The Good. Sage Hills or Saddle Rock? Which of these parcels of undeveloped hills flanking Wenatchee to the west offer the best hikes, mountain bike rides, and trail runs? It’s a contentious debate, but my money is on the Sage Hills. I remember meeting a woman looking for a geocache back on the trails of the Sage several years ago who was a long-time Wenatchee resident but had never been walking back here. She was awestruck and babbled on about the flowers, the views over town and the Columbia, the shadowed folds of hills surrounding Burch Mountain. “This is sooo incredible,” she said several times, “Why have I never come up here before?”
Why indeed. Yet this woman is far from alone. I’ve talked to many Wenatchee residents who have walked the Loop but never visited the Sage Hills. Well, if you like the Loop, you’ll love the Sage Hills. It’s wilder, quieter, more open, more peaceful. The views are expansive, the flowers spectacular in spring, the air crisp and foliage colorful in autumn.
The Bad. The Sage Hills have a number of issues that trail users need to respect if this area is to remain open to the public. It’s not hard to comply, but this isn’t a place to be a rebel. Please read the ‘Issues’ section below so you’re thoroughly informed. In brief, here are the rules that need to be followed to keep the area open: 1) Use only the access points described below and park as described 2) Leash your dogs 3) Stay on the trails, cross-country travel is verboten 4) Don’t use trails marked closed 5) Don’t cut switchbacks 6) Don’t make new trails 7) Leave all motorized vehicles behind 8) Stay off rain-softened trails if your passage leaves prints or ruts 9) Obey the area closure between December 1 to April 1.
Access: These are the only legal, public access points for getting into different parts of the Sage Hills. Most of these entrance points have limited or no amenities, and limited maintenance keeping them clean. The Horse Lake Trailhead is the only one with a toilet (vault toilet) but it’s best to arrive at all these trailheads having taken care of your bathroom needs before arriving. Bring your own water (and plenty of it in late spring and summer). Haul away your own trash. And please pickup any trash left by others. If we outdoor users don’t keep these areas clean, we will lose the right to use some of them.
- Lester Trail Parking. Drive west (uphill) on Fifth Street past its intersection with Western Avenue. In 0.7 miles, the road hooks hard to the left (south) and becomes Number One Canyon Road. Go another 0.4 miles to where Sage Hills Road splits off to the right. Park here on the right (north) side of Number One Road. There is a small gravel pull-off that can accommodate 7 or 8 cars if users park efficiently. After parking, walk an extra 0.2 miles to the Lester Trail which starts from the end of Sage Hills Road.
- Day Road Access. Drive west (uphill) on Fifth Street 0.6 mile past its intersection with Western Avenue. Turn right on Surry and, after 150 yards, turn left on Lester Road. Drive uphill about 200 yards and turn right on Day Road. Follow Day Road as it makes a few right-angle turns, first to the left, then to the right. Just before the pavement ends and before all the ‘Stay Out’ signs, enter a small parking lot on the left owned by the Chelan-Douglas Land Trust. A trail heads uphill from the parking lot and intersects the Lester Trail in about 70 yards. Notes: This parking lot has an automatic gate that is closed by a timer at 7 pm. Also, if the lot is full (possible on spring weekends), use the Lester Trail Parking or the Fifth Street Overflow Parking.
- Fifth Street Overflow Parking. On spring weekends, the Sage Hills can get enough visitors to fill the small parking areas close to the trails. During this time, mountain bikers are asked to park along Fifth Street between Jennings Street and Surry Road (about 0.5 miles west, or uphill, of Western Avenue). Ride from here up to the Day Road Access.
- Horselake Road Trailhead. From the intersection of Wenatchee Avenue and Horselake Road at the north end of Wenatchee, drive west (uphill) on Horselake Road. In one mile, the pavement ends and you can use a pullout on the right to park (good place for mountain bikers or trail runners wanting a longer route). Or drive another 2.3 miles up Horselake Road and use the parking lot (on the right) that’s on the opposite side of the road from the trail. The parking lot and the vault toilet here were built by the Land Trust in 2009.
