Hiking the Necklace Valley Trail in the Washington Cascades: Everything to Know
If you are looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and instead spend some time in the backcountry of the Cascades — then we have the perfect trail for you!
The Necklace Valley Trail, which is located in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest (one of the biggest Washington national forests) is roughly 15.5 miles long and takes you through dense lush forests, along a raging crystal clear river and up to an alpine basin full of colorful lakes. While hiking this trail is one epic single-day adventure, you also have the option to spend more time in the backcountry and camp overnight along one of the lakes.
Below is everything you need to know about one of the best hiking trails in Washington state; including, how to reach the trailhead (including from the bustling metropolis of Seattle), what outdoor gear you need to bring with you, and what to expect along the trail.
WHERE: Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington
WHAT: a hiking and backpacking trail, out and back
DISTANCE: ~15.6 miles total (depending on how far up you go)
HIGHEST POINT: 3,651 feet / 1,112 meters, at the lake
GEAR NEEDED: sturdy hiking shoes, a well-sized day bag or backpacking gear (depending), bug spray and sunscreen, lots of snacks, a water filter
TRAIL CONDITIONS: singletrack trail, forested for most of it, some rocky sections (including a few areas you may need to do a bit of scrambling), a couple of logs you need to use to cross rivers, a few overgrown sections, awesome lake and mountain views
DOGS ALLOWED: yes, but they must be leashed.
PARKING DIFFICULTY: well-sized parking lot, has a bathroom, you must have either the Northwest Forest Pass or an Annual National Park Pass (it is federal land)
\\ How to Get to the Necklace Valley Trailhead
The Necklace Valley Trailhead can be easily reached from a number of towns and cities in western Washington. This includes from the major city of Seattle and Bellingham and from the cute historic town of Skykomish. If you are coming from the eastern half of the state, simply drive up Highway 2 aka Stevens Pass Highway until you get to the right turn off (Foss River Road NE). Likewise, this is a good side trip if you are planning to drive the entire Cascade Loop.
It is about a 15-minute drive from the beautiful, historic town of Skykomish to the Necklaces Lakes Trailhead. To reach the start of the trail, drive from Skykomish on Highway 2 for around 2 miles and then turn right onto Foss River Road NE. Drive this super pretty road (that soon turns to dirt) for just over 4 miles. The trailhead and parking lot will be on the left side of the dirt road.
If you are looking to reach the Necklace Valley Trailhead from downtown Seattle, you will first need to head north on Interstate 5 until you reach the town of Everett (it is just under 30 miles driving on I-5). Once in Everett, turn onto Highway 2/Stevens Pass Highway. Keep driving on this road for about 40 miles until you get to the turn off for Foss River Road NE. Continue down this road for 4 miles until you see the parking lot and trailhead on the left. It takes about 1 hour and 45 minutes (83 miles) to reach the Necklace Valley Trailhead from Seattle.
If coming from the city of Bellingham, you will want to first start by driving south on Interstate 5 until you reach the town of Everett. Once in Everett, turn onto Highway 2/Stevens Pass Highway and drive for another 50 miles until you reach the turn off for Foss River Road NE. Then once again, drive this dirt road for approximately 4 miles until you reach the trailhead on the left. In total, it will take about 2 hours and 15 minutes (114 miles).
OTHER TRANSPORTATION OPTIONS
Unfortunately, there really isn’t another option to reach the Necklace Valley Trailhead except with a private vehicle. The only possible exception would be if you biked from one of the nearby towns — including Skykomish (6.2 miles away), Index (20.2 miles away), Gold Bar (26.7 miles away) or the Stevens Pass Ski Resort (19.1 miles away).
\\ The Best Time to Hike the Necklace Valley Trail
The best time to hike in the Necklace Valley area is between July and October. Any earlier than that and you have a good chance of encountering snow up at the higher elevations — including at the alpine lakes. Plus, because the last bit of the trail is quite steep and somewhat rocky, a bit of leftover snow could spell trouble or danger.
By mid-July the trail should be totally clear of snow — though, if it has been a very wet winter, there could still be a chance of some leftover snow on the side of the trail. Likewise, you might also need to walk across some of the rivers if the water is too high. When we did this trail in the middle of July, we found a bit of snow at the very top near the lakes (and especially between the lakes in a more shady area). We also had to take our shoes off and walk a couple of feet across one of the rivers (this wasn’t dangerous but it was cold).
\\ What to Bring With You to Hike Necklace Valley
You will want to wear a pair of sturdy boots that can handle all kinds of terrain: from steep rocky scree fields to slick river crossings to just miles upon miles of trail pounding. These hiking boots by Vasque seem to be a jack of all trades and therefore should be able to handle whatever the trail throws at you. Recommended hiking boot.
