Elbow Peak is reached via the multi-user Yellow Hill trail, but you have to work to reach the expansive views. The lack of shade makes this a hot hike, even on a cool day. The route climbs through a stark silver and black forest, burned in fires past, with a stunning understory of flowers.
Spring is the best time for flowers, views, and stillness. Avoid mid/late summer with the oppressive heat and motorcycles and be sure to wear orange in the fall with hunters. Plenty of water is needed as there is only one intermittent spring, and water from snowmelt has plenty of carbon from the charred trees.
From the trailhead, elevation 2810 feet, start north over or around the tank traps, then follow the road for 0.9 mile to an unmarked trail on the right, elevation 3390 feet. Take the trail for a steep 0.2 mile and then step back onto the road for 0.1 mile to a marked trail on the right. Take the trail for a steep 0.6 mile, past an unmarked junction, to a good rest stop, elevation 4400 feet, with views of Mount Rainier and the Kittitas Valley Wind Farm.
The trail descends slightly 0.6 mile to a stream crossing, elevation 4370 feet. After the stream, the trail alternates steep climbs and level sections for 0.9 mile as it climbs to reach an open area, elevation 5150 feet, to the east of Yellow Hill.
The trail enters the surviving forest and makes a climbing traverse for 0.4 mile around the north side of Yellow Hill. This area is the last area to melt out in the spring due to the shade. At the end of the traverse, just before the switchback and descent, is a great view of Elbow Peak and the Stuart Range.
In the next 1.3 miles, the trail is a set of descents, climbs, and sidehills along the ridge to the base of Elbow Peak. The trail has many places with a “roller bearing on rock” feel to the gravel, trekking poles are useful. In early spring, cornices can make travel a bit more difficult in this section.
Once in the last gap, the trail makes a direct climb for 0.2 mile to the southwest end of Elbow Peak, elevation 5670 feet, before continuing along the ridge for 0.3 mile to the high point on the northeast end, elevation 5710 feet.
At many points along the ridge crest are 360-degree views with Mount Adams peeking over the Goat Rocks in the south, Mount Rainier to the southwest, many peaks in the Snoqualmie Pass area, Mount Stuart to the northeast, and peaks of the Teanaway to the east. From the northeast end, the Yellow Hill trail is evident as it continues to Jolly Mountain, about 4 miles away.