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Summiting sensational Mount Daniel in Washington

Standing in the central Cascades with views of Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, Glacier Peak, and Mount Baker, summiting Mount Daniel provides some of the best scenery you can hope for in the Pacific Northwest.

It’s easily one of the best PNW hikes, and the photography from here is impeccable. Plus, backpacking Mount Daniel is one of the loneliest places in the state for those seeking complete solitude.

At 8 miles and 5,000+ feet of elevation gain, Mount Daniel in Washington is hardly an easy peak to bag. Yet, it’s not technical, meaning anyone with enough athleticism and stamina can do it.

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A Guide to Backpacking or Summiting Mount Daniel

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Mount Daniel Hike Details

  • Distance: 17 miles RT
  • Elevation Gain: 5,500
  • Difficulty: Strenuous
  • Views: 10/10
  • Off-trail: Back half, though there’s a trail
  • Snow Travel: Yes, depending on your route/hike date
  • Exposed Ridgeline Travel: Yes
  • Water Access: Peggys Pond, streams, melting snow
  • Camping ability at the top: Yes, 3 spots
  • 4×4/High clearance vehicle recommend to get to the trailhead
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A Guide to Hiking and Summiting Mount Daniel

How Long is the Mount Daniel hike?

The Mount Daniel hike is between 16 and 17 miles round trip with an estimated elevation gain of around 5,000+ feet. It’s one of the highest points in the area, though does not rank inside the Bulger List – Washinton’s top 100 highest peaks.

How tall is Mount Daniel

Fun fact, at 7,959 feet, it’s the highest point in King County (Seattle) and one of the top peaks in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Stuart has the crown at 9,415 feet. Using the estimated three degrees per thousand feet, you can expect the summit of Mount Daniel to be about 24 degrees cooler than Seattle, not factoring in wind chill.

What makes this hike challenging?

The length and elevation gain is what puts it out of reach for many people. If you do it as a day hike, it’s one of the longer hikes in Washington. And most people just won’t want to do 12+ hours on the trail to summit Mount Daniel.

Then, there are those who will backpack Mount Daniel, and that’s a different beast as you’re carrying a lot more weight than most hikers.

What makes Mount Daniel relatively doable?

It’s a non-technical climb which means anyone with two good legs and good endurance can do it theoretically. There is some snow travel and steep ridgelines to tackle, but nothing that made me feel like I’d get seriously hurt.

Plus, if you do backpack Mount Daniel, it’s “only” eight miles up, which is a long day but nothing crazy.

Related: Hike the best trails in Washington

Everything you need to know about the Mount Daniel hike

How to get to the Mount Daniel Trailhead

It’s about a three-hour drive from Seattle to the Cathedral Rock Trailhead – which also serves as the Mt. Daniel Trailhead. Leaving Seattle, you’ll take the I-90 to Cle Elum and Salmon La Sac Rd to nearly the end of the road. The final 10 miles are bumpy, and it has a stream crossing that could be a river depending on the season. Your trailhead will be just before the Tucquala Meadows TH.

Hiking hot switchbacks to Squaw Lake

The first 3 miles are seemingly endless switchbacks, bringing you to Squaw Lake. Here it flattens out for a bit before you continue gaining elevation to the saddle for a brief moment. Here, you’ll briefly join up with the PCT. The PCT will begin heading downhill to the lake below a quarter-mile later.

You, the one summiting Mount Daniel, will stay high and follow a cruddy trail toward Peggy’s Pond along the mountainside. You’ll randomly reach a split – stay high – though both routes get you to the Pond.

Take a rest at Peggy’s Pond and Cathedral Rock

Peggy’s Pond is an excellent place to rest, get lunch, and fill your water. You have around two miles and plenty of elevation gain left to reach the summit of Mt. Daniel.

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Up to the ridge toward Mt Daniel

You’ll see some trails heading up as you leave Peggy’s Pond. Take the one going straight to the mountain that doesn’t look too fun. You’ll begin going up a faint yet established trail not long after. That’s your route for the rest of the hike. It’ll wind you up the side, getting you closer to summiting Mount Daniel.

Depending on the season and snowpack, you’ll come to a split that allows you to take a 45° angle on the snow towards the false summit. You can also continue on the ridge, which is all scree, and has some exposure but nothing too crazy.

Related: Top Fall hikes in Washington

I recommend the snow. It’s easier and faster.

If you take the ridgeline up, it’s more or less a Class 3 scramble where you’ll traverse scree fields with exposed ridgelines. If you’re mentally prepared, it’s not too bad, but still gnarly. However, it’s definitely the slower approach, so if time is of the essence, take the snowfield if it’s still in good walking conditions.

Once at the base of the false summit, you’ll hug the mountain’s side before traversing a steep snow-to-scree slope. From here on out, it’s easy walking, and you’ll be able to see the summit moments later up on the left. There should be snowmelt in the basin on your left if you need water.

With the summit in reach, you’ll have a final short snowfield to traverse before the final summit push. On top, you’ll have unrivaled views of the stunning Cascades and Pea Soup Lake below.

At the top of Mount Daniel, Washington

This is why it is one of the best PNW hikes. After summiting Mount Daniel, you’ll have a 360-degree view. It’s simply breathtaking. There’s not much else to say about it. The entire PNW will be in eyesight with layers upon layers to gaze upon.

Soak it in. Enjoy sunset. Wake up for sunrise. You won’t be disappointed backpacking Mount Daniel.

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Packing list while backpacking Mount Daniel

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What to bring for backpacking Mount Daniel.

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Tips for hiking and backpacking Mount Daniel in Washington

If you plan on backpacking Mount Daniel, I suggest bringing a foam pad and your standard sleeping pad. This will help cushion you against the jagged rocks you’re sleeping on and decrease the chance you pop your sleeping pad.

Plus, it will give you a place to sit/stretch/lay outside of your tent. Other than that, treat the Mount Daniel, Washington hike as any other one-nighter, and don’t bring too much.

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Until next time adventurers, take care and be safe.

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