A stroll north on the Pacific Crest Trail to tranquil Lake Janus and neighboring Grizzly Peak offers panoramas of the Central Cascades’ finest peaks and undulating meadows blanketed with wildflowers as far as the eye can see. Traveled by sauntering day hikers, first-time backpackers and dedicated thru-hikers bound for Canada, this well-maintained trail has a little something for everyone.
Lake Janus is reached by starting out on the Smithbrook trail (trailhead elevation is 3950 feet). Smithbrook is a brief connector that starts out on tight switchbacks and soon crosses into the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness, then softens its grade as it approaches a junction with the Pacific Crest Trail 1.25 miles in at Union Gap (found at elevation 4650).
The trail register shows that the majority of hikers head south to visit Lake Valhalla. So for quiet and solitude, turn right at Union Gap and drop over the saddle on switchbacks, losing the elevation you just gained as the trail navigates around the lichen-dotted talus fields below Union Peak.
Rise again gently after a mile over the meadowed shoulder of Jove Peak where vegetation-encroached tread needs watchful footsteps. A slower pace allows for foraging though, and you'll want to here. Thimbleberry and huckleberry abound and the evergreen summits of Mount McCausland and Scrabble Mountain can be seen across the lush Rapid River Valley.
A dependable creek flows in a small ravine 0.75 miles before the trail levels out again. Less than a half-mile later, you'll arrive at Lake Janus (at elevation 4150 feet). At this point, you're 3.4 miles from the trailhead. This pleasant, sun-drenched body of water with a depth of only 40 feet at its center rests under the watchful gaze of Jove Peak. Interestingly, it was named for the two-faced Roman god by a forest supervisor who found that it drained to the east rather than west as shown on maps.
The idyllic trail length and location affords the perfect inaugural backpacking trip for the whole family with 8 generous campsites, including one for stock, and two pit toilets.
Frogs lounge on lily pads along its shallow shores and water-striders skitter on the reflective surface occasionally broken by cutthroat trout. Keep food secure from possible local bears as well as gray jays that swoop down from overhead boughs hoping you drop a nibble or two.
If you are feeling up to the challenge and reward of beckoning Grizzly Peak, continue from the outlet for Janus and climb on gentle switchbacks through an open forest carpeted with huckleberry. Look for a vintage Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) marker as you ascend and if needed, there are an abundance of cut logs to sit and catch your breath on.
Turning on a short set of switchbacks at a knoll, a campsite (4960 feet) sits next to the trail in 1.2 miles where a small stream runs down from the ridge through a meadowed recess. This reliable trickle is the last water source until Wenatchee Pass beyond Grizzly Peak and is better accessed up the trail about 1000 yards.
Once on the crest (elev. 5150 feet) in 0.3 more miles, your vista expands. Glacier Peak stands regally to the north, followed by the poet-dubbed peaks of Wenatchee Ridge (Poe, Irving, etc), Mount David, and Labyrinth Mountain to the southeast. As you snake along the ridge from here, the west side slopes offer more forest canopy, the east side more exposed marbled granite boulders and slabs.
The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) briefly descends on a water-eroded path to circumnavigate a marshy drainage before rising again around a large slab outcropping and back onto the ridge. Look for a ledge to the right back up on the crest as you continue that offers a viewpoint for optical-shaped Glasses Lake down below.
A small, dry campsite (elev. 5030 feet) in 1.3 miles has room for a tent and a hammock on the left. Its backside offers views across the Meadow Creek valley to Baring Mountain and Mount Index, and the lookout on Evergreen Mountain. Steep overgrown boot paths descend to both Margaret and Glasses lakes on either side, tempting as a water source, but you are better off arriving with what you need if you intend to camp here.
Continuing to wind on the backbone of the Cascades for 1.1 miles, Grizzly Peak gradually presents an emerald southeast flank. Fall and Shoofly Mountains sit to its right, scorched in a 2014 wildfire while the deep blue jewel of Heather Lake comes into sight below at Grizzly’s base, inviting but mockingly out of reach. Rounding your destination’s contour to the southwest, gain 400 feet in elevation on a few remaining switchbacks to reach the summit in 0.7 miles (elev. 5,550 feet).
More like the arched back of its namesake than a pointed precipice, this wilderness gem provides wide, rolling meadows and a mountain line-up for over half a mile more. Rainier, Gothic Peak, Del Campo, Columbia, Kyes, Pugh, Painted, and Glacier, to name a few, guard the horizon. See if you can spy Peach Lake nestled beneath Fortune Mountain as you gaze at Sloan Peak’s twisting spire.
Busy bees and insistent black flies swirl around a kaleidoscope of alpine wildflowers as they bloom when snow first melts and delicate red heather and warm-colored ground blueberry are a treat later in the season.
Find a patch of grass or weathered log to sit on as you bask in the panoramic beauty around you before returning back down the trail for a 16.6 mile round trip. For those staying overnight, a modest campsite tucks back in the trees to the right at the summit.