These socks can easily go from hitting the trails to hanging out at camp due to their moisture-wicking properties and slightly elastic stretch. Plus, they are made partially of recycled materials — meaning they are good for you and the planet. Recommended hiking socks from Smartwool.
MOISTURE-WICKING SUN SHIRT
No matter the month you are planning to hike in, you will likely want to wear a nice lightweight long-sleeved shirt on the trail. This one by Backcountry works great as your base layer for it is lightweight and breathable enough for hot sunny days but also insulated enough to be great when the temperature starts to cool down. Recommended long-sleeve shirt.
This lightweight fleece jacket works great as both a mid-layer for winter hiking adventures or as a solo jacket once the season starts to warm up. Plus, the raglan-style sleeves provide seam-free comfort when you are carrying a heavy backpack. Finally, the fleece jacket is made of recycled fabrics and is Bluesign approved (its sewing is also Fair Trade Certified). Recommended hiking jacket.
While a nice cozy jacket will help keep you nice and warm on those chilly mornings or late-season days, usually the best jacket to have with you while hiking is an easy-to-pack rain jacket. This one by Patagonia checks all of the boxes: it is super lightweight and can pack down into its own little pouch, it has underarm zips that let you vent air even when hiking (and sweating), it has an adjustable elastic drawcord hem that allows fine-tuning for the perfect fit, and finally, it is also Bluesign approved and its sewing is Fair Trade Certified. Recommended rain jacket.
Depending on the time of year, you will likely choose to gravitate towards wearing either full-length hiking pants or a set of lightweight active shorts. We tend to veer more towards wearing pants while hiking unless it is absolutely scorching out — just for the sun protection and less likelihood of getting scratches and cuts from plants (especially when the trail can be overgrown, like in the case of the Necklace Valley Trail). These pants by Black Diamond, are durable enough for all kinds of trails, while also being comfortable enough to wear even when the temperature starts to pick up. Recommended hiking pants here.
Because most hiking is done out in the sun, you will want to make sure you have a nice comfortable, wide-brimmed hat to help keep your face shaded and the sun out of your eyes. This wide brim hat by Patagonia is easy to adjust, lightweight and moisture wicking — plus, like almost all Patagonia gear, it is made of eco-friendly recycled materials. Recommended sun hat.
SUNSCREEN AND BUG SPRAY
While a sun hat definitely helps protect you from the sun’s harmful rays, it is still important to give your skin that extra bit of protection — especially your shoulders, feet and hands. These sunscreens not only protect you against the sun but are also environmentally safe. Likewise, you will definitely want to make sure you pack along some bug spray when hiking in the Necklace Valley Trail area. The mosquitos can be terrible up near the lakes, especially during the dusk hours.
❔ GOOD TO KNOW: the sun is incredibly strong in the Cascades and even if there is cloud cover you can still get burned. Make sure to put sunscreen on when starting out on the trail and reapply once you get up to the lakes since this is where there is the least amount of sun cover.
A handy headlamp is a true adventure necessity. We always tend to have about 5 headlamps scattered around our van just in case we lose one or the batteries die (which somehow happens quite often…). This headlamp by Black Diamond is a personal favorite because it is relatively affordable, it has multiple light settings and it is rechargeable. Recommended headlamp.
HIKING DAY PACK
By far one of the most important items in your hiking repertoire is going to be your backpack. Because you will be carrying this bag all day on the trail — including sometimes up and down some steep and sketchy sections — you will want to make sure it is really comfortable. This bag by Osprey holds 24 liters of gear, while still having plenty of straps to allow it to fit perfectly to your body. Plus, it is made of a nice Durable nylon construction that can withstand tons of trail abuse. It also has a specific place to attach your trekking poles or ice ax. Recommended day pack.
One of the best ways to cut back on your hiking load is to bring along a water filter. This super easy one by Grayl combines a water filter inside an actual water bottle — meaning less gear to carry and less time actually filtering. A true win-win. Recommended water filter.
Or if you want to get an actual filter system that allows you to filter lots of water at once, we recommend the top-notch Katadyn water filter. This filter has been our go-to for all hiking and backpacking adventures. Plus, it takes up very little space, is easy to clean and works pretty darn fast. Recommended Katadyn water filter.
HIKING FIRST AID KIT
This is one of those items that you don’t realize you need until it is too late. Luckily, this lightweight pack comes with (almost) everything you could need if an accident does unfortunately occur on the trail. Recommended hiking first aid kit.
