This was basically just a recon mission to check out the condition of Smith Brook Rd and nearby trails.
Smith Brook Rd is snow-free for at least the first 3 miles… but that doesn’t mean you can drive up it. At approx 1.5 miles the road becomes deeply rutted. If you have an actual off-road vehicle you should be fine. But I drive an AWD Highlander and it was a no-go for me. The pictures don’t really do it justice. The rut is about 12-24 inches deep and approx 1/4 mile long. It snakes back and forth across the road so unfortunately you can’t just put your wheels on either side and straddle the gap.
So, I parked 1.5 miles in on Smith Brook and started walking up the road. In approx 1 mile I came to the Smith Brook trailhead. The first section of trail is still mostly covered in soft mushy snow, 1-2 ft deep. However, I remembered that the trail briefly intersected the road at the apex of the next road switchback, so I walked up the road a bit more, and sure enough, there was the trail and it was snow-free!
I followed Smith Brook Trail up to Union Gap. The trail was snow-free and in reasonable condition for most of the way. There’s one blow-down that you have to scramble over, and there are some larger patches of snow as you near Union Gap, but I didn’t need traction or snowshoes.
I started down the PCT southbound from Union Gap towards Lake Valhalla but didn’t get very far. I hit consistent snow almost immediately and had neither the time nor interest to go slogging through it. However, if you have your sights set on Valhalla via Smith Brook and the PCT, I think it’s doable. Just factor in a little extra time for the 2-3 mile road walk and a snow-covered trail.
I then turned around and checked out the PCT north-bound (towards Janus and Grizzly Peak). I only went about 1/4 mile north of Union Gap, but the trail was in pretty good shape from what I saw: a few snow patches, but generally clear. I was short on time so didn’t go much further than that, but it seems like the PCT might be opening up in that direction. No promises, of course.
A total of 6 miles for the day, including the road walk and brief forays onto the PCT.