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Thunder Knob: A quick and beautiful view in the North Cascades

Updated: Dec 29, 2023


Thunder Knob Trail in North Cascades National Park

While the iconic glaciers of North Cascades get the press, they require more grueling and strenuous hikes to reach. Luckily, there are still a handful of shorter hikes that can give you a taste of this lovely park. Thunder Knob is one such hike. With towering mountain peaks, a lush forest and the mesmerizing Diablo lake, you will wonder why you didn't visit this park sooner.


 

Trail Info

Thunder Knob Trail Information Table

Know before you go

  • Some or all of the Cascades Highway may close depending on the season. Closures will typically happen in the winter months. Check the North Cascades NP website for the latest conditions.

  • The beginning of the trail may be flooded and/or require a river crossing. When I did it, the rocky portion of the trail was flooded from snow melt (a phenomenon that happens every year). Note that the bridges get taken down at the end of the summer to prevent winter damage, which means if you are hiking this time of year, you will have to ford the river. Bottom line, brink extra socks!

  • There isn't a true "summit". Instead, the trail's terminus is the flat part of the knob with views in between the trees. So if you're only in it for the views, drive your car a few minutes east on the highway to the Diablo Lake Vista and you will get even better views with no effort (but what's the fun in that?).


 


The Trail


Thunder Knob Trail in North Cascades National Park

Parking can be found just outside the Colonial Creek Campground. From here you will follow the signs to get on the trail. Keep an eye on the signage initially. It is possible to get a bit off track if you aren't paying attention. You will have to cross Colonial Creek (either via the bridge or a river crossing) so that should be your landmark that you are going in the right direction.


A short clip of the partially flooded trail. Inconvenient, but still beautiful!


Thunder Knob Trail in North Cascades National Park

In case that river crossing took it out of you, there is a nice bench area for you to soak in this nice looking marsh.


Thunder Knob Trail in North Cascades National Park

After the river is when the ascent really begins. Much of the hike will look like this--a packed dirt/rock trail in the trees.


Thunder Knob Trail in North Cascades National Park

But turn around every so often and you might catch a glimpse of some of those mountain views. This one appeared about 1 mile into the hike.


Thunder Knob Trail in North Cascades National Park

It won't take long before you arrive at Thunder Knob. While it isn't a prominent summit, it does have plenty of things to look at. I recommend exploring the different sides of the knob to see the different elements of this landscape.



Thunder Knob Trail in North Cascades National Park

Even though trees impede some of the view, there was plenty to see.


Thunder Knob Trail in North Cascades National Park

The westward facing side was where I found the best views. The blue and green hues of the trees and lake coupled with the leading lines of the highway created a really nice shot. Not bad for a quick little hike eh?



 


SS Reflections

My North Cascades adventure was very different than I had anticipated. I had grand plans of doing long day hikes to those iconic glaciers. Instead, I discovered that these high peaks still had deep snow and there was no way I'd be able to attempt them without the proper gear. (Since I had just spent my last five years living in Hawaii, my winter hiking setup was still a work in progress). I was a little worried this trip had been a waste.


But then I decided to do this hike. I'm not sure if it was the short hike or these awesome views that helped me get out of my own head, but I realized I was happy I had come here. For such a low-trafficked park, it really was a magical landscape. And I reminded myself, you don't need to do a grueling hike to appreciate that.



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