Our Favorite Hikes
This was my first hike as a three-year-old. Although, I was bribed with M&Ms I made it to the top! The Cascade Pass Trail is one of the most popular hiking trails in North Cascades National Park. While the relative low grade attracts plenty of interest, as well as the scenic Cascade River Road that leads to the trailhead, it's the stunning views waiting at the pass that give this trail its notoriety. Well before the North Cascades became a designated national park, Cascade Pass had been traversed by Native Americans and early fur traders. Back then, the 3.7-mile trail, with well-engineered switchbacks, wasn't as modern, but the views at the top remain the same.
Hidden Lake Peak
The Hidden Lake Trail in North Cascades National Park isn't necessarily a beginner-friendly trek, but gain the legs and experience to make this rugged, nine-mile round-trip, and you'll be rewarded for your efforts. Accessed via the North Cascades Highway (Hwy 20), plus a few additional miles on Forest Service Roads, the Hidden Lake Trail takes you through the many rich environments exposed by the North Cascades.
The first mile of the Hidden Lake trail navigates through a dense forest before emerging into meadowlands and avalanche chutes. The trail finally rests upon outstanding views of the surrounding North Cascade Mountain crest, including Mount Forbidden, Boston Peak, and Sahale Mountain, as well as the aptly named Hidden Lake tucked into the horizon. To capture this entire scene of North Cascade splendor, a retired fire lookout stands at the top of this hike, offering first-come, first-served overnight accommodations or just a great place to catch your breath and enjoy the fresh mountain scenery.
Easily accessed from the Rainy Pass Picnic Area off the North Cascades Highway (Hwy 20), the seven-mile Maple Pass Loop is a well-maintained trail that heads in either direction and treats hikers to old-growth forests, open ridgelines, and dramatic views of the rugged peaks that define North Cascades National Park. While the trailhead and sections of the trail are outside of the national park boundary, it provides perhaps the densest concentration of all that the North Cascades must offer and has proven to be one of the most popular hikes in the state of Washington. While the seven miles of this trail treats hikers to postcard-worthy views the entire way, if you have the extra hour, the Maple Pass Loop also lends access to nearby Lake Ann, which can serve as the cherry on top for an amazing North Cascades adventure.
The Ross Lake National Recreation Area separates the North and South sections of North Cascades National Park and features not only the 23-mile long Ross Lake, but also the equally emerald waters of the enchanting Diablo Lake. Serving as one of the best ways to see the splendor of Diablo Lake and the surrounding region, the Diablo Lake trail treats hikers to views of the otherworldly landscapes that are unique to the North Cascades. The seven miles it takes to trek out and back on the Diablo Lake trail starts at the North Cascades Institute parking lot and heads into the wilderness from there, exposing the different peaks that define this region, as well as views of old-growth forests, waterfalls, and the enchanting waters of Diablo Lake.
Within the Ross Lake National Recreation Area, Desolation Peak lives up to its name and provides dramatic views that have inspired day hikers and renowned authors alike. The Desolation Peak trail itself is only 6.8 miles long, but the extra steps it takes to get to the trailhead is what makes this trek an often-solitary experience. It is accessed either by a chartered boat ride across Ross Lake or by hiking 16 miles on the recommended East Bank Trail, which parallels the steep cliff sides of this enormous reservoir. Half the fun of the Desolation Peak trail is just getting started, and the other half waits for you along the trail and at the top.
For the first two miles of the trail, views of Ross Lake accompany hikers with each step and for the remaining 4.8 miles, more than 4,000 feet of elevation gain climbs into stunning displays of subalpine meadows, as well as dramatic vistas and a retired fire lookout to soak it all in. Jack Kerouac spent the summer of 1956 at this lookout and it is referenced in many of his popular books. Today, you can see the same views of Hozomeen Mountain, Skagit Peak, Ross Lake, and Jack Mountain that inspired the voice of a generation.
Fourth of July Pass
There are two ways to explore the subtle wonder of Fourth of July Pass, located within the Ross Lake National Recreation Area, and both routes traverse along the churning waters of this mountainous landscape. Whether you approach the pass by following either Panther or Thunder Creek, you are exposed to deep forest environments and big views of the overshadowing horizon along the way, and if you play your cards just right and arrange a shuttle, you can combine the two creek trails for a great 12-mile hike. Overnight camping is available with a permit and recommended at the Fourth of July Camp, a mile west of the pass, offering campers big views of Colonia Peak, Snowfield Peak, and Neve Glacier.
Trail of the Cedars Nature Walk
While North Cascades National Park is primarily a designated wilderness area, there are still small signs of our current civilization in the backwoods. One example of that is in the company town of Newhalem, exclusively populated by workers for Seattle City Light and the accompanying Skagit River Hydroelectric Project. Although you won't be able to put up permanent residency in Newhalem, you can spend the night in the Newhalem Campground to aid in exploring the many trails branching from this small community.