July 15, 2020
Awesome hike! This is one of the premier hikes in the North Cascades and the ENTIRE hike is in the National Park. This was John’s favorite hike right up until we went Mt. Baker Highway and he fell in love with other hikes.
The road didn’t melt out until July so we hit the trail just three days after they opened the gate to let us drive up the rest of the way to the parking lot. And what a parking lot it is! We frequently sent visitors to the parking lot even if they weren’t planning to hike. You have a huge glacial valley sweeping out away from you, snow covered peaks, glaciers, waterfalls, wildflowers and thick trees.
Glacial Valley near Parking Lot
Panoramic View from Parking Lot
There is also a vault toilet and picnic tables. The road does become lumpy gravel for the last five miles or so and part of that becomes single lane with blind curves. If your vehicle can make it, and regular sedans and little mini cars did, put it on your list. Make sure you take your picture at the National Park Sign at mile post 18. This is the TRUE entry to the National Park. The sign on Highway 20 is actually in the Ross Lake National Recreation Area.
The trail itself has 35 switchbacks to get you up to that ridgeline without extreme pain. It is about 3.5 miles from parking lot to pass and most of that is on those moderate switchbacks. Once you reach the pass you are looking out across another huge glacial valley with a serious wow factor. If you are into backpacking (and have obtained the necessary backcountry permits), you can keep hiking right down that valley and around into the community of Stehekin. OR you can head up, up, up to your left and hike out Sahale Arm for epic views across the “sea of peaks”. On a clear day they say you can see Sahale Glacier, Mt. Baker, Mt. Ranier, the Olympic Mountains and Puget Sound. This extra section makes it a 12 mile round trip day hike and doubles the elevation. We didn’t make it there yet, but it’s on our list.
Again, these pictures say it far better than we ever could:
After cycling around the parking area to take in the views, we were ready and raring to go.
Holly at Cascade Pass Trailhead
Although we didn’t count the number of switchbacks on the way up, we did on the way down. As we counted each switchback, we tried to come up with a song containing that number. Something like “One is the loneliest number…”, “Tea for Two…”, etc. That effort hurt our brains, so we stopped after a while.
One of Thirty-Five Switchbacks
We traversed a few snowfields, none terribly difficult. Still, we watched our step. Some of the trails through the snowfields were very close to the slope. One slip and you’d slide down quite a ways. Although you probably wouldn’t get hurt too bad, the climb back up to the trail would be a bear.
Snowfield on Trail
We finally reached the pass, took a break, and had lunch. Pretty good view, huh?
View of Glacial Valley from Cascade Pass
A little squirrel tried to join us for lunch. As cute as it was, we wouldn’t feed it.
Squirrel at Cascade Pass
On the way back, we spotted three mountain goats in a snowfield several hundred yards down the slope to the left of the trail. By the time we had traveled a few hundred yards, they had circled in front of us, crossed the trail, and headed up the slope. Their trekking abilities put us to shame. We searched for their footprints where they crossed the snowfield and it took us a good while. They BARELY leave an indentation in the snow. Our feet pressed about six inches in the same area. Impressive feet!
Mountain Goats on Slope above Snowfield
H & J