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Trip Report

North Fork Tieton to Tieton Pass, Hidden Springs — Friday, Jul. 6, 2018

South Cascades

Trip Report By

WTA Member


Type of Hike

Day hike

Trail Conditions

Trail difficult/impossible to navigate:
    Trees down across trail,
    Overgrown in places.


Road suitable for all vehicles


Bugs were not too bad


Snow free

When I was thinking of how to write this trip report, I wanted to call it a waste of time and leave it at that. Then I realized it was actually a pretty great scouting trip for the maintenance these trails need. They're rough. Even the PCT needs some TLC in this section.

I put together this loop because I assumed Tieton Pass was a destination where you could eat lunch and enjoy expansive views of the Goat Rocks after a challenging uphill battle of the sort some hikers relish. Then you could enjoy a moderate 5-mile descent, creek-hopping and shaded by big trees.

The only thing that’s correct about the above assumption is that there's a challenging uphill battle that only some sorts of hikers relish. And that uphill battle is the Hidden Springs trail.

Hidden Springs is a beast. It’s murderous. It’s awful. It’s puninshingly steep. But, of course, it’s not quite hard enough to follow to discourage me completely. It’s 1.7 miles from the turnoff with the North Fork Tieton Trail. I think it’s the longest, steepest trail I’ve ever hiked. With a lot of false summits. Three times I figured I’d finally gotten to the top, and three times I was wrong. Three times I plateaued, praying it was the camp only to have the trail say “nah” and kick me straight back uphill.

There are also these delightful sections where trees that have snapped in storms are balanced delicately on their trunks, leaning against other trees. One was particularly creepy: it seemed to be balanced on just a few fragments of tree trunk and I couldn’t see where it was leaning against the other tree (photo below). It looked like a strong wind could knock it down, and there was a medium breeze already blowing. I stood behind a large tree for a while, trying to decide if I could hike uphill fast enough to get out of there if it came down while I was passing. There is more than one situation like this on the way up Hidden Springs.

It was largely because I’d gotten through these sections unscathed that I decided I had to finish the loop, despite running behind schedule. Not only was I unsure my knees could take the grade going down Hidden Springs, but I was also freaked out about crossing back through those areas.

I made slow progress (really slow), but finally, I reached a point of the trail where there were some very nice views of the Goat Rocks. Unfortunately, by that point, I was too tired and anxious about running behind to stop and really enjoy them. Plus, you’re in a pretty dicey spot once you get to them. There, the trail is a steep, narrow, gravelly path, where the idea of falling is verboten – it’s not necessarily cliffy, but the terrain is so steep it would be a second until you stopped sliding. And then you’d have to get back up and climb what you just went up.

(related: on maps, the Hidden Springs trail is rated hiker/horse. I have no idea how it ever got rated for horses. It would be terrifying on horseback.)

Eventually I did get to Hidden Springs camp, and then the PCT. The PCT junction is nothing remarkable – just a crossroads in the forest. No views. Disappointed, but very, very hungry, I sat on a log and shoved a sandwich and apple in my mouth, calculating how far I had to go and how much daylight I had. I figured even if I hiked at a mile an hour the rest of the way I could still get to camp by 8pm. I didn’t anticipate taking that long, but it was good to know I’d probably still get to camp with some daylight, even with a slower than normal (for me) pace. 

The PCT through here is fine, but there’s lots of small blowdown, some areas that need tread improvement, including one area where a big tree has pulled the trail out. This is about two miles from the junction with the PCT, outside of Goat Rocks Wilderness areas. Plus, this section's completely unsigned, which I thought was weird. Usually there are little medallions along the PCT to ensure you you’re on the right track.

The highlight of this section was when I startled a big elk just before the North Fork Tieton junction. I was so surprised I said, “Uh...hi.” Such sparkling rhetoric. Luckily, he bolted into the woods. Good thing it’s spring and not the fall rut! But he was beautiful.

Arriving at the North Fork Tieton Pass, I was dejected to see it’s just a forested saddle where three trails meet. I had thought about going all the way to McCall Basin to add on a destination but it was 4pm by the time I got to the pass and I was bushed. I didn’t have the 5-mile roundtrip detour in me.

So I headed down North Fork Tieton and boy is it in terrible shape. The last three miles to the pass are in desperate need of rebenching. The slumping is terrible. I could see that a horse group had been up there before me, and I can’t imagine they had fun doing this on a horse. What trail there is really narrow and outsloped, and the trailbed is bad, too—totally uneven. There are also several large blowdowns. A couple of them looked like they’d been stepped over by the horses, but one, about 3.5 miles down the trail from the pass, was laying across the trail, about three feet up off the ground. I have no idea where the horses went around it.

Though not as long as Hidden Springs, the descent did take me longer than anticipated because of how rocky and uneven the tread is. No wonder the last trip reporter rolled his ankle here!

A final note: MANY trees on this route, particularly on the North Fork Tieton Trail, are carved with the letter "i". Once I noticed it, I couldn't help but be creeped out by it...what did it mean? The hills have "i"'s? 

tl;dr – this loop is super awesome if you love punishingly steep trails, limited views, spotty access to water, and trails in serious need of maintenance.


coreyg on North Fork Tieton to Tieton Pass, Hidden Springs

WHOA! You hiked this trail! You are brave! :) Was it hot? Sounds like a rough day. This trail is pretty dicey since it's been abandoned on the order of 5 years due to the road closure to the TH. Before the closure, I did the Hidden Springs trail from here with my dogs (corgis) as we aimed to camp up around Shoe Lake rim & I remember it being mighty tough--way more than backpacking from White Pass. (You were close to Shoe Lake and coulda had a decent lake....or you could went a little further to get up on a ridge to look at the Goat Rocks above Shoe.

