Trail running minutes from Wenatchee
By Amber King
Man alive, I love exploring the trails in and around Chelan Country! Each one brings its own little spice, with new surprises. And as we know, exploration and trail running go hand-in-hand. If you can hike, you can trail run.
A lot of the time, I just think of it as really fast hiking. You can stop, take photos, go swimming, run, smell the flowers or power over steep hills whenever you please.
The Pipeline-Squilchuck-Liberty trail loop is another run in the Wenatchee Valley that fits the bill.
Mission Ridge, located just 15 minutes outside of town, is a great area to run during mid-summer evenings, following day-time temps that can hit 100 degrees in the valley floor.
This trail loop, approximately 6 miles in length, is fantastic for these hot days as it is shady in the evening and hosts many trees along the trail. Furthermore, it has amazing fields of lupine, lush green meadows, two glorious lakes (if you feel like going off trail for a little bit), extensive lava rock fields and more. Even better, this trail is not too technical, making it perfect for the beginning trail runner looking for a challenge.
My first go on this trail actually had me lost at 8 p.m. at night, without a headlamp and facing a decision to make. At a vital t-intersection, I mistakenly turned left instead of right. This took me up to some beautiful lakes and extensive boulder fields with a trail that seemed to just disappear. As the sun went down, I needed to decide from two options, as I didn’t want to get lost. One, I could try to find my across the extensive boulder fields (I knew the direction I needed to go). Or two, I could make the smarter, but way less adventurous decision to go back the way I came, turning my intended 6-mile jaunt into an 8-mile run. I wanted to go with option one, simply because I wanted to challenge myself and possibly get the feeling of victory as I emerged to the road and back to my car! Navigator of the wild is what I would call myself! But no – my logic got the best of me and I was left running back the way I came in. I ran as fast as I could before darkness enveloped me.
Fears crossed my mind as I zoomed back to the car via the flat Pipeline Trail. Cougars, injuries and bears — oh my! It was dusk, when cougars and bears are most active. What would I do if I encountered one? I was all alone without any sort of defense. I definitely couldn’t outrun them! I looked around for loose rocks to throw just in case — but this trail didn’t really present many.
As the sun plunged farther into the horizon, the shadows grew. I couldn’t really see where my feet were going, which is a necessity in trail running. Rolled ankles, hyper-extended knees, my thoughts kept swirling. As I ran, I knew I should slow down and take my time so I wouldn’t injury myself. But I couldn’t stop thinking of the animals and I started to run faster. Regardless, I did make it out safe — no rolled ankles and no signs of wildlife … whew! I vowed that I would come back and figure out this loop, and I would bring a friend.
Shortly thereafter, I called up my friend, Amy Kerker. I had met her at the Tuesday track workouts put on by RunWenatchee. She is a super awesome chick! A music teacher at the local school, super fun, fantastic conversationalist, and a great runner!
Rolling out at about 5 p.m., I picked her up and we drove up the Liberty-Beehive Reservoir Road to the Devil’s Gulch Trailhead. We parked here and walked across the gravel road to the unmarked Pipeline Trail directly across the road (you can’t miss it). Currently there is some construction going on. It looks like they are regrading the trail — so if you are planning on going anytime soon, do it after 4:30 p.m. after the crews have left.
We ran the soft dirt and rocky trail for about 2 miles until we reached a junction. Heading straight would take us to Mission Ridge Ski & Board Resort (you can see a ski lift), left goes down towards Squilchuck State Park, and going up and right goes towards the lakes — the way we wanted to go. As we trotted uphill over some moderate to steep terrain, we alternated between running and walking. We talked about how this was like interval training at the track and enjoyed the natural beauty of the area.
After about a mile, we got to the junction that had stumped me previously and left me lost. Heading left here will take you to Lake Marion and Lake Clara. These are two pretty little lakes, hosting cute camping spots, solitude, and the inspiration to write, paint, or just watch, look, and listen. In your sights, you will find meadows of lupine lining the trail, and fields of volcanic rock.
We decided to follow this route once again — simply because I wanted to see if my dead-end trail was really a dead end, or if I missed the real route. Getting to the lakes, we found ourselves faced with a system of different trails that go every which way. They all end up in the same place, so there is no right way going about it — just go where your heart desires. Getting back to the point where I was stumped, we decided to go for a little adventure.
We found a couple of trails that looked like they had promise among the boulders. The black of the lava rock was even worn down to a lighter color, indicating use and some form of wear. Could this be the trail? Following it for about 10 minutes brought us to another dead end.
Realizing that this really wasn’t the way, we went cross country through the lava rock field in the direction of the first lake so we could re-orient ourselves.
Clambering over shaky boulders and leaping from rock to rock, I thought about how elite ultra-runners seem to just float over this stuff with intentional focus, poise, and efficiency. I pondered the balance and movement required for that kind of stealth.
As we made it back to the lake, we found our trail and headed back to the t-intersection. This time, we went right and followed the Liberty-Beehive arrow, the one that would bring us out to the road we had originally started on. Following this for about a mile, we encountered some expansive views and awe-inspiring moments.
Hitting the road, we snapped some photos and headed downhill on the gravel road and back to the Devil’s Gulch Trail Head. We had figured it out! We were victorious in navigating this trail – which turned out to be pretty easy in the end. We had fun, explored a new area, and got a great workout in. And all only 15 minutes away from home.
Another variation on this run could just be the in-and-out on the Pipeline Trail. It’s 4 miles of easy-to-navigate flat terrain. Start at the Devil’s Gulch Trailhead, head across the way, run the only trail there. Once you hit the junction, turn around and run back. You will still get great views of Wenatchee and an opportunity to check out a beginner trail up on Mission Ridge. Enjoy!
Trail name: Pipeline-Squilchuck Loop-Liberty
Mileage: 6 miles
Elevation gain: 800 feet
Trail map reference: Start at Pipeline -> Lake Clara -> Squilchuck -> Beehive/Liberty Road
Difficulty: Beginner to easy intermediate
Pros: Cool temps in hot weather, lakes, lupine, meadows, well-maintained trails
Cons: Trails are not well-marked, mosquitoes
Passes required: Northwest Forest Service (orange permit)
Additional resources: http://www.justgetout.net/Wenatchee/14787
Directions from Wenatchee
1. From Wenatchee proper, take Squilchuck Road out of town towards Mission Ridge.
2. After you hit Squilchuck State Park, continue another mile up the Mission Ridge road. The road will come to a sharp left turn and there will be a dirt road on the right (FS 9712/Liberty-Beehive Road). This is the same road you take to get to Beehive Reservoir.
3. Following this road for a little bit as it moves uphill. You will pass the reservoir. Continue on.
4. After passing the reservoir, you will come to the Devil’s Gulch Trailhead about 3 miles down. Park here.
5. Walk across the road. The trail will be on your right hand side — currently unmarked. Start down that trail.
Enjoy and get out. Hot weather is not an excuse anymore!