If you are looking for solitude and peacefulness, the Meadow Creek Trail offers the option of a gentle ascent and quiet approach through two wilderness areas along a rambling valley with a visit to the tranquil Fortune Ponds and lovely Pear Lake as you make your way towards the trail’s junction with the popular Pacific Crest Trail.
The trail begins its ascent off Forest Road 6530 that runs level along the Rapid River off the well-traveled Beckler River Road. Starting at 2,000 feet in elevation, you hike up a few soft switchbacks as you quickly enter the Wild Sky Wilderness in just a quarter mile among deer fern, thin hemlock and fir and traverse back west and along the valley of Meadow Creek that you crossed as you drove to the trailhead. There are several small streams flowing across your path along the way, often clogged with devil’s club and salmonberry.
Once in the valley, the trail takes another set of switchbacks in 1.25 miles and begins its amble in a northerly direction in and out of talus fields and forest, crossing into the wilderness boundary at 2.4 miles named after Henry M. Jackson, a local senator instrumental in the designation of many of the wilderness areas in Washington State. As you walk along, you may notice the charred remnants of the Evergreen Fire of 1967. This wasa the last one recorded by the nearby Evergreen Mountain Fire Lookout and was started by loggers of a timber operation in the area. The blaze came within several hundred feet of the lookout.
Due to the thickly forested eastern side of the valley that is prone to windfall, the trail crosses Meadow Creek 3.5 miles from the trailhead and fording may be necessary early in the season. Here the trail stays within a few hundred feet of the creek as it traverses multiple avalanche chutes filled with slide alder and the marshy meadows that give this creek its name and crowd the trail with foliage each year when snows melt.
Before you know it you will be rock-hopping back over the creek a mile later and arriving at unremarkable Fortune Pass sitting at 3,900 feet. A green and white forest service sign once marked the landmark but it is now buried under a pile of cut logs. You will see where the trail continues into the forest. There is a small campsite here but if you have the energy, it is much better to press on to Fortune Ponds two miles away. Snow can also linger in this part of the valley well to the beginning of July, which means it'll probably be buggy later in the summer.
From Fortune Pass the trail at one time remained along the paludal (marshy) creek but now makes its way at a more northeastern tack up the contour as it circumnavigates the base of Fortune Mountain. You will gain about 800 feet before arriving at the restful woodland meadows surrounding the lower Fortune pond and the junction for the Cascade Crest Trail that once ran through the ponds’ terrain. You can see its faint scar high up on the ridge beyond the ponds to the north, slowly disappearing back into the slope.
The Fortune Ponds offer several large campsites and a backcountry privy, all located at the lower pond. The carpeted landscape reminiscent of a Thomas Cole painting holds a plethora of low huckleberries bushes in late summer that turna fiery red. For those more adventurous the upper pond and summit of Fortune Mountain can be reached with an easy scramble.
After enjoying this restful stop, continue over the outlet for the lower pond past a second campsite and to the north over a large moss-speckled scree field and up a small series of tight switchbacks through a carpeted gully strewn with tossed boulders that will take you towards the gap above Pear Lake. Admire the views to the west as you go: Monte Cristo, Cadet, Keyes and Sloan Peak. The scenery at the forested notch is underwhelming.
It is once you have crested Frozen Finger Gap at 5,220 feet and 7.25 miles into the trail, descending on a wide switchback to the south over a sparsely treed boulder field, that you will be able to see the aptly named pome-shaped Pear Lake before you, with its stem pointing towards the east and Labyrinth, Jove and Union Peak off in the distance. The Pacific Crest Trail runs north to south below the outlet to the lake before it travels on towards its end in Canada.
As you arrive at the lake, 0.6 miles from the gap, the trail leaves the rocky slope and moves through the delicate heather meadows that line the shore on the north side. Keep your eye out, you may even spot an old Pacific Crest Trail marker from when the trail ran through this way.
Pear Lake rests at 4809 feet and has two large campsite areas, one at the west end and one on the east end near the junction with the Pacific Crest Trail, each with its own toilet. The lakeshore sees quite a bit of traffic and there are, unfortunately, multiple social trails so be sure to mind your step so as to protect the vegetation. The rest of the lake’s edge is scree or marshy grass, not suitable for camping.
In the summer you will often see long distance hikers taking a refreshing dip in the water or Boy Scout troops enjoying their first outing into the wilderness. Because this lake has various entry points, you can expect company most times of the year and an early arrival is important if you want to snag a campsite.
There is a smaller Peach Lake nestled at the same elevation as Pear in a bowl below Fortune Mountain over the southern ridge if you want to scramble around the talus on the other side of the lake. Most hikers are content, however, relaxing on Pear’s sandy beaches and anglers might be seen hoping to catch some Rainbow trout for dinner.
The Meadow Creek Trail continues past the tip of the lake another 0.1 miles to meet up with the Pacific Crest Trail for a total distance of 8.25 miles. The junction to Top Lake is 0.7 miles away to the south and The Top Lake Trail (#1506) out to Forest Road 400 and Lake Wenatchee is another option for accessing Pear Lake. This is the most common access point and Top Lake makes a delightful camping alternative if you arrive to find Pear Lake full.
One of the most impressive summits in the area, Benchmark Mountain, is a 12-mile day trip north if you have the stamina. For a shuttle hike, you can leave a car at Stevens Pass and continue south on the Pacific Crest Trail from Pear Lake over stunning Grizzly Peak and past Lake Janus and Valhalla to the pass for a 26.5 mile trip. No matter how you enjoy this area of the Cascades, you are sure to find it quite a treat.