Washington Trails Association
Trails for everyone, forever
Spend a weekend exploring, skiing, biking and playing at this year-round hiker paradise| by Andrew Coghill
It’s been a busy year at Alpine Lakes High Camp in the Central Cascades. After opening for a first-ever summer season filled with hiking and mountain biking, and capping the fall foliage season with luminous larches, the 40-year-old retreat east of Stevens Pass near the Alpine Lakes Wilderness is getting back to what it historically does best: winter with lots of snow.
On Dec. 1, new owners Justin and Austin Donohue will open the doors of the nine rustic cabins and lodge for mountain fun mixed with a few, simple backcountry comforts.
Snow is plentiful and powdery east of the Cascade crest and days often open up to blue sky. Cross-country and backcountry skiers, split boarders and snowshoers will all find plenty of space here. A 35-mile cross-country trail network and access to endless backcountry terrain in and around the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area allow guests to sample beginner, intermediate, advanced and backcountry routes. Fat tire biking is picking up speed at High Camp and the sled hill, in the midst of the cabins, always keeps the kiddos entertained.
The coziness meter at High Camp reads 10. Nine simple cabins and a central lodge provide the comfort and warmth needed to offset full days spent outside playing in powder. A wood burning stove heats each cabin and propane cook stoves warm hot chocolate and favorite comfort foods. The lodge invites guest to swap stories, share meals, borrow a book from the library, play games or unwind in the warmth of conversation and good cheer.
Oh, did we mention the sauna and wood-burning hot tub?
Justin and Austin Donohue, who bought and renamed Scottish Lakes High Camp in 2017, offered the first summer season at High Camp this year. They purchased the beloved winter getaway, previously owned by Don and Chris Hanson, with an eye to transform it into a four-season destination.
They’re off to a good start. The Donohues are passionate mountain bikers and they built trails last summer on adjacent private logging land. They plan to add more next year alongside partners like the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance. One trail named Old Julius acts as a grand finale by letting guests end their trip with feet on the pedals. While camp staff transports guest luggage and gear down mountain on an 8-mile road to the guest parking lot, bikers get to shred downhill, capping their stay with a 4,500 foot descent (skiers can do this too!).
I visited High Camp last summer with my girlfriend. An avid snowboarder, she was quick to put on her snow-colored glasses to envision the stilt-supported cabins under a blanket of white. Becky and Dennis, two fellow guests and WTA members, speedily confirmed her minds-eye portrait of a winter wonderland. They had returned to High Camp to hike after previously enjoying a ski getaway. Talking with them, I think they’d be hard pressed to pick their favorite season at High Camp. You can read about two of Becky’s hikes while in High Camp in her trip reports here and here.
Becky wrote “If you haven't been to Alpine Lakes High Camp (formerly Scottish Lakes High Camp), put it on your list of things to do! This is an absolutely wonderful, rustic, charming collection of nine simple cabins … The camp is staffed by 1-2 knowledgeable hosts who can help you with your hiking plans for the day.”
For now, the hiking and biking can wait. It’s time for winter. The firewood is stacked and the tires have been swapped for snow tracks on the transport vehicles. And while powder is a definite at High Camp, booking an open cabin on your preferred dates takes some planning. Visit www.alpinelakeshighcamp.com to learn more about all High Camp has to offer and how to get reservations.
The guest parking lot is just off Highway 2 on Coulter Creek Road, halfway between Stevens Pass and Leavenworth. From here, camp staff transports guests in vehicles equipped with snow tracks on a private road 8 miles into the Chiwaukum Mountains.
Cabin sizes vary, and all come equipped with the essentials for a fun-filled mountain stay. The smallest cabin holds 1-2 people while the largest can sleep 10. A wood stove, cook stove, lamps, beds, a table and chairs, and all standard dishes and cookware are included. Just bring a sleeping bag, pillowcase, food and drink, and an excitement for the mountains.