Earl Peak offers amazing views in all directions, but you have to work to get there: 7.5 miles round trip and about 3600 feet of elevation gain. We hiked to the top on a beautiful fall day, and although some clouds blew in and obscured our view from the top, it was still a spectacular hike from beginning to end.
The Cascade Mountains are fairly young, as mountains go: most of the volcanic activity that built them occurred in the last 5 million years. But the Stuart Range, which cuts east-west through the middle of the Cascades just north of the Seattle area, is much older. It was built by the collision of two major tectonic plates that has been occurring over the last 200 million years. The Stuart range is mostly hard granite, as opposed to the soft volcanic basalt of the Cascades. So whereas Mount Rainier and other Cascades peaks tend to have soft rounded shapes, Mount Stuart and its siblings all have a rugged look with sharp jagged lines.
Earl Peak offers a breathtaking view of Mount Stuart that anyone in reasonable shape can hike to, with only a little bit of simple scrambling required near the summit. We didn't see Mount Stuart from the top of Earl Peak on this trip, but we got a nice view when the clouds parted for us on the way back down. (If you just want to see the view of Mount Stuart, scroll to the end of this post.)
For directions to the trailhead, see this trip report. The last couple of miles can get pretty rough, so a high-clearance 4WD is recommended. One other thing to note is that the Bean Creek valley is open to hunters during hunting season, so check on those details if you're doing this hike in the fall, and take the usual precautions (or go some other time of the year).
Watch for a small wooden sign that marks where the trail turns right and leaves Bean Creek behind. From that point, it's a series of steep switchbacks up to a saddle along the ridge about 800 feet below Earl Peak.
While we were resting on the saddle ridge before the final push to the summit, we were shocked to see an 80 year-old man appear out of the mist, having just climbed nearly 3000 feet as we had but not even sweating or breathing hard.
His name was David, and he wasn't carrying anything other than a single trekking pole. I asked about water, and he said he'd been drinking from the creeks. "After a lifetime on the trails, you get used to it."
David was the only other human being we saw above the first mile of the trail that day.