Hike of the week: McAllister Camp on Thunder Creek

Hike description: Your walk through the campground and the first half mile of the trail follows Thunder Arm of Diablo Lake. The arm is fed by Rhode and Thunder creeks, as well as by myriad unnamed rivulets. Thunder Creek brings glacial flour – ground-up rocks from the glaciers at its headwaters – to add different hues to the lake. The rest of the trail is within sight and/or sound of the aptly named Thunder Creek. As you hike through the forest of old cedar and fir trees look for animal tracks and “people tracks” – the remnants of mining activity in the early 1900s.

Your destination on this trip is McAllister Camp 6.2 miles down the trail. On the way, you will pass the Thunder Woods Nature Trail, cross Thunder Creek bridge and pass the side trail to Thunder Creek Camp. At 1.7 miles you will pass the Fourth of July Creek junction and then the side trail to Neve Camp. At about 4.5 miles you will come to an open view created by a 1970 fire. Pull out your map to orient yourself to the peaks and glaciers across the way. Take a few minutes to enjoy the view and to note how the new forest of Douglas fir and other growth are bringing the area back. Looking across the valley you can see a burn from lightning strikes in 1990. The rock cliffs and glaciers provide natural fire breaks and a counterpoint to the emerging forest in front of you and the old forest behind you.

Continue on the trail, passing a horse camp on your left and then finding the trail to McAllister Camp on your right. Take the trail down to the camp for lunch beside McAllister Creek. If you’ve brought your dog with you, this is as far as you can go. McAllister Camp is still within the bounds of the Ross Lake National Recreation Area where leashed pets are welcome. From here the trail crosses into the North Cascades National Park with different pet regulations.

Directions: Drive the North Cascades Highway, state Route 20, to Diablo Lake, about 24 miles east of Marblemount. Just east of Milepost 130 turn south into Colonial Creek Campground. Park in the day-use parking lot above the boat ramp. There are two trailheads for the Thunder Creek Trail. To get to the one for hikers, walk south through the campground for about 500 yards to the amphitheater. This trailhead is marked by an informational display board. The other trailhead, with parking for horse trailers, is behind the trailer dumping station near the day-use parking area.

Difficulty rating: 3 (1 is easiest, 5 is most difficult)

Miles round-trip: 13.4

Elevation: 650 feet

Best time of year: April to November

Map: Green Trails Diablo No 48

Pass: There is no entrance fee for the North Cascades National Park Service Complex.

Also: Water and toilet facilities are available at the campground. The lakefront campsites at Colonial Creek Campground are open year-round. Traffic on the trail will be lower during late fall. The 10 Essentials and adequate food, water and clothing (think “rain gear”), should always be in your pack, along with a small trash bag so you can practice Leave No Trace wilderness travel. Don’t speed past the trailhead information postings. There is always important information on trail conditions and wildlife activity in the area. This trail is shared by hikers and horses. Trail etiquette when the two meet is for hikers to step off the trail, below the trail so you are not taller than the horse. A campground map is available at


Information: North Cascades National Park Service Complex, Sedro Wooley, 360-854-7200; www.nps.gov/noca; www.nps.gov/archive/noca/thundercreek.htm; “Day Hiking North Cascades,” Mountaineers Books.

Hike of the Week is presented by The Mountaineers Tacoma Branch Hiking/Backpacking Committee. For other hikes, visit www.theolympian.com/hiking.