OverviewBig Chief Mountain is a peak located in Chelan County of Washington, just east of Stevens Pass. The mountain is one of two peaks (Cowboy Mountain being the other) dominating the Stevens Pass Ski Area. Several ski lifts ascend the slopes of Big Chief Mountain, although none to its summit. Howeve, Big Chief Mountain is also a fairly popular hiking destination during periods when no snow is present on the mountain.
The summit of Big Chief Mountain is located outside of the Stevens Pass Ski Area, although travel through the ski area is necessary for a successful summit as the mountain is surrounded on most sides by ski area property. The summit can be reached any season during the year, although during periods of snowcover the avalanche danger near the summit can be significant in various locations along its slopes. The summit can be an easy-to-follow (but rugged) YDS Class 1 hike during non-snow periods and a rewarding snowshoe trek during snowy periods. The views from the summit are very good, including great views of nearby Jim Hill Mountain and Lichtenberg Mountain as well as areas near Highway 2 on the immediate east side of Stevens Pass.
Some avid hikers might choose to do a double-summit trek in one outing, summiting both Big Chief Mountain and Cowboy Mountain via the saddle ridge connecting the two peaks. The path connecting the two summits is sometimes nicknamed "The Wild West Traverse". As mentioned above, the section of the path leading from the saddle ridge to the Big Chief Mountain summit is only YDS Class I, but the section of the path leading from the saddle ridge to the Cowboy Mountain summit ranges from YDS Class I to low-level YDS Class III.
Getting There1) Drive along Highway 2 to Stevens Pass.
2) Enter Parking Area "E" (also known as the "Echo Rock" parking lot).
3) Park at the southbound trailhead (~4050' elevation) for the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).
4) Hike two miles south along the PCT, to a saddle ridge (~5200' elevation) connecting Big Chief Mountain to Cowboy Mountain. The top of a ski lift is located on the southwest side of the saddle ridge. DO NOT hike downhill along the PCT from the saddle ridge.
5) From the saddle ridge, turn left (northeast) and begin hiking up a wide grade. When no snowcover is present, an unofficial yet easy-to-follow trail can be found heading up the ridge from the wide grade.
6) Continue hiking northeast near the ridgetop, following the ridge trail if no snow is present. The trail passes by a ski lift area and several false summits (usually 5600'-5700' elevation), en route to the true summit.
7) The final highpoint is the true summit (5858' elevation). The true summit has a rocky top, and two USGS benchmark disks can be found embedded in rocks near the highest point. The trail actually continues north along the ridgeline, beyond the true summit.
NOTE: During periods of snowcover while the ski area is open and ski lifts are operating, it is possible for skiers/snowboarders to take the "Big Chief Ski Lift" to the ridgeline southwest of the summit. However, a short distance northeast of the top of the ski lift the trail passes beyond the Stevens Pass Ski Area boundary. Use extra caution between the ski lift top and the true summit, as the route passes through potentially dangerous avalanche terrain in-between those areas.
Red TapeA Northwest Forest Pass (i.e. parking permit) is required to park at the trailhead for the PCT.
There is a wilderness permit/register (free) at the trailhead. The wilderness permit is NOT required for hikers only going to the summit of Big Chief Mountain. However, if hiking further south of the saddle ridge to Lake Susan Jane, Josephine Lake, or beyond, the free wilderness permit is required to enter the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area (which has a boundary downhill/south of the saddle ridge).