This route nearly circumnavigates the mountain. You start west of the peak, take a trail around the north side to the ENE side, then finish cross-country via the North Ridge. Views are not common for the first few miles. After that views are intermittent but the forest setting is quaint. The trail can be muddy in wet conditions. Hester Lake is pretty.
Driving to the Trailhead
From Interstate 90, take Exit 34 (468th Street) in North Bend. Go north under the freeway, passing a truck stop on the left. The Middle Fork Road junctions off of 468th Street to the right (east) 0.3 miles north of the truck stop. Distances are measured from this turn off.
Continue up the road, which initally runs past houses. The first 2.5 miles are paved. Middle Fork Snoqualmie River Road (FR-56) starts more or less where the pavement ends. The road has been regraded so is in fairly good condition. In 12.5 miles Taylor Junction is reached. At 14.8 miles there is a minor washout that is currenlty circumventable (on the left). The location of this washout might coincide with the route up Mt. Garfield. In 18.6 miles the Dingford Creek Trailhead is reached. It is not obvious (look for a sign just into the woods on the north side of the road). The road widens here to allow for parking.
Trail to Hester Lake
Trailhead elevation is ~1,500 feet, not 1,440 feet as suggested by maps.
Initially, the trail is very rocky like a dry streambed. It climbs steadily in a series of switchbacks before finally leveling off at about 2,400 ft. In about 1.5 miles the trail passes through a ravine with a picturesque slabby watercourse above. This is the creek draining Pumpkinseed Lake. In about 2.5 miles Goat Creek is reached. To the south across the valley is the cross-country Northwest Route to Mt. Price. The trail maintains a level grade for what seems like an eternity. In about 3.3 miles (2,850 ft) the trail to Myrtle Lake junctions off on the left. Stay to the right. In 3.7 miles the trail crosses the main fork of Dingford Creek. Look for a footbridge or wade the gravelly creek. The trail begins arcing southward up the Hester Lake drainage and finally begins to gain elevation. At 4.6 miles (3,350 ft) a small, swampy meadow is reached. The trail goes around the left (east) side and shortly begins switchbacking up the hillside before making a final traverse westward past two small ponds to the outlet of Hester Lake (3,886 ft). Six miles from the car.
Hester Lake to Summit
It may be possible to hike around the south side of the lake but the north side is probably easier, not to mention slightly shorter. Your next objective is Little Hester Lake (4,220 ft) nestled in a minor hanging basin west of the major lake. The terrain between the two lakes varies between talus, forest, and low-angle rock outcrops.
Walk around the north side of Little Hester Lake bearing for the 4,640+ ft saddle to its northwest. The farther left you go on the ascent the shorter the distance to the summit but the rockier the terrain. We crested the ridge at about 4,800 ft almost due west of the lake. Our route involved a steepish gully (snow for us) but otherwise did not impede us.
Once on the ridge (Price's North Ridge), simply follow it up the path of least resistance to the top. At first we stayed to the left (east) side but crossed over to the right side in the final couple hundred vertical feet to the top. The map shows the ridge being broad but it is sharper than that.
4-6 hours depending on conditions; Distance:
= 7.5-8.0 miles; Gain:
4,200 ft (some ups and downs)
A descent can be made the same way. Or, if you're feeling adventurous and you left no equipment at the lake, you could try and descend via the Northwest Route. That route is significantly shorter by distance and probably about an hour shorter in time.
Winter (snowy conditions): ice axe, ski poles, snowshoes, skis possibly (though it's a long haul for not much open terrain), cold weather clothing