Sauk Mountain is one of those peaks where you think to yourself "Dang, I've got to take so-and-so up here". The surrounding scenery is spectacular and the required work to get to the site of the old lookout is minimal. In fact, if there was a list of the most rewarding peaks requiring the least amount of effort, this might rank as number one. It's only 4 miles round trip with 1100 feet of vertical gain. By Cascade standards, that's a cake walk. And yet you still get up over 5500 feet with panoramic views all around. It's a great choice if you know someone you want to get interested in hiking.
The summit area is comprised of a narrow ridge positioned north to south with a series of humps along the top. This is what gives Sauk it's unmistakable profile when viewed from the east or west. The lookout building was burned down by the forest service in 1991, but evidence of its existence can still be found. A marmot or two has been known to hang out around the site of the old lookout. If you are lucky you might see it.
Views of Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan to the north are especially good and also Whitehorse Mountain to the south. You can also see Sauk Lake 1400 feet below. To reach the true summit requires a bit of scrambling with a considerable amount of exposure in a couple spots. Most hikers will be content to stop at the lookout site but peakbaggers will feel compelled to continue on until they see the USGS benchmark. The scramble is mostly Class 2 but dips into solid 3 in more than one spot. Snow cover on the upper trail can remain as late as the end of June or early July on some years so plan accordingly. Due to the steep nature of the avalanche slope above the parking lot, this peak is not recommended for winter climbing.
The RouteEven from the beginning, the views overlooking the Skagit River valley, all the way out towards Mount Vernon, are very nice. Some folks drive up just for this view alone. The trail follows 20 tight switchback as it makes it's way 600 feet up, to the southern crest of the summit ridge. This is a steep slope and it's possible to look straight down and see all the zigzags below you. If you go during the weekend and you look down, you will see hikers bouncing back and forth like Ping-Pong balls. Once you reach the ridge crest and turn the corner, all the views to the east will open up. There's a lot of big peaks to ogle at out that way. The trail now turns north and eventually northwest as it follows the east side of the summit ridge. You will pass a trail junction with a trail leading down to Sauk Lake. Follow the rocky path up until you reach the lookout site. It may be steep and rough at the end.
The True Summit
For those that want to continue on to the true high point, descend 10 feet from the lookout site. Pass through a notch or two on the summit ridge and then come to a slabby section. It's not bad if you stay along the left side in the beginning on the way up and then look for a sort of ramp leading up to the right. From the top of that, follow the crest along a 20 foot long knife-edge. Don't make a mistake here. The cliff on the west face is 600 feet. Then scramble down carefully to another notch. This is the base of the true summit. The rest of the way is an easy but faint boot path
Driving DirectionsFrom I-5 exit in Burlington north of Mount Vernon on Highway 20. Follow 20 east for 36 miles and turn left of Sauk Mountain Road also know as RD 1030. If you pass through Rockport and the gas station, you have gone too far. Follow Sauk road up for 7.2 miles until the parking lot which has an outhouse just a short walk up the trail.
A nice alternative if coming from Seattle is to pass through Darrington. 14 miles north of Everett, take Highway 530 east to Darrington and then turn left at the second shell station onto 530 going north. This will take you on a scenic stretch of road to Rockport where you can turn left (west) on Highway 20 and find the same Sauk Mountain Road on the right after 1.6 miles.
Trip Reports / Videos
A view of the top of the switchbacks by loynz:
Marmot and scenery footage by jeffkatzer: