Bandera has a reputation for two things: a steep, difficult ascent and breathtaking panoramic views. The second feature far outweighs the first. A new trail built by the Forest Service makes access to Bandera Trail much easier and should encourage even more folks to visit this great place. That's good for everyone, since Bandera is less than an hour from Seattle. The trail is awash in mountain views in every direction, with one of Washington's best sunsets.
The route to Bandera follows Mason Lakes Trail for 2.5 miles before splitting off to the right at a signed junction. By this point, hikers are out of woods and immersed in wide open mountain meadows, kept in check by heavy snowpacks and regular (every 100 years or so) fires. The last 1.5 miles of the trail gains 1800 feet by cutting straight up the mountain on a narrow path (2 feet in most places). The views are grand along the way and only get better as the trail reaches the summit of Bandera. Mount Rainier is enormous to the south, behind McClellan Butte. Miles and miles of forest and mountain ridges give way to Glacier Peak to the east and Mount Baker to the north. Total elevation gain is about 3,040 feet, a rough day's work, but the memories of the great views will outlast any soreness.