Hiking first aid kit for your dog: because you want to make sure your best friend stays safe on the trail as well. This pack is also very lightweight and doesn’t take up that much space. The perfect doggy first aid kit.
We personally have never been the type of hikers to use trekking poles but we have friends who absolutely swear by them. This set by Black Diamond can handle all kinds of terrain, are super lightweight and pack down small enough to be stored easily on the side of your backpack. Recommended trekking poles.
Once you make it back to your basecamp (your car, your tent, your house) make sure to take off those boots, stretch out your arches and let your feet breathe. Seriously, this might be one of the best feelings ever. After you do that, slip on a pair of these comfortable Teva sandals (we won’t judge if you add socks too). Recommended post-hike sandals.
Also, these Teva sandals work great as river-crossing shoes. While they don’t have as much grip as other hiking sandals, they are lightweight and can quickly dry out when left to sit in the sun. If you don’t feel like taking your shoes off and on when doing river crossings (like you might when hiking the Necklace Valley Trail) these could be a good addition to your hiking bag.
POST-HIKE COZY SHIRT
Similarly, there are few things nicer than taking off your sweaty shirt and putting on a nice cozy, clean one after a long day on the trail. This one by Parks Project is made of a nice durable, soft cotton fabric and cut into a very vintage-y style. Recommend post-hike shirt.
If you are planning to do the Necklace Valley Trail as a backpacking trip, then definitely make sure to also bring a good backpacking bag, a comfortable sleeping pad and sleeping bag, a 3-season tent, a bear box (read more about this here), and a camp stove (fires are not allowed up near the alpine lakes).
HIKING THE NECKLACE VALLEY TRAIL | THE ADVENTURE BREAKDOWN
TOTAL DISTANCE: around 16 miles / 25.6 kilometers (up to the basin and back); you can go much farther along one of the many alpine lake trails
ELEVATION PROFILE: 3,651 feet gained, mostly in the last 3 or so miles
TIME NEEDED: 7.5 to 9.5 hours depending on your hiking speed and how long you want to spend at the lakes
TRAIL CONDITIONS: a couple of overgrown sections and downed trees, in late spring/early summer expect at least one river crossing where you might have to take your shoes off.
The Necklace Valley Trailhead has a bathroom and a notice board with useful information on the area and regulations, including how to hike and backpack in bear country. Also, you will need to fill out a permit tag (which is free) before setting off on the trail. Once the permit is filled out, carry the top half with you and leave the bottom half in the provided box. Likewise, you will need to either show your Northwest Forest Pass (which can be paid for and picked up nearby) or an Annual National Park Pass. After you get all of your necessary permits and stuff done, head out onto the trail!
1 | The first couple of miles of the hike are pretty flat and very easy to follow. You will cross a few small streams that may or may not have running water.
2 | Around the 2.6-mile mark, you will cross a large raging river along a nice big, sturdy wooden bridge. This is a stunning area of the trail and definitely a good spot to spend a bit of time.
3 | After the bridge, you will continue to hike on a pretty soft, flat trail. For the most part, the first 3–4 miles of the hike are nice and shaded and follow the East Fork of the Foss River. A bit further along the trail, you will have to go through 2–3 sections that are pretty overgrown (this is why we recommend wearing pants). During the overgrown section keep an eye out for stinging nettle (which can burn and cause a small rash) and small garter snakes.
4 | Around the 4.4-mile mark you will see a small sign for a backcountry toilet. This is around the halfway point and is a good spot to stop at if you have to use the bathroom (especially #2).
5 | After the bathroom, you will follow the trail through a lovely forest section close to the left side of the valley (depending on the time of year you might see some flowing waterfalls). Keep hiking until you get to the big river. This is the spot where, depending on the time of year you are hiking, you may have to take your shoes off to reach the large sturdy log that crosses the river. We hiked this trail in early July and had to walk a short distance from the trail to the log (only 3–4 feet total).
If you do have to walk a bit to the log, be prepared for some icy water. Luckily, the small eddy is totally safe and there are some rocks you can stand on to cross.
6 | Once across the river, you will hike for another couple of minutes until you reach the same river once again. Here you will need to cross to the other side on another large log (you should see signs saying no campfires beyond this point). While it might seem like you are off trail, this is the correct route (you can always consult an offline map for clarification). Once across the log, you have the option to rock scramble a bit to the main trail (there are cairns marking the right path) or turn RIGHT and walk along the river for a couple of feet and then up a clearly marked trail. We did both and had no issues.
7 | This is the start of the uphill section so consider taking a quick snack or water break at the river or just above in the shade. Also, if hiking this trail in the summer, be aware of the possibility of encountering more garter snakes and frogs here (we saw a large one on our hike).
8 | Once you are refreshed, start the slow climb up the side of the mountain. This section is steep and can be a bit rocky and overgrown. Take your time and watch where you are placing your feet (slick rocks and muddy logs are common).
9 | Between the river crossing at mile 4.5 and the top of the lake you will climb 2,500 feet. This part of the hike is hard, plus it is likely to be the sunniest section on the whole trail. So remember, take your time, watch where you are stepping, and don’t push yourself too hard. This is not a race.
10 | At roughly the 6.2-mile mark, you will get to another sturdy wooden bridge over one of the tributary rivers. This bridge is narrow and should be crossed with care and alone (if you are hiking with a dog or child, hold on to them tightly for there is no railing).
11 | After the bridge, you will have one more big push up a steep section (the steepest of the hike). This part of the trail, though difficult, is beautiful. Even when you are exhausted, don’t forget to take in the beauty of the landscape around you.
12 | The first view of Jade Lake comes into view at the 7 mile mark. If you are tired and don’t want to hike anymore then we suggest hanging out and refueling at one of the many awesome spots around the edge of the lake (we personally liked a nice open spot right at the beginning of Jade Lake).
13 | If you do have more energy and are looking to explore more of the lakes in the area (there are dozens) then continue hiking around the LEFT side of Jade Lake towards the waterfall at the other end.
💬 INSIDER TIP: depending on what time of year you are hiking this trail, you may come across some snow or find that the trail is slightly underwater. If that is the case, then take off your shoes and simply walk around the side. The water is cold but refreshing.
14 | Once you get to the waterfall, cross it along one of the large downed logs and walk up it on the RIGHT side (not through the rocky section close to the falls). The trail might have a bit of snow leftover, but even so, it is easy to maneuver and follow than the “trail” closer to the waterfall. After about 10 minutes of walking, you will come to a small flat section with a couple of small, faint trails off to either side. If you go to the LEFT you will reach Emerald Lake, which is absolutely stunning. If you go to the RIGHT you will eventually reach Al Lake and the much larger Locket Lake.
❔ GOOD TO KNOW: there are numerous backpacking sites in this area to choose from if you are looking to do this hike in multiple days. Just remember to follow all leave no trace principles and camp at least 100 feet from any natural water source (including lakes).
15 | Once you get your fill of the lakes and the beautiful and stoic La Bohn Peak, which sits proudly in the background, turn around and simply make your way back to the first lake (Jade Lake).
16 | Because the trail is an out-and-back, you will just need to retrace your steps all the way back to the trailhead and parking lot. Remember to take your time on the steep downhill sections and make sure to watch where you are placing your feet and hands — especially on the slicker sections.
17 | Once you cross the river and reach the flat section of the trail once again, you can really start to cruise. Even though you might be exhausted and your feet might be sore, always remember to look around you at the beautiful landscape. This trail in particular has some awesome wildflowers and mushrooms, as well as a lot of birds and wildlife.
➳ You can download the full map of the Necklace Valley Trail from Alltrails here.
OTHER THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND WHILE HIKING
- Consider wearing hiking pants for the overgrown parts. This can save your legs from some unwanted scratches and stinging rashes from the thistle-y plants.
- Bring some comfortable hiking sandals if you are looking to save time when crossing the rivers. We didn’t and definitely regretted it after taking our boots and socks off for the fourth time.
- Bug spray is definitely necessary, for the mosquitos are pretty bad — especially in the forested sections near somewhat stagnant water.
- If you don’t want to carry extra water weight, then bring a handy water filter. There are plenty of places to filter and refill your bottles or bladders, especially when you get up to the alpine lakes. We only carried one 3-liter water bladder and it got us both through to the top of the hike.
- You are in bear country so be smart and stay bear-aware. Also, follow all protocols when backpacking (like making sure you have a proper way to store your food).
- Dogs are allowed on the trail, they must be kept on a leash at all times. You do not want your pup getting into any dangerous situations — like coming across a bear or getting too close to the raging rivers. Plus, having your dog on a leash keeps other hikers happy and safe too.
The Necklace Valley Trail is an awesome place to head to if you are looking for a top Washington hike near Seattle. The trail is a bit tougher than most — especially the last couple of miles — but it is also downright beautiful. The forest is nice and lush, the water is crystal clear and the alpine lakes and the whole alpine basin is absolutely stunning. We cannot recommend this hiking trail enough.
You can learn more about this trail (and check out the map) at Alltrails. Likewise, if you have any comments or questions about this trail or about hiking in Washington in general (or just hiking) then please leave a comment below or reach out to us directly at www.backroadpackers.com.