A Stoned Hiker’s Handbook to Thunder Knob Trail

May 28, 2021
Andrea Larson

This week we’re exploring the North Cascades again! And we’re not sorry. Adventure is abundant in the North Cascades this time of year and our team can’t keep from scouting out hikes in “The American Alps” — earning the nickname for the ranges’ numerous snow capped peaks. This is a great hike for families and people who may have a bit more difficulty with intense elevation gains or unsteady terrain. As we enter into June and the snow subsides we’re itching for those places that haven’t been accessible until now. Let’s get to hiking Walden Cannabis community!

  • Thunder Knob
  • Skagit County
  • North Cascades 
  • Elevation – 1875 ft. 
  • Elevation Gain – ~666 ft. 
  • Route Type: Out & Back
  • Hiking Distance from Trailhead – 3.3 miles
  • No parking fees or pass required
  • Dogs/Cats – Yes on leash

Getting There

If you’re departing from anywhere south of Smokey Point you’ll want to take exit 208 toward State Route 530 and head east toward Darrington. Once you’ve reached Darrington you’ll look for WA-20 east to Rockport. From Rockport you’ll continue east on WA-20 until you’ve reached Colonial Creek campground which is just past mile marker 130. Trailhead parking is just to the right of the campground entrance. 

If you’re departing north of Smokey Point and you want to avoid traffic headed south you can always head north until you reach exit 232 and head east on WA-20 until you’ve reached Colonial Creek campground which is just past mile marker 130. Trailhead parking is just to the right of the campground entrance. 

Heading south from Bellingham you’ll want to take exit 232 off of I-5 south heading east on WA-20. Drive until you’ve reached Colonial Creek campground which is just past mile marker 130. Trailhead parking is just to the right of the campground entrance. 

Routes

The trailhead starts right outside of the campground but when the campground is open there are flush toilets available along the entrance road. There is a pit toilet somewhere behind a tree at the trailhead … so whatever suits your fancy. The campground itself is a great place to swim and fish but the water is frigid. In the middle of summer come prepared with a suit for a dip in the water post-hike. 

There is really only one way up Thunder Knob Trail. At this point in time there is a small stream that you’ll have to traverse at the beginning so pack a pair of sandals, waterproof shoes or go barefoot like we did. After crossing the stream you’ll cross a series of small bridges before beginning your ascent. If you opt to hike Thunder Knob in the winter keep in mind that the bridges are taken down seasonally and the creek has a mind of its own changing course every season. 

You’ll come up on a rocky creek bed and follow a rock-lined path to the edge of the forest. The first half of this hike is carpeted in moss and hemlock, and salal cling to fallen logs on the forest floor. It’s lusciously green and right now the salal is bursting with tiny pink and white blooms. 

As you ascend you’ll see the landscape change from a moisture-rich forest floor to a drier forest of lodgepole pines. The path becomes a bit rockier and the moss disappears as the nearby peaks create a rainshadow. 

Fun Fact: “Lodgepole pine is one of the first trees to invade after a wildfire. Its cones are protected by a seal of pitch that requires fire or heat to release the seeds. This allows seeds to stay on the tree or on the ground for many years until disturbance provides suitable growing conditions.”

You’ll arrive at your first viewpoint where there are a few benches to rest and stunning views of Colonial Peak, garnering its namesake for the Colonial mining claim on its slope. You’ll continue climbing for a bit and then begin a small descent into a marshy area where in early summer you’ll find it filled with water and brimming with life. 

From the marsh you’ll continue your climb up to another viewpoint where a few more benches offer a good spot for lunch. Diablo Lake can be seen from here where its milky, turquoise-blue water sparkles in the distance. Diablo Lake gets its hue and opaqueness from the rock flour that is produced by slow moving glacial silt. Earlier in the season the water appears more blue than turquoise and more turquoise than blue later in the summer months. Sourdough Mountain and the David Peak snowfield are also viewable from here. If you want to continue on you can follow a short trail where another viewpoint reveals Jack Mountain and the Diablo Lake channel. 

Weather

This time of year the weather wavers between cool and rainy and hot and muggy. You won’t find any snow on this trail but if hiking in the rain isn’t your jam be sure to check the weather before you go. Thunder and lightning storms are common and they make for a spectacular lightning storm. Always hike prepared with extra clothes in the event that you’ll need them and don’t forget the essentials. 

Essentials List:

  • Navigation (map, altimeter, compass, GPS device, or something similar + batteries)
  • Headlamp + batteries
  • Sun Protection (sunglasses, hat, SPF)
  • First-Aid kit
  • Knife
  • Fire (lighter, waterproof matches, tinder)
  • Shelter (a lightweight bivvy is as small as a soda can and weighs < 3.5 oz.)
  • Extra food
  • Extra water or ability to purify
  • Extra clothes

What to Expect

Since this trail is one of the more accessible ones, expect a variety of people and animals enjoying the trail with you. We even came across a leashed cat, who has a following on instagram – check her out @littleshit.adventurecat! Since you never know how other animals may react when coming into contact with your friendly furry friend, be mindful to follow leash laws while you’re out there.

If you linger up at the top of the hike, you may even catch a view of a bald eagle. We had one swoop right in front of us, no further than twenty feet away!

The Descent

Often this is the easiest aspect of a hike and in this case it proves true. The trail can be slippery on a rainy day due to some of the protruding rocks on the upper section of the hike. This is a shorter, less strenuous hike so you may opt to do another short hike that’s in the area. We recommend checking out Happy Creek Trail or Pyramid Lake Trail, both of which are on the less strenuous side. 

On your way home there are a few small towns that you can pop into for a bite to eat. In Rockport both Cascade Burgers and Rockport Bar & Grill are reasonably priced options with decent ratings. Or, if you can curb your appetite for a bit you should pop into River Time Brewing or Hometown Bakery Cafe for a pizza. 

Check out our blog for other Washington hikes that you shouldn’t pass over this summer.

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