack so you can witness sunset and dawn as it can only be experienced in the mountains.

Remember no matter how many times you hike a specific trail, it’s never the same hike. We’ve been to Noble Knob several times over the years and it’s always a “new” hike.

We were mostly silent with our own long thoughts as we hiked back along the ridge; by then Mount Rainier was wearing a cap of clouds, the ravens had returned to their overlook and the clock was ticking as we returned to the world.

Getting there: From Greenwater on SR 410 continue about 2 miles to FS Road 70, then turn right on FS Road 72, left at next fork (no sign), right at next fork (Road No. 7222) and from there turn left at road junctions whether signed or not. The unsigned forks make it a little challenging! Just turn left at unsigned forks and you’ll get there! The “back door” trailhead is designated with a post (right) but not identified as Noble Knob (be on the lookout for it), no facilities. Park on the roadside near the post (display Northwest Forest Pass). A high-clearance vehicle is recommended. The maps are Green Trails No. 238 Greenwater and No. 239 Lester.

For additional information and conditions, other approaches to Noble Knob, potential road closures due to logging – call Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest, Snoqualmie District (Enumclaw District) at 360-825-6585.

– Karen Sykes, Visit Rainier Hiking Expert

Waypoints
Starting Point: 47.065278, -121.501667
Notable Waypoints:

Trailhead: N 47° 03′ 55, W 121° 30′ 06
Noble Knob Lookout: N 47&#176 02′ 45, W 121&#176 29′ 33
Lake George: N 47 176 02′ 55, W 121&#176 29′ 31


About The Author

Karen Sykes

Karen (1943-2014) was a Washington native, born in Shelton and lived in Washington most of her life. She started to hike in 1979 and joined The Mountaineers the following year. By the 1980s she was leading hikes for the Seattle branch of The Mountaineers. Around the same time, she began writing articles for Signpost Magazine (Pack and Paddle) and contributed to so many hiking reports that her name became familiar to other hikers. She was contacted by The Seattle Post Intelligencer to write the "Hike of the Week" which turned into years of writing this weekly column, until The Seattle Post Intelligencer stopped their printing presses in 2009. Two of Karen's books have been published by Mountaineer Books - Hidden Hikes (out of print) and Best Wildflower Hikes with Al Kruckeberg and Craig Romano. Karen was as passionate about photography as she was about hiking and both The Seattle Times and The Seattle Post Intelligencer have published her photographs.