washington hiking stuart peak layers

Ultimate Guide: Hiking and backpacking to the top of Vesper Peak

If you’re looking for an extraordinary and relatively easy-to-access summit in the Central Cascades, the Vesper Peak hike has it! At four miles up, it’s a challenging yet stunning hike that will leave you longing for more time, staring out at the layers and mountain peaks.

I highly recommend backpacking Vesper Peak for those looking for an epic overnight. Few other mountains offer such spectacular sunset and sunrise photography opportunities. You’re in a sea of peaks and layers, which is a dream for any photographer.

What You Need to Know to Summit Vesper Peak

To this day, backpacking Vesper Peak is one of the most magical and insane trips I’ve done. Carrying a heavy pack full of photography gear up the 4,000+-foot ascent was rough but worth it.

vesper peak washington hike backpacking vesper peak
vesper peak hike

How to hike Vesper Peak in the Central Cascades

Need-to-know trip details for Vesper Peak hike

  • 8 miles round trip
  • 4,000 feet of elevation gain
  • Height of Vesper Peak 6,221
  • It is a straightforward dirt road requiring higher clearance than a standard sedan.
  • It’s an exposed hike, so bring lots of water, use sunblock or a sunshirt, and wear a wide-brimmed hat.
  • Not for novice hikers
  • Bring a water filter to fill up near the lake (around the 3-mile mark)
Vesper Peak hike backpacking vesper peak

Vesper Peak Hiking Breakdown

Heading up to Vesper Peak

The Vesper Peak trail is wildly beautiful yet grueling, and it will exhaust even those in good shape. While the first half mile is a pleasant stroll through the woods, it soon ramps up to over 4,000 feet of elevation gain in less than four miles. Yep, it’s brutal.

The wooded area contains a creek crossing that I didn’t find harrowing, but early in the season, at prime snowmelt, could prove dangerous. While most, if not all, have no issue, don’t underestimate this part.

Once out of the woods, you’ll encounter switchbacks on an overgrown trail, and it will feel like the sun has chosen you specifically to torture. After zigzagging your way up a few switchbacks, you’ll briefly reach shade after what seems like forever.

After this, you’ll enter a gully toward Headlee Pass. This is totally open and exposed.

The trail is obvious even as it turns from dirt to rock. Soon, you’ll be climbing some of the steepest switchbacks of your life to the Headlee Pass. There’s a low risk of falling, but the narrow trail can contain loose rocks. Be aware of those below and above you in case someone dislodges anything.

Getting to Headlee Pass on the Vesper Peak Trail

Once you reach the pass, take a moment to breathe. From here, you’ll drop 100 feet in elevation and cross a boulder field, providing your first glimpse of Vesper Peak. Five minutes later, you’ll find a creek draining from Sperry Lake. I recommend filling up here before your final summit push.

While the bugs had been a nuisance before the final push on the Vesper Peak hike, they became an infestation soon after you cross the stream. So pack bug spray and put it on early, or at least at the lake. You’ll thank me later!

From the creek to when you’ll need to put on microspikes will vary, but it was maybe a half mile or so for me. It was steep, and the trail narrow, considering I brushed trees the entire way up.

The Summit Push for Vesper Peak

drone PNW summits Vesper Peak hike
mount baker sunrise photography

Now, depending on when you do it, you’ll have between some snow and a lot of snow on the northeast face. Microspikes are a good idea, and possibly an ice axe if that makes you feel more comfortable.

The ascent isn’t too steep or terrifying, and the slide risk is minimal. But definitely take your time.

Once at the summit of Vesper Peak, you’ll have stunning views of Mt. Rainier, Glacier Peak, Mt. Baker, and many others. It’s truly inspiring.

Gear I brought for BackpackingVesper Peak

Camera gear I brought for the Vesper Peak hike

backpacking vesper peak
backpacking vesper peak
glacier peak photography Vesper Peak hike

For those interested in Backpacking Vesper Peak

There are a handful of camping locations below the summit for those looking to backpack Vesper Peak. There are also numerous ones at Sperry Lake. But specifically for the summit, I doubt you’ll run into any competition if you go on a weekday.

However, it can get busy on the weekends, so an early departure may be wise on your Vesper Peak hike.

Please camp on durable surfaces so as not to impact the sub-alpine vegetation. The best location is the rock slab and dirt patch about 30 feet below the summit.

Need gear for backpacking? Take a look at this recent article.

Wrapping up the Vesper Peak Hike

I’ve been to a lot of great places, but this is one of those gems where you can see as many photos as you like, but until you visit, you really don’t understand its grandiosity. It’s tough as nails, but you’ll eventually make it!

So, I hope ya’ll have a great Vesper Peak hike and get to enjoy some crazy views!

Until next time adventurers, take care and be safe.


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