The land is like poetry: it is inexplicably coherent, it is transcendent in its meaning, and it has the power to elevate a consideration of human life.
The Rainbow Loop Trail is an especially popular early season trail in the Stehekin Valley that features moderate elevation gain, wonderful early season wildflowers, and scenic views of the Stehekin Valley and the surrounding mountains. It is an excellent option for hikers who want to stretch their legs during late spring and early summer when most other trails of similar length are partially or completely snow covered. The trail has both an "upper" and "lower" trailhead and is not a true loop, although a 6.8 mile (11 km) loop hike is possible by hiking the trail and then walking on the Stehekin Valley Road back to one's starting point. See the detailed description below.
Detailed Trail Description
Beginning from the southern, down-valley trailhead the trail climbs moderately through a dry ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir forest via several long switchbacks. Keep an eye out for the ant lion pits which usually cover the first part of this trail. These small depressions in the sandy soil are dug by ant lion larvae, and are used to trap ants and other small insects.The ant lion lies buried, waiting at the bottom of the pit. When it senses that something has fallen into the trap, its thrashing head quickly emerges to drag its prey underground in a flurry of flying sand.
Both ends of the Rainbow Loop Trail climb approximately 1000 feet (305 m) from the valley floor in order to reach a rock bench at the foot of what is known as a hanging valley. Two processes, glaciation and river erosion, resulted in this landscape. During the geologically recent Ice Ages, continental glaciers thousands of feet thick filled the
After 1.6 miles (2.6 km), there is a junction with the Boulder Creek Trail, and shortly thereafter is a large rock outcrop that provides excellent vistas of Lake Chelan, the
After crossing Rainbow Creek, the trail heads north to reach the junction with the Rainbow Creek Trail. Day hikers wishing to extend their hike and give their legs more of a workout may choose to turn up the Rainbow Creek Trail approximately one vigorous mile (1.6 km) to a rocky outcrop with fabulous views toward Lake Chelan and overlooking the
Beyond the Rainbow Creek Trail junction, the path makes one more noticeable climb before beginning a descent that begins gradually but accelerates through a shady ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir forest, eventually switchbacking down to reach the upper Rainbow Loop trailhead on the Stehekin Valley Road 5 miles (8 km) from the Stehekin Landing. From this point, hikers can either catch the Stehekin Valley Shuttle or walk 2.4 miles (3.9 km) back to the original starting point at the lower Rainbow Loop trailhead making a total round trip hike of 6.8 miles (11 km).
Ninety-three percent of North Cascades National Park Service Complex is designated as the Stephen Mather Wilderness, set aside by law for "the American people of present and future generations" for our protection and enjoyment. Please follow all Leave No Trace hiking and camping practices to reduce your impact on this special place and leave it unimpaired for future generations.
Last updated: April 8, 2022