A seven mile round trip and 1800 foot/545 meter gain, this trail is as easy as North Cascade trails come. The worst part of the whole trail is the 33 different switchback to be encountered - which means 66 when you return - as the trail takes its time in gaining altitude. The scenery can take your mind off of the slow going though with most of your early attention being centered upon the mountain wall to the immediate south - Johannesburg Mountain. This colossal peak tops out at 8200 feet/2485 meters and rises over 5000 feet straight above the Cascade River below. Avalanches are constantly roaring off of its hanging glacier in dramatic fashion. Up higher, Eldorado Peak comes more into the limelight, with the Eldorado Glacier hanging below the summit pyramid.
From the pass, the trail continues on over the other side towards Stehekin. Atthe pass, two bootpaths go off - one to the south, an unmarked affair going along the meadowed crest of one of the arms of Mixup Peak. This is the start of one of the greatest alpine journeys in the US: the Ptarmigan Traverse. This is a 5-7 day affair going from Cascade Pass southwards to Sulphur Creek. The ground covered is unbelievable, but is strictly the terrain of the alpinist - ropes, crampons, ice axes, crevasse rescue technique training and plenty of backcountry experience. It should not be your first should trip. You go through country that is unbelieaveably beautiful, but it can also be unremittingly lethal.
Less forbidding, but very rewarding is the other option you have at the pass - the trail going north up Sahale Arm. The siren calls.
One 25 mile gravel/dirt road penetrates into the west side of the Park's South Unit - the Cascade Pass Road. The road follows an old Native American route over the pass, en route to Lake Chelan on the other side. Towards the end, the road can get a little rough depending upon the winter before. There are three US Forest Service camps on the way up. You turn off WA 20 at the little town of Marblemount - keeping an eye out for "Good Eats', a place that has a special place in the heart of many North Cascades alpinists. Monogram Lake and Hidden Lake trails are accessed off this road, but most people will continue up the road to the deadend where the trailhead for the Cascade Pass trail begins, with its interminable switchbacks. The view is at the roadend is already dramatic - mountain walls loom all around.
Another 5-star dayhike from the people who wrote 'Don't Waste Your time in the Northern Cascades' (Kathy and Craig Copeland's 'opinated hiking guide') is the loop around Heather and Maple Passes. The trail is about 7-8 miles long and gains around 2000 feet. Coming directly off WA 20, it is a popular trail. You gain ground fairly easily from the 4855 foot high trailhead until you reach the spur trail leading to Lake Ann at 1.5 miles/5400 feet. Then you ascend quicker above the lake til at 3 miles/6200 feet you reach Heather Pass. As far as passes go, it is not as dramatic as you will find later up at Maple, but by wandering off to the right on a way trail to the west, you can get into some fine tarns and small lakes beneath the north walls of Corteo and Black Peaks. From Heather Pass, the trail now contours 1000 feet above Lake Ann over to Maple Pass at 4 miles/6600 feet. Corteo Peak rises high above you to the west. Southwards, you have a glacial valley framing Glacier Peak and many others. From the pass, the trail winds down a ridge under Frisco Peak along a shoulder high above Rainy Lake, eventually returning to the trailhead far below.
WA 20 runs east-west across the North Cascades. It is the only road to do so. The highway never enters the Park proper, but for most, the 133 mile road will be their only experience with the Northern Cascades. It is grand experience, but even at that, it is only a taste of what can come. You will see mountains galore from this highway; the Skagit River rumbles alongside for half the journey; its dams and reservoirs, at Diablo and Ross. The North Cascades National Park visitor center is just off the highway in the little town of Newhalem. The highpoint of the highway experience - both literally and figuratively - is the five or so miles involved in crossing Rainy and Washington Passes. An overlook at Washington Pass allows you to gaze in wonder at the high peaks of Liberty Bell and Early Winter Spires rising high above the road's south side as the road makes its long switchback into the valley floor to the east.
Along WA20, the largest Park campground is at Colonial Creek on the south shores of Diablo Lake, one of the Skagit reservoirs - about halfway on the journey. If you do this highway in one day from Seattle or Vancouver, BC, be prepared for a long day.
As Gorge Creek comes down from the mountains it forms Gorge Creek Falls which is well worth the short walk to see.
West of Diablo Dam, the Skagit River continues its flow towards the Pacific Ocean via a narrow, curvy canyon.
There was a nice little museum/set of displays in the visitors center to introduce you to the area, its geology and the animals and people who have called the area home
One of three lakes created from dams built on the Skagit River. Seattle City Light offers boat tours. There is also a Diablo Lake overlook along the Cascades highway.
The Cascades are among the greatest mountain ranges in the United States. The North Cascades, the mountains in the picture and within this park, are referred to as "The Alps of America."
These rather large, beaver-sized rodents can be found throughout the Northern Cascades. The season is short for them to add to their layers of fat - needed to make it through another winter.