This loop is fun, scenic, and a great option for logging some snow-free miles early in the season, while giving you the feeling that you’re actually “in the mountains.” I went up the Devil’s Gulch trail, and headed down the Mission Ridge trail. I added on some short out-and-backs near the southern trail junction to bring my total mileage to 20 miles and 3400 ft of elevation gain for the day. If you skip the out-and-backs and just do the loop, I think you’ll be at about 17 miles total, and approx 3000 ft of gain. If you want to go longer than 20 miles, you can easily make a bigger loop by following Devil’s Gulch up to FS 9712 and using that road as a connector. I saw another runner out there who was doing just that.
One of the few downsides of this loop is that it’s a bit of a haul from Seattle – almost 3 hrs from my house to the trailhead, and that’s without any traffic. Therefore I decided to make it an overnight trip. I left town Monday evening and camped at Eight Mile Campground outside of Leavenworth on Monday night. Tuesday morning I woke up at 4 am, made some coffee, and hit the road for the trailhead, approximately one hour away. I was on the trail before the sun hit the gulch.
For those that prefer dispersed camping, I saw a couple sites on the FS road on the way to the trailhead. The trailhead parking area is also pretty level and there is definitely room to park a truck or pitch a tent. Nothing spectacular, but if you just need a place to crash, it’ll do.
The road is in reasonable shape. A sedan can make it, although you might be a bit more comfy in something with moderate clearance.
As for the trail, these are multi-use trails which means that motorcycles, mountain bikes, horseback riders and pedestrians all use the trail. I had heard that it was pretty heavily rutted from all the wheels, but I didn’t think Devil’s Gulch was that bad. Mission Ridge trail, however, had some deep wheel tracks and definitely left my ankles and knees a little sore that evening. They are fine this morning though (the day after), and I’d say it was totally worth it.
I ran into three other parties while I was out there: one other solo trail runner (some dude bombing the descent – nicely done), a group of 3 women hiking, and one guy riding a motorcycle. Everyone was friendly and respectful as we passed on the trail.
There are multiple stream crossings along the Devil’s Gulch trail, but they all have relatively stable log crossings and I managed to keep my feet dry all day. I was warned by several people that this area could be sandy, which I was not super excited about after playing in Zion’s sandbox just a few weeks ago. However, I should’ve remembered that “sandy” in the Pacific Northwest is different than sandy in Utah. Yes, there was sand, especially on the Mission Ridge trail, but it was more like a light dusting, maybe 1-2 inches deep at most. Nothing that will slow you down.
And finally, there was one blowdown on the Devil’s Gulch trail, with not a single tree across the trail on Mission Ridge. Pretty impressive considering parts of these trails go through burns (burned trees are more likely to fall over in high winds). I’m guessing the MTB/motorcycle/horse folks keep the trail pretty clear so their bikes and horses can get by. Thank you!
Speaking of wind, it was windy and cold up on the ridge – I knew there were high winds forecast, but it was still a bit chillier than I expected, considering it was in the 70s and sunny down at the trailhead. I was glad I’d brought some extra layers. I even got hailed on for a brief minute.
One of the things I loved best about these trails is that the grade up Devil’s Gulch is relatively moderate and rolling, which meant I was able to do a fair amount of running on the ascent. And then the descent down Mission Ridge is super fun, with amazing views and the potential to really pick up the pace. Overall it’s a fast and fun trail.
Last but not least, the wildflowers are blooming. Balsamroot everywhere, plus lupine, indian paintbrush, and several other species I couldn’t identify. Not to mention, Devil’s Gulch is apparently a great spot for birding (there was an informational sign near the trailhead). Something for everyone in this trail system.
After an amazing morning under sunshine and blue skies, I headed home. Less than two hours after leaving the warm and dry trailhead, I was driving through dumping snow at Steven’s Pass. Love this state.