Spectacular views and seemingly unlimited exploration from the top of Cutthroat Pass make this short hike off Highway 20 an instant classic. The approach can be done from the west (Rainy Pass PCT trailhead), but we prefer to start in the east at the Cutthroat Lake trailhead and make the short trek to the lake before heading up the switchbacks to the pass.
From the well-signed trailhead, cross Cutthroat Creek on a metal bridge and onto a gentle dirt path that winds its way through pine and fir for 1.8 miles to a junction. Head left on a quarter-mile spur trail to check out the lake, crossing two single-log bridges en route. (For a more detailed account of the hike to Cutthroat Lake, check out our trail route here.)
After soaking up the views of turquoise water and rugged mountains, it's time to return to the main trail and up to the pass. Backtrack to the main trail and continue southwest, and in a few hundred yards you'll encounter an unsigned junction. Go right.
Shortly after making a right, you'll cross two streams that can flow knee-deep in the early season as the snow is still melting out. Prepare to get your feet wet unless you are very gifted at rock hopping.
From here on out it's a steady climb of switchbacks up towards the saddle known as Cutthroat Pass. You'll hike through huge slabs of granite, alpine meadows and clusters of larch trees as you gain the nearly 2,500' from the lake to the pass. The lake can be seen from multiple points as you ascend, a nice measuring stick of how far you've come.
At 6.0 miles (5.5 if you didn't go to the lake), reach an intersection with the PCT and continue west for 100 yards or so over the final small hump and onto the western side of the pass (6,800'). The views here are outstanding in every direction. We consider this a great place to rest, explore, or even pitch a tent for the night. No special permits are needed to camp, but definitely practice minimal impact techniques and pack it all out.
Permits & Tips
Northwest Forest Pass required. Toilet is available at trailhead, but no water. This is a mixed-use trail, so expect to share it with mountain bikers and livestock. Water sources can be scarce at the pass in late season, so be sure to bring enough to drink. Mosquitos are present in the early summer months.
Highway 20 (between mileposts 134 and 171) closes between November and early May. For current conditions, contact the Methow Valley Ranger District in Winthrop or the Wilderness Information Center in Marblemount.
How to get there
Drive east on State Route 20 to milepost 167.
You'll see a large sign that reads Cutthroat Lake Trailhead.
Turn left here and follow the somewhat paved road for one mile to the trailhead.