- Maiden Lane Entrance. From the north end of Western Avenue turn west onto Maiden Lane and head uphill into the Broadview residential development. Follow Maiden Lane as it twists and turns for nearly a mile until the pavement ends. The trail takes off from the end of the road. Because there is no official parking area and no amenities here, this access is best suited for people who walk, run, or ride here. If you do drive, don’t park at the end (this focuses all the vehicular traffic and hassles on a few local residents). Randomly park along Maiden Avenue (this is legal) and walk an extra quarter or third of a mile to the end of Maiden Lane.
To help you explore this pretty but confusing area, we’ve listed the trails that the PUD and CDLT are willing to allow the public to use. There are no signs naming the trails or distances, so use our map. Most of the trails that are closed are either barricaded at their ends or are marked with small, red-dot signs. Just about all of these closures are on 1) spurs that go to the same place as another trail or 2) trails that are so steep that they erode badly and are unsustainable. Do everyone a favor: Use only the trails we describe or have mapped.
We’ve lettered and described these trail segments as though you were accessing from Sage Hills Drive at the southern end of the hills and were first traveling north and then returning south in a loop. Use this information like a menu to assemble an outing that’s the right length and difficulty for you. Naturally if you’re accessing the Sage Hills from a different point (like Horselake Road), you may need to reverse some of our instructions.
- Lester and Sage Hills trails. This trail segment starts as the Lester Trail and is on private property and which the Lester Family graciously allows the public to use. It leaves from the end of Sage Hills Road (el: 1,140’) and heads north. The first few hundred yards of the trail are steep (some mountain bikers will need to push their bikes), but soon the trail flattens out. A few smaller spurs branch off the main trunk trail. Ignore them and keep heading north. When you hit the Land Trust property some people start calling the trail the Sage Hills Trail. About a mile from the start, a series of switchbacks take you up to a saddle. The saddle (el: 1,390’) is popularly called Five Trails or Five-Trail Saddle. Some of the trails here are being decommissioned so in the future it may look like a three-trail saddle. Distance: 1.5 miles.
From Five Trail Saddle (above), you’ll see a few trails (hard left and hard right) that have been closed and two trails that remain open. The Coyote Canyon Trail is the open trail to the the left that contours into Coyote Canyon. The Maiden Lane or Broadview Trail is the open trail to the right and it drops down to Maiden Lane, one of the roads wandering through the Broadview housing development.
- Broadview or Maiden Lane Trail. Go right at the saddle (if you’re looking north) and straightline downhill in a north or northeasterly direction. One trail will split off to your left after 0.3 miles (K Trail) and this drops more steeply into a small ravine. Ignore it and keep going straight toward Broadview until you reach the pavement of Maiden Lane. Distance 0.75 miles. Note: Runners and mountain bikers can follow Maiden Lane for 0.6 miles to the ditch or 0.9 miles to Western Avenue and return to their home or car to complete a part-wild, part-civilized loop.
- Coyote Canyon. Go left at the saddle (if you’re looking north). This trail has you on either a flat contour or a climbing contour for its entire length. Any spur splitting off to your right and losing elevation is not to be followed. One such spur splits off after 0.1 mile from the saddle (J Trail). Keep contouring, for about 0.75 before entering a small draw that has you climbing more steeply. After the draw, the trail makes two switchback turns up a slope before it finally flattens out and delivers you to a confusing intersection of trails (el: 1,780’) that has a jeep road dropping down the hillside on your left and three barricades closing different segments of trail around you. Distance: 1.25 miles.
From this intersection of trails where the Coyote Canyon Trail ends, there are several options.
- Lower Lightning Trail is a right turn that takes you down a series of gentle, sweeping switchbacks before intersecting the Gut Trail (described below). Distance: 0.4 miles.
- Upper Lightning Trail is a left turn and gets you trails that take up and up a series of many switchbacks. Roughly 2.25 miles of sustained climbing take you into sparse ponderosa forests and to the top of the PUD’s property. Slightly after coming onto the DNR’s property in a little grassy draw, a sharp right turn has you climbing for 100 yards, then traversing on flat or slightly descending trail for 0.4 miles onto Land Trust Property where dirt roads can take you up toward Twin Peaks or onto the Orchard Trail that heads down to Horse Lake, the Homestead Trail or the Horse Lake Trailhead (see map below)
- Upper Snakebite. This trail goes straight and maintains a contour in a northerly direction. Initially the trail is narrow and flat and is of intermediate difficulty. After a few hundred yards, it gets more technical for mountain bikers as it contours into a tricky ravine, makes a short drop through a wash, and then starts a steep, moderately long technical climb. About 0.4 miles along, you’ll reach a shoulder with good views of Burch Mountain. Here, the trail takes a hard jog to the right, follows the ridge, goes under power lines, and climbs up to the top of a knoll (el: 1,923’). Drop off the backside of the knoll and, in a very short order, intersect the Lone Fir Spur Trail. Distance: 0.75 miles.
From the intersection of Snakebite and the Lone Fir Spur there are several choices.
- Lone Fir Spur. This is your left turn. The trail was built in 2008 and it’s a long contour (initially descending gradually, then climbing gradually) that heads north to Horselake Road. About 0.4 miles along the way, another trail (built in the autumn of 2010) branches off to your left and starts climbing — this is the Homestead Trail. More about the Homestead Trail (and a map showing its location) in our guidebook. If you keep going straight on the Lone Fir Spur, there is another trail junction in about 0.3 miles farther, with the left branch descending more gradually in sweeping turns (fun for cycling) and the right branch heading more directly to the road (faster for walking). Distance: 1.4 miles. Mountain bikers wanting to complete a long loop can return to town by descending Horselake Road.
- Lower Snakebite. Go straight through the intersection in an easterly direction. The trail follows the ridge a short distance, and then hooks right and makes a descending contour on a very narrow trail that traverses a steep hillside. Soon the trail intersects F Trail. Distance: 0.35 miles.
- Lone Fir. This is the right turn and is the newly built continuation of the Lone Fir Spur that drops down into the same ravine where Lower Snakebite ultimately leads. The trail is wider, slightly gentler and easier for less skilled mountain bikers to negotiate. Distance: 0.4 miles.
From the intersection where Lower Snakebite and the Lone Fir Spur merge:
- Badlands Trail. This trail heading south is formed from the merging of the last two trails described above. The trail makes a few sweeping turns as it descends gradually. Then the route drops into a little ravine with cool badland-erosion features. The trail climbs out of the ravine and contours gradually uphill to a saddle (el 1,635’) where several trails converge. Distance: 0.5 miles.
At the saddle mentioned under the Badlands Trail, there’s an old jeep trail running to your left and to your right . The PUD will be decommissioning this jeep trail over time but short segments of the old jeep road are used to access different trails.
- Lower Lightning Trail. By turning right (west) at the saddle, you can follow the jeep trail about 75 yards to reach the Lower Lightning Trail which we mentioned earlier when you were at its top. You can head uphill on this trail and reconnect with the Coyote Canyon Trail described above or with the Upper Lightning Trail also described above: 0.4 miles.
- Jackhammer. Turn left (east) at the saddle, follow the jeep road uphill about 40 yards before branching right onto a single-track trail. The trail starts off quite gently but steepens as you go. On a bike, the outer reaches of the trail get exciting as you descend steep, sandy segments of trail, and take a very steep little plunge into a wash. Climb out of that wash and, in 40 yards, turn left at a T-intersection. Now make another short, steep climb has you intersecting the Broadview Trail. Distance: 0.9 miles.
- The Gut. Go straight (south) at the saddle and you can follow the old service road used to access and power lines on your right. This starts off as a fairly straight, gradual descent on a combination of double-track and single-track. The trail then drops more steeply into a ravine, climbs out, and dips through a broader basin before merging with the Coyote Canyon Trail about 100 yards from Five Trail Saddle described at the start of this report. Distance: 0.8 miles.
In the spring of 2015 a new, two-mile trail was completed by the Chelan-Douglas Land Trust in the lower Sage Hills. This trail was named the Balsamroot Trail and one end of the trail leaves the Broadview Trail very close to the point where that trail goes from dirt road to single-track road. The trail contours in a northerly direction for about 1.5 miles and then drops down to Horse Lake Road and intersects the road right at the point where the road turns from pavement to dirt. You can park in a wide pullout on Horse Lake Road right where the road makes this transition from pavement to dirt, or you park on the other end of the trail near the end of the paved portion of Maiden Lane.
