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Walt Bailey Trail to Cutthroat Lakes & Bald Mountain

Our Hiking Time: 5h 30m
Total Ascent: 2100ft
Highest Point: 4800ft
Total Distance: 9.0 miles
Location: N 47° 59.904, W 121° 39.318
Required Permit: None
Difficulty: Hard due to rough trail and navigation

Nathan's Photo
A few months ago we stumbled onto a story about the Walt Bailey Trial - a volunteer effort to rebuild a lost trail that once led out to a set of pristine alpine lakes and big views of Spada Lake. We couldn’t resist taking the trek out along the Mountain Loop Highway to see it for ourselves.
During the Stillagumish River’s mining heyday back around the turn of the last century, miners would begin working claims all along the river. One enterprising miner began working a claim at the mouth of a creek along the Stilliguamish, but never bothered to officially file the claim. Perhaps for that reason, folks just started referring to the creek by the name of the miner: Mallardy. Over the years Mallardy Creek and Mallardy Ridge have played host to innumerable travelers making their way up the ridge to Cutthroat Lakes and beyond.

Back in the 1930s, the Mallardy Ridge Trail ran from the Stillaguamish River up the mountainside to the Blackjack Ridge fire lookout before circling back down to the river. The pole tower lookout was built in 1935 and a cabin was added in 1942. In 1950, the decision was made to remove the lookout and the trail fell into disuse. At the same time, logging activities destroyed some sections of the trail. What was left of the trail was abandoned and it wasn’t until 1991 that former Civilian Conservation Corps veteran Walt Bailey began work on an alternative route for the Mallardy Ridge Trail. Built entirely by volunteers, including the then 73-year-old Bailey, the Mallardy Ridge Trail (often called the Walt Bailey Trail) provides access to Cutthroat Lakes and connects up to the Bald Mountain Trail.

The Mallardy Ridge (Walt Bailey) Trail #706 begins from the end of the forest road and enters a mixed forest of alder, cedar and hemlock. The narrow trail wanders through the trees to broad meadows dotted with marshy ponds. After about a mile, the trail enters the Morning Star Natural Resource Conservation Area (NCRA), which protects over 33,000 acres of land around Spada Lake. The sign at the trailhead and some trail guides reference the Mt. Pilchuck NCRA, which no longer exists. Back in 2007 the Mt. Pilchuck and Greider Ridge NCRAs were merged into today’s Morning Star NCRA.

Beyond the largest of the alpine meadows, the trail steepens and begins to switchback up through fields of talus toward Cutthroat Lakes. Arrive at the ridgeline to a small tarn with views of the lakes below. Follow the winding path as it descends down to the lakes. Along the way, numerous way paths branch off from the trail providing access to lakeshores. Stay on the widest path as it curves around the lakes and begins to climb up toward Bald Mountain. Switchback up the mountainside to the ridge, then climb up the back of the mountain to the summit. The views from the top are enormous. To the south, Mt. Rainier rises above the Spada Lake and Sultan Basin. Turn to the east to find Del Campo and Vesper Peaks, Big Four Mountain and Mount Pugh. To the north pick out Three Fingers and Whitehorse Mountain. Mt. Pilchuck can be seen to the west. Settle in and see how many mountaintops you can name.

This is a great trail with a little bit of everything - old growth forest, alpine lakes, big views, and not a lot of traffic. The trek to the top of Bald Mountain does involve a decent amount of elevation gain, but most hikers should have no problem reaching Cutthroat Lakes, which are a destination unto themselves.  Keep in mind that this is a volunteer-built trail - some sections are rough and can be a little difficult to follow.  Still, the added difficulty is more than worth the extra effort.  If you haven’t already, put the Walt Bailey Trail on your list to hike in the near future.

To get there, take I-5 North to Exit 194. Follow Highway 2 for about two miles. Stay in the left lane and merge onto Lake Stevens Highway 204. Follow for two miles to Highway 9. Take the left onto Highway 9 toward Lake Stevens. In just under two miles reach Highway 92 to Granite Falls. Take a right and follow for about nine miles to the Mountain Loop Highway. Follow the MLH for 17.8 miles to Mallardy Road (aka FR 4030). Turn right and follow the road 1.3 miles to FR 4032. Veer right onto FR 4032 and continue 5.7 miles to the end of the road and the trailhead. -Nathan

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Walt Bailey Trail


Don Strate said...

Just curious about picture 36 of 44. A BW photo of a container between rocks. Looks like a geocache. There is one listed in the area you were in but the description doesn't look like it matches. Could have been replaced or could be an archived and abandoned one. Just curious. This looks like a fun hike.

Nathan said...

Don, that container was a summit register at the top of Bald Mountain. When we opened it up everything inside was soaked. Probably not used too much anymore.

Hope that helps.

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