I can't imagine doing that loop in a day! You rock!

And yeah, I did the North Fork Tieton trail all the way up to Tieton Pass & you are totally right...nothing really notable....I tried to make it somewhere notable when I tried this a couple of years ago & made it to Lutz Lake (south on the PCT a little), but I wish I had more time to do McCall Basin instead.

Anyway, sorry it was a bit of a trudge with not much reward. Atleast you got a good workout! I'd still like to try this trail and either get to McCall (or jump on another trail south of the Tieton Pass). Thanks for the update! :)

Posted by:

--X-- on Jul 09, 2018 12:41 PM


Did you hike the trail solo?? Do you know if we have to worry about cougars in this area? When I hike solo, that always freaks me out!

Posted by:

--X-- on Jul 09, 2018 01:00 PM

Anna Roth on North Fork Tieton to Tieton Pass, Hidden Springs

OMG your corgis did Hidden Springs?? I'm so impressed (by you too, of course, but those dogs have short lil' legs! I actually did go to Shoe Lake, but I did it the next day (stay tuned for trip report). I started from the TH off White Pass. Hidden Springs *is* a nice enough camp; I recommended it to two dudes I saw with backpacks on the Shoe Lake trail who were looking for somewhere to stay. This particular vacation was a tough one because the bugs were bad everywhere I went.

I wish I'd had the energy to go to McCall. I should have just done the out-and-back, but at least now I know that loop is not worth it. Next time McCall it will be!

Regarding cougars -- I have never worried about them here. I didn't see any scat on this loop, and I figure I'm moving slow enough that I'm not going to activate their chase instinct. :P

Posted by:

Anna Roth on Jul 09, 2018 01:27 PM

coreyg on North Fork Tieton to Tieton Pass, Hidden Springs

Ha! Yeah we all did Hidden Springs (& back down). :) From memory, I dragged their sorry corgi butts up an attempt to get to Miriam Lake via Miriam creek drainage, but there was no trail and this was hella steep! So, with waning hours of light, we bird dogged it up Hidden Springs. They were tuckered out to say the least...but they would be tuckered out every time we did Shoe Lake.

Ohhhh....OK, I'll keep an eye out for your Shoe Lake report. That really is a nice hike from White Pass.

Oh man, I believe you about the bugs. I remember getting to the Shoe Lake TH with a friend once and we basically turned around after 5-10min--the mosquitoes were bad! More recently, I took a 15-min pit stop at Washington Pass during a drive home last Fri & DANG. The mosquitoes were the worst!! (I took a video here:

I'm good with waiting to hike until Sept if the bugs are this bad! Ha! (just joking)

And this make me feel a little better about the cougars....but I still worry about a report I read about nearby Snowgrass Flat 2yrs ago around this time when a guy saw a cougar go for his doggie. :(

Posted by:

--X-- on Jul 09, 2018 01:35 PM

Bob and Barb on North Fork Tieton to Tieton Pass, Hidden Springs

Wow! I am worn out just reading details of your hike! We took the North Fork Tieton to Mc Call Basin in the 90's and even then remember how disappointing it was to not have a view at the pass! Thank you for another informative report!

Posted by:

Bob and Barb on Jul 09, 2018 02:39 PM

Anna Roth on North Fork Tieton to Tieton Pass, Hidden Springs

Of course! Do you remember McCall Basin well? It sounds like it's quite pretty but like I said...I didn't want to try it...

Posted by:

Anna Roth on Jul 10, 2018 02:06 PM

Froof_D_Poof on North Fork Tieton to Tieton Pass, Hidden Springs

Thanks for the great trip report Anna! Nice job doing the Hidden Springs trail, that's a steep (and some might say terrible) one! :) The rewards for the North Fork Tieton don't really start until you get to the junction for McCall Basin. The section of PCT South of the McCall Basin jct to Old Snowy is some of the best WA has to offer. Hopefully you are able to make it out there again some time.

Once you've seen the i's you'll start noticing that almost all of the trails in the Cascades have them as route markers. I like to think of them as candles to light the way.

Posted by:

Froof_D_Poof on Aug 01, 2018 10:44 AM

Anna Roth on North Fork Tieton to Tieton Pass, Hidden Springs

Thanks, man! Good to know about McCall, AND about the "I"s...I like thinking of them as candles much more than as something creepy or spooky (Spooky is more what I meant when I originally wrote this). In fact, I did notice on the Walupt Lake Loop, too.

Posted by:

Anna Roth on Aug 01, 2018 12:46 PM

JAusink1 on North Fork Tieton to Tieton Pass, Hidden Springs

That was my wife and I that were on horses before you came out last year. I looked for a trip report before we went in but couldn't find any. We were the first ones in to McCall Basin and you were right, the trip in was not fun. We went over that 3 foot log with a lot of effort. The BCH cut it out sometime after we went in as it was not there when we came out. I would like to go back in this year but wonder what the fire damage from last year did to the trail.

Posted by:

JAusink1 on Jul 03, 2019 09:40 AM