Rising close to 4,000 feet out of the Cle Elum River Valley to meet the Yellow Hill Trail, the Jolly Mountain Trail presents a vigorous climb to a rambunctious ridgeline and perky panoramic summit with breathtaking mountain range views for miles of West Teanaway, the Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Glacier Peak, Mount Rainier and Mount Adams that you are likely to have all to yourself.
The trailhead starts at the back of the Cayuse Horse Camp that sits along the Salmon La Sac Road, 16 miles from Roslyn. Parking can be found on the righthand side of Salmon La Sac Road, next to the sign for the horse camp. It's also accessible a short distance up FR 4315 in a sno-park lot.
If you're parking on Salmon La Sac Road, walk up the entrance into the horse camp, straight ahead through the gate marked for the corral and take a right on a road bed past the host camp site. Look for a sign 0.1 mile in. It indicates the Jolly Mountain Trail Detour, which is where the trail from the sno-park lot on FR 4135 comes in on the right. Keep straight here and in another 0.1 mile, the official trail for Jolly Mountain begins (.3 miles from Salmon La Sac Road).
Heading up through mature clearcut interspersed with vine maple and Oregon grape, you will find yourself on a rock-strewn, powdery dirt trail shared with hikers, stock and dirt bikes. Switchbacks help you gain elevation with several viewpoints out to the parched end of Cle Elum Lake, as well as the Cooper River valley with Red Mountain, Hibox, Three Queens and Mount Baldy off in the distance.
There are two junctions with overgrown road beds, look for brown forest service markers that keep you on track and remind you that you have picked a 'most difficult' trail.
At 1.8 miles, the switchbacks cease and the trail takes a wide sweep of the contour above the gully that cradles the Salmon La Sac Creek drainage. In another 1.2 miles you will begin to hear the bubbly brook on your right and soon cross over on a sturdy plank bridge. A simple wooden bench a few steps upstream nestles in a cover of vanilla leaf and offers a shady reprieve from your climb. This creek also offers the best water source before the ridge, which will be dry once winter’s white coat has melted away.
From here, a non-remarkable trail junction down to Paris Creek appears on the left in less than half a mile but you continue up and up. The incline steepens before leveling out in a small meadow in another 0.6 miles; purple aster and dainty white yarrow surround a marshy stream flowing over the trail.
You aren’t done yet. Steep switchbacks continue once again another 0.6 miles, until you jovially break out of the trees to meet the Sasse Ridge Trail at 5600 feet. Have a windbreaker close by. If you stop to catch your breath, you'll notice the crest can be breezy. No doubt you’ll have perspired thus far and that coat will be useful to keep a chill at bay.
The ridge trail goes right to Sasse and Hex Mountain but you will turn left and enjoy the undulating ridgeline, a welcome break from your ascent that will have you bright-eyed and bushy-tailed once again. Rugged rust-colored knobs dotted with sedum offer viewpoints but you have a much more exuberant summit in mind. Mount Rainier and Adams can be seen off to your right and Summit Chief, Hinman and Bears Breast sit proudly on your left as you saunter along.
The aftermath of the lightning-caused Jolly Mountain fire of 2017 soon begins to reveal itself with scorched slopes and a dark bristled forest. Luckily the trail itself did not see significant damage but 21,000 acres burned in a fire that lasted over 3 months and rained ashes as far as Seattle, causing a state of an emergency and contributing to the poorest air quality in the country for the second half of summer. The slopes of Jolly, Sasse and Hex Mountains all bear the brunt of its wrath.
As you make your way along the ridge, notice pockets of cheerful pines that were spared the flames. Resilient evergreens still stand among their ebony neighbors twisted over like strands of licorice. Fireweed and pearly everlasting offer bright colorful contrast as the forest slowly restores itself.
The West Fork Teanaway Trail drops down on the right in 0.3 miles. You'll stay to the left at the intersection as the ridge continues to climb. Views of Chikamin, Lemah and the iconic Enchantment peaks appear on your left, take care with your step as the sometimes trenched trail littered with sharp stones gains 300 more feet towards your final junction.
In 0.7 miles the ridge meets a junction with the Jolly Creek Trail that descends to the left but you keep to the right for a final push to the summit of Jolly Mountain another 1 mile off. The first 0.3 miles of this are level but you soon find yourself zigzagging to a rocky ridgeline. Weathered snags curl close to the trail like eyelashes through the burn area, mind your head as you walk along.
The best way to reach the summit at the end is to snake around to the back side to meet the Yellow Hill Trail and then up to the top on a defined path. The roomy summit once held a lookout from 1921 to 1968 but now only a stone windbreak and rusty artifacts remain. You won’t mind, however, as you find yourself grinning ear to ear with joy as you take in the views around you. You've jolly well earned it.
Look for sunny ladybugs on Jolly’s mountaintop surfaces while imagining optimistic climbers ascending on Mount Stuart, The Cradle, Glacier Peak and Rainier off in the distance. Hopeful raptors float by on the wind looking for lunch in the scree below while you sit and enjoy sustenance you pull from your pack.
Once restored with a fill of nature’s eye candy, carefully begin your almost 7-mile descent back down. Balance gazing at the horizon with minding your feet. While the horizon is populated with stunning peaks, the trail is populated with unstable scree — think loose ball bearings. Better to return with radiant tales of hiking the entire Jolly Mountain Trail than a hike-halting injury.
When descending in the afternoon, the last 3 miles of clear cut will have you exposed and water will be a must in the hot sun. Make sure to check your supply when crossing the Salmon La Sac Creek before continuing the rest of the way out.
WTA Pro Tip: Basecamp Books & Bites in Roslyn makes a great post-hike stop for cold refreshments and tasty nibbles. During the summer they also offer night time movies and live music to round out your adventure!