Mountain Biking at the Sun Top Trail

Area: Chinook Pass
Pass: Northwest Forest Pass
Distance: 22 mile loop, when combined with Skookum Flats Trail and FR 7315 Duration: Difficulty Level: Advanced
Elevation Start: Elevation End: Elevation Gain: 3,000 ft
Prime Season: Mid-June – Early-Oct    

 

There are several ways you can experience the Sun Top Trail depending on the amount of challenge or ease you desire. But no matter how you decide to take to this well-groomed trail-one thing is for certain-if the weather is favorable, you will be rewarded with jaw-slacking views of Mount Rainier.

From the upper trailhead on FR 7315 located at an elevation of about 4,700 feet, you can ride out and back along the rolling ridge for as long as you desire-or until the trail begins to rapidly lose elevation. And from the upper trailhead, if you have a shuttle waiting for you below, you can head out on an 8.0 mile predominantly one way downhill joy ride to the lower trailhead.If you’re looking for a real challenge and an amazing ride, you can combine this trail with the Skookum Flats Trail and FR 7315 for a 22-mile loop with over 3,000 feet of vertical climbing. If the loop is your objective, it’s best to start from the northern Skookum Flats trailhead and get the 6-mile uphill gravel road portion of the ride done first.

But whatever you do, don’t skip a side trip to the Sun Top Fire Lookout. From the upper trail, you can access the lookout via a steep, short and tough .5 mile of trail or continue on FR 7315 for a gentler one-mile climb. The 1934-built lookout sits on Sun Top’s 5,271-foot summit. While it was constructed for spotting fires, you soon see that it is snow and ice that captures your attention. The view of 14,411 Mount Rainier rising above the emerald spine of Sun Top ridge is breathtaking! And the views out to the surrounding lesser peaks are pretty darn good too. Throughout most of the summer, a bevy of beautiful blossoms paints the lookout knoll in a myriad of dazzling colors.

After your side trip to the lookout, take to the trail and soon begin climbing. The single track is well maintained and generally fairly smooth. First, through open forest lined with bear grass, the way then traverses open ledges along a 5,500-foot knoll before descending. Views from this spot of Mount Rainier above and the White River deep below are heart-stopping. And like the lookout knoll, this spot is adorned with gorgeous wildflowers throughout much of the summer.

The trail drops rapidly off of the knoll to a small saddle-then round a forested knoll before climbing a little hovering at an elevation of around 5,000 feet. Groves of old growth forest keep you well shaded along this high ridge. You may encounter a few snow patches here too during early summer. The trail then crosses Buck Creek which shouldn’t pose any difficulties-and bends northeast to follow along Fawn Ridge before losing elevation in earnest. Bikers looking for a good out and back ride of about 8.0 miles from the upper trailhead can make Buck Creek the turnaround.

In scrappy forest along Fawn Ridge the trail descends. Let the real fun begin! Beyond the short spur (easy to miss) which leads .5 mile to Doe Falls, the trail rapidly loses elevation via short switchbacks with sharp turns and some occasional steep pitches. Here the terrain changes from cool mature forest to old clearcuts covered with regenerating growth. This section of trail can be quite warm by late afternoon during the summer months. The tread changes here too to include more rocks and roots forcing you to concentrate a little more and slow down.

Old logging roads intersect the trail in several spots and allow for variations and further exploring. The Sun Top Trail eventually eases its downhill grade after crossing Doe Creek. Here mature trees once again line the way as well as boughs of ferns and patches of salal. At about 8.0 miles from the upper trailhead, you’ll reach the lower trailhead located not too far from the Ranger Creek Emergency Airstrip.

Meet your shuttle or continue riding by picking up the Skookum Flats Trail and heading north about 7.5 miles on that popular path to its northern trailhead on FR 73. While the Sun Top Trail is primarily used by mountain bikers, be aware that a fair amount of hikers and equestrians use the trail too from time to time.

DIRECTIONS TO TRAILHEAD:
From Enumclaw head east 25.0 miles on SR 410. Just before The Dalles Campground, turn right onto Forest Road 73. Proceed for just over one mile and turn left onto FR 7315. Continue for 5.0 miles to trailhead located in a saddle below fire tower lookout. For lower trailhead: From Enumclaw head east 30.0 miles on SR 410 turning right onto FR 7160. After about a half mile turn left onto spur 210 and continue for one mile to trailhead.

MISC INFORMATION:
• Map: Green Trails Greenwater, WA No. 238;
• Contact: Snoqualmie Ranger District (Enumclaw): Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest; www.fs.fed.us/r6/mbs.

Craig Romano

Waypoints

Starting Point: 47.03606,-121.59640000000002  

Notable Waypoints:

Upper Trailhead: N 47° 02.162′, W 121° 35.784′