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The Best Hikes in North Cascades National Park

The Best Hikes in North Cascades National Park

Ten Trails That You’ll Never Forget…

Stunning views, towering summits, prolific wildlife, primeval forests, glistening glaciers, resplendent wildflowers, and one of the largest wilderness areas in the Lower 48; celebrate the North Cascades National Park’s 50th anniversary with a hike. Here are ten of my absolute favorites—from easy day hikes to challenging backpacking trips in the North Cascades National Park complex. Happy hiking!

 

Trappers Peak

Photo by Bob Kandiko

Roundtrip:  10.6 miles

Elevation Gain: 3,300 feet

Notes: Dogs prohibited

Access: Via SR 20

Saunter up steep forested slopes before scrambling up a narrow rocky spine—then be mesmerized with in-your-face views of the formidable jagged Pickett Range. Look straight down one vertical mile to the company town of Newhalem sitting along the Skagit River. Then face west and peer down to the shimmering Thornton Lakes. If you’ve got any energy remaining—check them out on the return.           

Copper Ridge

Photo by Bob Kandiko

Round trip: 20.4 miles

Elevation Gain: 5,485 feet

Notes: Dogs prohibited, Northwest Forest Pass required; National Park backcountry permit required for camping.

Access: Via SR 542

Hike up a glacier-carved valley polished by avalanches and decorated with resplendent wildflowers. Follow a churning creek fed by a procession of cascading tributaries to Hannegan Pass—a portal into the deep wilderness of the North Cascades National Park. Then begin your alpine odyssey across Copper Ridge to a fire lookout perched on a 6,200-foot knob. Gaze out at more sky-probing rock and ice imaginable—including massive 8,236-foot Mount Challenger with its extensive glacial system.

Sourdough Mountain Lookout 

Photo by Bob Kandiko

Roundtrip: 11.0 miles

Elevation Gain: 5100 feet

Notes: dogs prohibited

Access: Via SR 20

One of the most challenging trails in the North Cascades, the arduous haul to the historic1933-built lookout atop Sourdough Mountain climbs one vertical mile within 5.5 miles of trail. But, sprawling flowering meadows and a panorama of craggy, spiraling, glacier-cloaked, cloud-piercing peaks is the payoff! However, it’s Diablo Lake’s turquoise waters sparkling one mile directly below that’ll really blow you away.

Big Beaver-Little Beaver Loop

Photo by Bob Kandiko

Round trip: 37.0 miles

Elevation Gain: 3,100 feet

Notes: Dogs prohibited; Water taxi required; National Park backcountry permit required for camping.

Access: via SR 20

Take a water taxi ride up Ross Lake to begin this wilderness trek. Traipse through two deep remote valleys shadowed by towering peaks and animated by thundering glacier-fed creeks. This hike is all about the trees. They’re colossal here—and their age mind-boggling! Wander through groves of monstrous cedars that have graced the planet for a millennium. And share this primeval forest with black bears, spotted owls, cougars and other wild critters.

Hozomeen Lake

Photo by Craig Romano

Roundtrip: 7.4 miles

Elevation Gain: 1,200 feet

Notes: Vehicle access to trailhead is via British Columbia, Canada.

Access: via Silver-Skagit Road

If it wasn’t such an expedition to get here, this hike would be one of the busiest in the North Cascades. Enjoy a fairly easy hike to a large placid body of water within the shadows of one of the fiercest looking landmarks in the North Cascades. Stare at the twin sheer-vertical spires of Hozomeen Peak reflecting in the lake of same name. And let the eerie cry of the lake’s resident loons enchant you.

Desolation Peak 

Photo by Bob Kandiko

Roundtrip: 11.6 miles

Elevation Gain: 5100 feet

Notes: Water taxi required; Dogs permitted on leash

Access: via SR 20

Despite its name, Desolation Peak is alive in color—shrouded in dazzling alpine flowers during the summer bloom. And the view? Stand mouth agape staring at the cobalt waters of fjord-like Ross Lake cradled beneath glacier-covered serrated summits. It was inspirational to Beatnik poet Jack Kerouac when he staffed the historic 1932-built lookout here in 1956—and you’ll be inspired here as well. Nearby fearsome 8066-foot Mount Hozomeen captivated and mesmerized the poet, as it will you too.

Easy Pass

Photo by Craig Romano

Roundtrip: 7.4 miles

Elevation Gain: 2,800 feet

Notes: NW Forest Pass required; dogs permitted to national park boundary at pass

Access: Via SR 20

Despite its name, this hike isn’t easy. But it’s easily one of the prettiest day hikes off of the North Cascades Highway. Follow an old prospectors’ route to a notch high on Ragged Ridge. Then savor spectacular views of glistening glaciers gracing massive 9,000-plus foot Mount Logan. Intrepid souls can continue down into U-shaped Fisher Basin, one of the bear densest spots in the North Cascades. Come in fall for larch madness. 

Cascade Pass- Sahale Arm

Photo by Bob Kandiko

Roundtrip: 12.0 miles

Elevation Gain: 4000 feet

Notes: Dogs prohibited

Access via the Cascade River Road

The only trailhead within the 684,000-acre North Cascades National Park you can drive to, Cascade Pass is the most popular hike within the park. From a lofty start beneath the icy face of 8200-foot Johannesburg Mountain, follow a route once used by Native Americans, explorers, prospectors, and surveyors to reach Lake Chelan. Then go beyond the pass trudging up a lofty ridge of alpine tundra and dazzling wildflowers all the way to the Sahale Glacier at 7600 feet. It’s pure alpine bliss.

Stiletto Peak Lookout Site

Photo by Craig Romano

Roundtrip: 10.6 miles

Elevation Gain: 3,700 feet

Notes: NW Forest Pass required; dogs prohibited

Access: Via SR 20 

When it comes to jaw-slacking, mouth-watering, eye-widening horizon-spanning North Cascades views, Stiletto Peak makes the cut. Follow the PCT to a seldom used trail leading up steep slopes, alpine meadows and a rocky ridge to an old lookout site at 7,223 feet. Stare out at Mount Goode, highest summit in the park—and to a sea of serrated horizon spanning ridges and summits. And savor the solitude you’re almost sure to get on this lonely summit. 

Rainbow Loop 

Photo by John D’Onofrio

Roundtrip: 4.4 miles

Elevation Gain: 1,000 feet

Notes: dogs permitted on leash.

Access Via seaplane or boat to Steheken then walk or shuttle 4.8 miles to trailhead

A Stehekin Valley Classic, this loop takes you through mature forest, across rushing mountain creeks and to sunny ledges providing an eagle’s eye view of Lake Chelan. Southern slopes mean that the trail usually melts out by the first day of spring. But when snow blankets the loop, it’s a lovely snowshoe route. The real treat is the knockout ledge top view of Lake Chelan and the Stehekin Valley.

Craig Romano is an award winning guidebook author. He has written and co-written 20 books; and has hiked more than 20,000 miles in Washington. His Day Hiking North Cascades (Mountaineers Books) is the to-go book for hiking the region. It has detailed information for 125 hikes. Visit him at CraigRomano.com.

 

Photographer Bob Kandiko has made Bellingham and the Pacific Northwest his home for 40 years. Following the mantra, “opportunity is a bird that never perches,” Bob heads to the mountains, the coastline, and the slickrock whenever possible. He will choose the new and unknown — full of uncertainty — because the rewards of these adventures have proven to be richer.

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