Hiking the PNW: Bandera Mountain

Ashley Collier // The Watchdog.

Located in the heart of Snoqualmie Pass, the 7.5-mile round-trip summit of Bandera Mountain is definitely one to add to your summer hiking list. The trail is accessed through Mason Lake Trail (aka Ira Springs Memorial Trail). Because Bandera shares a trailhead with the ever-popular Mason Lake Trail, the parking lot tends to fill up quickly on weekends and clear weather days. A Northwest Forest Pass is required to park in the lot. Ensure that you arrive early if you plan to hike on a weekend, holiday, or on a day forecasted to have clear skies. It’s important to note that during the summer of 2022, the forest road leading to the trailhead will be closed periodically for a restoration project. According to the Washington Trails Association, the road will be open on weekends from noon on Friday until Sunday evening, and on federal holidays.

Starting at around 2,000 feet of elevation, the hike begins as a reasonably steep trek up what appears to be a long-abandoned fire road. Along this stretch of the trail, there are numerous small cut-off paths that lead to hidden viewpoints, so be sure to keep an eye out for them. As you reach a little over 4,000 feet of elevation, the trail forks into two paths: to your right, the trail heads straight up the mountain, whereas to the left, the trail seems to calmly meander towards a distant forest. If you’ve chosen to summit Bandera, then tighten your boot laces and prepare for the steepest portion of the trail as you take a right turn. On the bright side, this last stretch of trail is mercifully short; only about a fifth of a mile’s trek. Yet on a hot day, this is where you’ll be grateful that you brought sunscreen and extra water. During late July and August, the trail becomes fairly dry and dusty, yet surprisingly, the path offers steady footing due to the rocks and boulders. As the trail ever-so-slightly mellows out, hikers will continue climbing east along the rocky, barren ridgeline, accompanied by the picture-esque 360-degree view (weather permitting). As you begin to think you’ve reached the summit, you’ll be sad to know that this is what’s known as Little Bandera, the mountain’s devious false summit. By this point, you’ll have reached around 5,100 feet in elevation, which, according to the WTA, is a perfectly respectable gain for a day hike. However, if you’re feeling up to the adventure, hikers can press on through a barely-visible climber’s trail towards the true summit. The trail to Bandera’s true summit gains and loses elevation unpredictably, and not many hikers continue beyond the false summit. The true summit peaks only about 100 feet higher than the false summit, and holds no real view aside from a stunted fir forest.

The false summit offers breathtaking views of the surrounding peaks and alpine lakes, such as Mason Lake, Mount Defiance, and, on a clear day, the striking Mount Rainier. Bandera is both an excellent introduction for those looking to tackle longer hikes, and a great trip for more experienced hikers searching for a new peak to conquer.