The remote high mountain peaks of the Cascade Mountains in Northern Washington are simply stunning. We quickly found that the best way to enjoy this park was from high up on a mountain pass. Needless to say, our legs were glad to see this place in the rear view mirror but our souls weren’t. We spent 4 nights under the dramatic mountains of this lesser traveled national park.
Maple Pass Trail
On our way into the park we stopped for a hike just outside the park border up to Maple Pass. This is a 9.8 mile loop with 2,300 ft of elevation gain. Following the advice from some of the reviews, we headed counterclockwise up the trail.
The first couple of miles were easy going and we soon reached another trail that took us to Lake Ann. The lake is beautifully surrounded by mountains and we could even see hikers high above on the trail where we were headed. After returning to the main trail we began to climb toward the pass and had great views of Lake Ann all the way up.
We were pleasantly surprised when we reached Maple Pass as we both felt that the climb was not as difficult as we thought it was going to be. The view from Maple Pass was amazing and we had 360 degree views of the surrounding Cascade Mountains. After a half hour break for lunch we began our decent back to the trailhead stopping many times for views, photo ops, and wildflowers.
After reaching the bottom, we took the quick detour to nearby Rainy Lake. The detour paid off as we found Rainy Lake to be yet another stunning reservoir surrounded with high mountains with a waterfall of snow-melt cascading its way into the lake.
Thunder Creek Trail
On our second day in the park, we decided to take an easier hike and after some research decided to hike down Thunder Creek from the Colonial Creek area. The trail follows Thunder Creek from Diablo Lake until a bridge crossing. From there we headed uphill towards Fourth of July Pass but turned around halfway to save our legs for the hike we had planned the next day. The water in Thunder Creek is so clear that it has a turquoise hue and was so inviting that we wished we had a kayak we could take for paddle around the beautiful water.
Cascade Pass Trail
We woke up early on day three so we could make the hour and a half drive to the trailhead for Cascade Pass. We had read that this was a must hike trail in North Cascades and that the parking lot fills early. We were then not surprised when we arrived at 9 am and cars were already lined up on the road. Having not had coffee or breakfast we decided it best to have a cup and eat a bowl of cereal before hitting the trail. The only hard thing was that the van was parked on a steep hill making it awkward to make coffee or sit down and enjoy a bowl of cereal.
The trail is 6.5 miles out & back with 1,800 ft of elevation gain and about 2 miles of the 3 mile trek up to the pass are switchbacks through trees. Once the trail opened up, the views improved immensely and the last mile and a half were very scenic. The pass overlook was crowded with quite a few hikers eating their lunches so we decided to continue away from the pass and find a more secluded lunch spot.
After enjoying our peanut butter, banana, & honey sandwiches, we took a few snaps from the pass and headed down. Because most of the way down is just switchbacks through forest we actually jogged the last two miles and got down quite a bit faster than expected. We were again surprised by this trail as it was easier than expected taking us only three and a half hours to complete.
The Thornton Lakes Trail looked to be an awesome hike up to a summit that passes a couple of mountain lakes on the way. The road to the trailhead is a rough single lane five mile climb. We had driven about two miles up the day before and decided to give it a try. After another early rise (with coffee this time) we headed to the road. The first three miles were not too bad but shortly after, the road got too rough to pass in our van. We had to make the decision to either park the van and hike from the spot on the road (adding 4 miles to an already difficult trail) or turn around and find some other trails to hike. We made the hard decision to turn around and find other trails for the day. Womp womp….
There are actually quite a few trails in the Newhalem area where we were camped so we decided to return to the campground and just hike out from the campsite. This was actually turned out to be pretty fun as we got to do some trail running and learn about some of the local tree species on the nature trails.
This park affords many opportunities to get up close and personal with the Cascade Mountains and is definitely a great backcountry destination. Upon our return we will plan a multi-day backpacking trip in the mountains.
Thanks for reading!