This joy of this loop is derived not so much from summitting an old fire lookout (which you will), than it is for the opportunity to take an ambling walk through undulating hills and numerous lakes and tarns. When you look at your map of this area, the first thing that may strike you is just how many bodies of water there are. I’ve counted no fewer than eighty as seen from these trails.
The geology of this area shifts from open, wet plains, to ancient pumice cinder cones. Resident herds of Roosevelt Elk are among this area’s abundant wildlife. Luckily much of this area has been spared the logger’s ax. Nestled far from civilization, at the end of Deep Creek, you will likely have this glorious loop to yourself. A brief, three-mile section of the famous Pacific Crest Trail makes up the western link of this loop.
Deep Creek, where your trail begins, can be a long drive from just about anywhere. You will however, be rewarded with solitude and majestic scenery. The trailhead has a lovely campground worthy of spending the night. This is popular horse country so expect to see some stock animals. The initial mile and one half section of this trail ascends 900 feet through old growth stands. The headwaters of the aptly named Deep Creek can be heard crashing to your left as you approach the plateau, which makes up most of this outing. Your first junction, virtually at the shores of ‘Little’ Twin Sisters Lake is where the actual loop begins. Either direction is equally enjoyable. By going counterclockwise you will ascend Tumac Mountain earlier in the day, but this description guides you through a clockwise route.
Make a a right hand turn to pass above the tranquil waters of Little Sister, one half-mile from the western Big Twin. These lakes have long been used by horse packers. There are many well established campsites through this area. One can almost sense the presence of horsemen like Chief Justice William O. Douglas whom this Wilderness area was named after. The Justice’s 1964 book, A Wilderness Bill of Rights, may well have been conceived of upon the shores of a pristine lake like this.
Another mile of lonely woods rambling will get you to the intersection with the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). If it is late summer or autumn, you will likely see numerous thru-hikers making their way northward. Three miles of hiking south turns up lake after lake. Some are pool-sized tarns, dried up by August; others have shores of tortured pines reflecting morning light and the silhouettes of low cinder hills.
Although you may be tempted to follow the PCT south to Mexico, you will need to turn left onto the Cowlitz Trail (44), to continue on the loop. This is a prehistoric trade route used by the Yakama nation long before settlers came to the area. The Cowlitz gains steadily through an open forest gaining a little over 1000 feet. The lichen-draped trees give way to multi-colored pumice slopes as you reach the summit of this long dormant cinder cone. Consider while you are there that this cinder cone erupted just 12,000 years ago, within the time span of human habitation in this area!
Tumac’s more recent history includes its use as a fire lookout from 1930 until the 1950s. Few remnants of that era remain; even the views are slowly disappearing behind walls of pines growing up around the summit. Local lore has it that Tumac got its name from two Scottish sheep herders, McAdams and McDuff who once worked the area.
When you are done soaking in the views and ready to head home, get back on the Cowlitz trail and drop off the north side of the mountain. It isn’t particularly steep, but pay attention early in the season if there is still snow. Three and a half miles of easy descent brings you back full circle to Twin Sisters Lake. A right hand turn back onto Twin Sisters Lake trail (980) will take you the final mile and one half back to the trailhead.
This loop hike’s intrigue owes largely to it’s numerous lakes and tarns. But with lovely lakes come the serious downside of mosquitoes. The terrain lends itself to mosquito habitat. If ever there were a place for bug hats and any other precaution in Washington, this would be it.
WTA Pro Tip: If you are spending the night at the trailhead (which is recommended), you can add on a short hike just a mile before the end of the Deep Creek Road. The trail, really an old 4x4 road, is signed “Copper City”. A short distance up this road are remnants of an old ore processing facility. With a bike (or more interest) this trail (654) can be taken several miles to ruins and more abandoned mines.