Maps: Print our map on 8.5” x 11” paper in landscape mode. Use ‘Print Preview’ to size and scale before printing. Note: We’ve color-coded the trails by difficulty: green = easiest, blue = intermediate, black = hardest. These difficulties are relative to each other and do not conform to any standardize scale. The letters used to identify trails on the map correspond to the letters used in our trail description above. Here is the latest map of the Apricot Crisp Trail, which heads up higher and connects with roads that lead up to Twin Peaks. It works to keep trail users entirely on property owned by the Land Trust.
Avoiding Trail Damage. The trails in the Sage Hills do not drain water quickly because the soil is fine grained. Particularly in the fall and spring when there is a moderate amount of moisture in the ground, a rain event can easily soften the surface so that your passage leaves little craters (if walking or horseback riding) or ruts (if biking). These craters and ruts become a problem with continued rain because they channelize water and accelerate erosion. Given that there is no formal work crew maintaining these trails, it’s important to minimize trail damage by staying off them when they’re too soft for your form of a travel. Use this rule of thumb: If your prints are deeper than the tread of shoes or wheels, turn around and give the trails more time to dry. It’s pretty simple if your passage or your form of travel leaves the trails in worse shape, then you shouldn’t be passing.
Keep in mind that not all forms of travel are equally damaging. Also, just because the trails are open, it doesn’t guarantee that they can support your activity. There’s a progression as to when the trails can support and activity. Hikers can be on the trails earliest in the spring, earliest after a heavy rain, and latest in the fall without causing damage. Mountain bikers need to use a bit more discretion—in spring, after a heavy rain, or in fall there are periods when wheels will rut the trails while walking will cause no damage. Horseback riders need the driest, firmest trails and should be the last user group in the spring using the trails, and the first user group in the fall to pull off the trails. If in doubt about whether the trails can support your activity, hike them first and access their condition.
Allowed: Hiking, trail running, mountain biking, horseback riding, dog walking (pets must be leashed), wildflower and native plant observations. Look for these plants along the Foothills.
Not Allowed: No motorized vehicles (cars, trucks, ATVs, motorcycles, or snowmobiles) are allowed on PUD, CDLT, or DNR property in the Sage Hills. Most of the land owners do not allow dogs to be off-leash.
Best season: Spring and fall. Summer usage tends to be restricted to early morning and late afternoon when the sun is not baking the hills.
Permits: None needed.
Issues: The PUD’s mandate is to manage their property in the Sage Hills (the Homewater Property) for the benefit of wildlife. This was established as a mitigation for wildlife habitat that was lost by building of the Rock Island Dam. The Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife reports to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) about whether the PUD is living up to its wildlife obligations and a bad report card could affect the PUD’s licensing agreement. The agency has little sense of humor about things that could negatively impact their license and have repeatedly indicated that if recreationalists can’t comply with the established rules and the approved trails, the area will be closed.
Seasonal Closure: Every winter the PUD and CDLT properties in the the Sage Hills are closed from December 1 to April 1. In winter, mule deer move down into these lands and, at a time when they are nearly starving, they can ill afford the calorie expenditure needed to avoid people and pets.
Be More Than a User. These trails need frequent maintenance and most of the work is done by volunteers. If you use these trails, help maintain them. To join trail maintenance parties in the spring or fall, contact Central Washington Chapter of Evergreen or the Chelan-Douglas Land Trust (509-667-9708).
Leave It Better Than You found It: Pick up trash left by others, pull noxious weeds along your route, throw branches over spur trails and spurs between switchbacks (make it harder to do the wrong thing than the right thing).
Disclaimer: Treat this information as recommendations, not gospel. Conditions change, and those contributing these reports are volunteers–they may make mistakes or may not know all the issues affecting a route. You are still completely responsible for your decisions, your actions, and your safety. If you can’t live with that, you are prohibited from using our information.
This guidebook post is sponsored by Hazel Kilmer. Hazel is three years old and enjoys hiking and biking. Her grandfather Mike Sorenson has sponsored this post on Hazel’s behalf in honor of her adventurous spirt. Keep on adventuring Hazel!