Wenatchee National Forest

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Wenatchee National Forest Overview

The Wenatchee, situated in the heart of Washington state, is the Pacific Northwest at its most raw. The 8,000-foot volcanic peaks of basalt, pumice, and ash allude to the violent geologic past of the Cascade Range. And yet these mountains simultaneously shelter secluded alpine lakes and glacier cirques that resemble giant cathedrals of granite and ice. Fishermen who fish for solitude as well as trout can angle alone in remote reaches of the forest. Rock and ice climbers from all over the country test their mettle on the granite walls and volcanic basalt formations that dominate the Wenatchee.

The Wenatchee is a forest of transition. Its shrub-steppe habitat bridges the lush ecosystem of Puget Sound with the rugged high desert of eastern Washington State. Sagebrush at lower elevations surrenders to pine-covered slopes and eventually to the sparse vegetation atop the Cascade's volcanic summits. It is also a landscape of intricate canyons: Icicle Creek Canyon, at over 8,000 feet from floor to rim, is easily one of the deepest canyons in the Pacific Northwest. Hikers can explore thousands of miles of trail that snakes its way through this rugged Martian-like landscape.

The Yakima, Chinook, and Wenatchi Indians inhabited the forest before they were forced off the land by the gold rush of the 1880s and 1890s. For thousands of years, these tribes walked lightly on the land, leading a life of subsistence that included salmon fishing and hunting deer and elk.

Hike Washington Heights
And we don't mean that neighborhood up in northern Manhattan. We're talking Washington State's rugged high country, where you can meander along some 2,500 miles of trail that penetrate deep into a forest of ponderosa pine. Choose from extremes, ranging from the casual 1.5-mile Angel Staircase to the grueling 13-mile Devil's Backbone in the Chelan Ranger District.

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Mountain Bike the Fourth of July Trail
The five-mile Fourth of July Trail (Trail # 1579) in the Leavenworth Ranger District is laced with switchbacks along some hair-raisingly steep terrain. And if that's not enough danger, you also have to worry about rattlesnakes piercing your fat tire, or worse, your leg. Rattlesnakes infest this particular trail, but otherwise it offers kick-butt mountain biking that is typical throughout the forest. Other challenges of mountain biking Wenatchee include fording rushing streams. Avoid peak run-off, otherwise you'll hit an impasse of torrential whitewater.

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Rock Climb Canyon Walls
Rock climbers descend on Icicle and Tumwater Canyon to ascend the intricate labyrinth of granite walls and rock formations. If you prefer scaling basalt columns, the Wenatchee's got 'emyou'll find these vulcanized rock towers near Rimrock Lake just off Highway 12 in the Naches Ranger District. Sheer multi-pitch rock walls abound, along with less technical top-rope climbs.

Cruise the Cascades
Pile the kids into the jalopy and cruise the Cascades along the mystical (and misty) North Cascades Scenic Highway (State Highway 20). Shortly after crossing Washington Pass (elevation 5,477 feet) you will see the sheer walls of Liberty Bell Mountain. At 7,600-feet high, Liberty Bell resembles an impenetrable medieval fortress of granite that will have the whole family ogling. On a sunny day, relish the irony of driving across Rainy Pass (elevation 4,860). And as you traverse Harts Pass, realize that you are on the highest road in the state of Washington. Along the way, no matter what other people in the car want to do, make sure you stop and scramble up Slate Peak for a commanding 360-degree view of Mt. Baker and the surrounding Cascades. You can also peer across the border into Canada, where the beer is brewed stronger and the inhabitants are less bewildered by the metric system.

Don't Cry Foul, Cry Waterfowl
On Lake Chelan, the sheer grace and beauty of waterfowl will soon have you in tears. Paddle closer to Harlequin ducks or behold their ribald riparian antics from afar with those expensive binoculars you bought. Watch great blue heron stalk fish on stick-like legs. Behold osprey as they search for prey by soaring over the waters like a stealth bomber.

Ski in the Nordic Style
A gung-ho group of cross-country skiing enthusiasts have created a cross-country trail system that buries the rest of the country under a snowdrift. Over 110 miles of multi-user trail stretches from Winthrop to the upper reaches of the Methow River valley near Mazama. These trails were created and continue to be maintained by the Methow Valley Sport Trails Volunteers.

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