With enchanting trailside views, challenging terrain, and incredible panorama vistas from the summit, the Lake Valhalla and Mount McCausland trails seemingly have it all. Situated on the outskirts of Leavenworth, Washington, this hike is entrenched in a natural beauty that can only be found far outside of city limits.
The main highlights of these two trails are the lovely Lake Valhalla and the views from the tippy top of Mount McCausland. You can accomplish both routes in a single afternoon, so lace up your hiking boots and prepare for an epic trek.
This article will detail everything you need to know about hiking the Lake Valhalla and Mount McCausland trails.
Hiking Lake Valhalla and Mount McCausland Trail
Distance: 7.9 miles
Type of Trail: Out & Back
You’ll read and find out that the Mount McCausland detour is a must! But if you’re just up for going to the lake the trail is only about 6 miles out and back.
Getting to Lake Valhalla Trailhead
To hike the Lake Valhalla trail, you’ll actually need to start at the Smithbrook Trailhead. There is another trailhead marking on Google Maps but if you start there you’re adding on milage for not much reward. The trailhead is tucked away off of Forest Road 6700. Signage is minimal, and foliage is dense, so drive slow and keep your eyes peeled for the turnoff.
Once you get to Forest Road 6700, you’ll follow a dirt road for about three miles. The road is usually in good condition, and you may need to park along the shoulder if the parking lot is full.
Lake Valhalla trail is a popular route, so be prepared to hunt for a parking spot and share the trail with other hikers. If you want to avoid the crowds, consider hiking during the week or off-season (between October and May). No matter the season, check for road closures and trail conditions before setting out.
Hiking Lake Valhalla Trail + the Mount McCausland Detour
The Smithbrook Trailhead begins just off of the dirt road. The beginning of the trail is littered with moderate switchbacks and dense foliage.
After about 1.5 miles, you’ll come across a junction with the Pacific Crest Trail. Hang a left at the fork and look for signs pointing towards Lake Valhalla. This section of the hike is relatively flat and easy, with a few small stream crossings.
Mount McCausland Trail (Well Worth it Detour!)
At around three miles into the hike, you’ll encounter an unmarked trail on your right. This short half-mile detour will lead you to the summit of Mount McCausland. While the trail is short, it is no joke. You’ll feel every step of this steep incline, and the path is often muddy during the spring and fall.
Despite the difficulty, ascending the Mount McCausland trail is worth the extra effort. The views from the summit are spectacular, with Mount Baker in the distance and Lake Valhalla below. Aside from the dynamic panoramas, you can also do some berry picking and check out the geocache box at the summit.
Do note there is some rock scrambling and some sketchy parts to get this little treasure at the summit so just watch your footing here. If it’s not your thing, the views from the “almost summit” are the best anyway since they are looking over the star of the show—Lake Valhalla!
Another perk of the detour is that it rarely becomes overcrowded. Many hikers skip over the Mount McCausland trail entirely and head straight for the lake, so feel free to take your time and enjoy the solitude on this short stretch.
Getting to Lake Valhalla
Once you return to the main Lake Valhalla trail, the lake is just a short half-mile trek away. Once you reach the shores of Lake Valhalla, you’ll find a small sandy beach, hoards of twittering birds, and impeccable views of Lichtenburg Mountain towering above the lake.
There are even a few campgrounds located along the beach, though these are available on a first-come-first-served basis.
Tips for Hiking Lake Valhalla Trail
Lake Valhalla trail is a moderate hike, and Mount McCausland trail is a challenge. Be prepared for the trek and check out the following tips.
- The trails are especially beautiful in autumn when the fall foliage is at its peak. September is a prime time to hike these trails – the weather is still pleasant, and the red and yellow hues are in full swing. This is when we hiked!
- There is no bad time to hike these two trails, but they are swamped for most of the year. If possible, plan to hike the Lake Valhalla trail during the week. This is your best bet for avoiding the crowds that are almost always present on the trail on weekends. Check for road and trail closures if you’re here in winter.
- Make sure to begin your hike by early afternoon at the latest. While the summit would make an epic place to watch the sun go down, hiking in the dark can be quite dangerous – especially if you are not prepared.
- We highly recommend taking the Mount McCausland trail detour. Lake Valhalla is beautiful all on its own, but the views from the summit are well worth the extra mile. If you decide to tackle the Mount McCausland trail, we suggest doing it before visiting Lake Valhalla. This will ensure that you have enough time and energy left in the tank to reach the summit.
- With the exception of the Mount McCausland detour, the Lake Valhalla trail is completely shaded. Even during the summer months, you’ll want to dress in layers to maintain a good core temperature. This is a moderate hike, so a good pair of hiking boots are also recommended.
- With all that shade comes plenty of hungry ticks, so be sure to do a thorough check after your hike.
We hope this post helped you discover more about hiking the Lake Valhalla and Mount McCausland trails! Don’t forget to check out other great hikes in Washington.
World explorer, road trip aficionado, surfer wannabe, and animal lover! Florida native but obsessed with the PNW. Will climb mountains for views any day. Map nerd. Could live off of bread and cheese if needed.