Over Memorial Day weekend, three trekkers completed a multi-night...
Long considered the gateway to climbing Mecca by the mountaineering community, Cascade Pass is also one of Washington's premier hiking destinations. Imagine alpine meadows surrounded by jaw-dropping views of glaciers clinging to the sides of impossibly steep and rugged mountains spreading out before you in every direction. Yes please. The hike to the pass is easily accomplished as a day adventure, but many choose to explore the magical lands beyond, heading to such exotic multi-day destinations such as the Ptarmigan Traverse, Stehekin Village, and Sahale Mountain (to name just a few).
Probably the most accessible trail in North Cascades National Park's proper, this is also one of its most popular – despite the long drive to reach the trailhead. But what a trailhead. If you were doubting the hype, the view from the parking lot immediately sets things straight: this is gorgeous country.
From the well-marked trailhead on the east end of the parking loop (3,650'), take one last look across the valley at the imposing Johannesburg Mountain before pushing into the canopy for the next couple miles. The trial climbs moderately on more than 30 switchbacks to 5,100', occasionally offering views down valley (west) towards iconic snow-capped mountains such as El Dorado, the Triad, and Hidden Peaks.
At 2.75 miles, the trail finally levels out, heading almost directly south across a steep slope towards Cascade Pass. Snow can render this section dangerous in early season, so be sure to have good boots and an ice axe if you attempt before the route is snow-free. The views on this section of the trail are outstanding, and often you'll see and hear ice falling down the flanks of Johannesburg Mountain across the valley. The Cascades is certainly a fitting name for these peaks.
At 3.35 miles, make a final turn east and boom, you've arrived at Cascade Pass (elevation 5,390'). A nice viewing area of stacked rocks makes for a perfect lunch spot to enjoy your views looking east across Pelton Creek basin. From right to center is Mix-up Peak, Magic Peak, and Pelton Peak.
Several trails leave this area for bigger adventures – to get a small sample of what awaits further on, head left (east) on the trail marked for Sahale Arm and climb another 0.80 mile and 750' up through grass and scree the edge of the Sahale Arm. From here you'll look down on Doubtful Lake and catch a stunning view of Sahale Mountain. Continue on as far as you'd like, eventually ending at high camp (5.9 miles) for climbers attempting the summit. Don't venture beyond camp without the proper climbing gear and skill.
Permits & Tips
No parking permit required. Vault toilets available at trailhead and pit toilets at the pass, but no water. No dogs allowed. Cascade River Road to the trailhead is typically open June–October, but be sure to check current road conditions here. Trail is usually snow-free by August, check trail conditions here (scroll down to Cascade Pass). Although the trail is family-friendly when snow-free, you'll need to bring an ice axe if you are going before the snow has melted as you will be traversing steep slopes en route to the pass. Camping is not allowed at Cascade Pass, but there are several nearby campsites (Pelton Basin, Sahale Glacier, Basin Creek and Johannesburg) that require a free backcountry permit. This is a very popular hike and there is a strong presence of park rangers and officials. Don't mess with the backcountry. Leave no trace.
How to get there
From SR-20 at Marblemount, head east onto Cascade River Road for about 23 miles to the trailhead and parking loop at the end of the road. The road is paved for the first 10 miles or so, then becomes gravel and increasingly steep and narrow at the top. Cars with normal ground-clearance travel the road just fine.