I absolutely love North Cascades National Park when the weather is nice. It’s filled with that wild wilderness that makes you feel like you’ve really left it all behind, not to mention peak upon peak and tranquil valley after alpine lake after glacier-studded cliff that absolutely takes your breath away.
So I thought I’d put together a list of my 10 favorite day hikes in and near North Cascades National Park.
Realize, I’m coming at this with a view junkie’s perspective… so there aren’t any “tranquil walks through an old-growth forest” on this list. Or any, “Lovely stroll to a 10 ft. waterfall”s. In fact, I could have named this post “10 of the most awe-inspiring, eye-popping dayhikes in and around North Cascades National Park” and it would have been more accurate.
At any rate, here are some of my favorite, most scenic hikes in and around North Cascades National Park. Note that no fee is charged within the park proper (namely, Hidden Lake and Sahale Arm) while the others require a $5/day Northwest Forest Pass to park (don’t ask me why – you have to park in the national forest for every single one of these hikes. Anyway, I’m not complaining about not having to display my national park pass at those two trailheads.)
10 of the Best Trails In and Around North Cascades National Park
In the Park Proper…
- Rainy Lake. Located conveniently right off of Hwy 20 near Rainy Pass, this short walk on a paved path takes walkers, hikers, and stroller-pushers to a lovely alpine lake with an idyllic waterfall. 0 miles RT.
- Sahale Arm. This is probably my favorite North Cascade hike ever – and I’ve never had decent weather to hike it in. Still, the views even without sunshine made my jaw drop – so many peaks, so many valleys, so many sheer cliffs, Doubtful Lake down below. I didn’t have breath to spare, and wasn’t sure if it was the elevation or the views. At least 10.5 miles RT, although 13.4 miles RT will take you all the way up to Sahale Camp/Galcier.
- Maple Pass. This is classic North Cascades Scenery: a ridgeline hike circling a basin with a pretty little lake. Mountains on every side. Views also extend over Rainy Lake (see above). Need I say more? 2 mile loop.
- Hidden Lake. The views from Hidden Lake Pass or and Hidden Lake Lookout are just plain epic. That’s all I can say. Peak upon peak (including Mount Baker and Glacier Peak) stretch away in every direction, the trail traverses lovely meadows, and the views of Hidden Lake so far below left me in total awe. 6 (pass) to 9.3 (lookout) miles RT
Near North Cascades National Park…
- Heliotrope Divide. If it’s glaciers you’re looking for, this is the hike for you. In fact, if you just like looking at glaciers, or standing at the bottom of a mountain looking up, up, up at its cone, you’ll love this. Oh, but you’ll also need a good sense of adventure, because you’ll have to cross at least four streams to get to the glacial overlook… 6.5 miles RT.
- Artist Ridge Trail. A bit shorter and easier, the Artist Ridge Trail has absolutely stunning views of Mount Shuksan, that crazy double-pointed mountain so many people take pictures of over “Picture Lake” down the road a piece. Less than 1.5 miles RT.
- Skyline Divide. What can I possibly say about Skyline Divide? The majesty of the view from it defies description. Alpine meadows give way to views over the Canadian Cascades in one direction and the snow-capped cone of Mount Baker in the other direction. Every mile hiked along the ridgeline is more epic. 4 to 10+ miles RT.
- Winchester Fire Lookout. Very reminiscent of the views from North Cascades National Park proper, this slightly shorter trail switchbacks up a near-sheer mountainside meadow to views over the Canadian Cascades, two blue-green lakes, and the cone of Mount Baker. Pretty cool! 5 miles RT.
- Ptarmigan Ridge. If you’re looking for one epic hike in Washington State, look no further than Ptarmigan Ridge. The trail nearly goes along the side of Mount Baker (just one valley away) and also offers outstanding views of Mount Shuksan. I’m pretty sure my shortness of breath was from the view, not from the permanent snowfields I was crossing while trying to take in the view at the same time. About 10 miles RT.
- Table Mountain. Ptarmigan Ridge too much for you? Well, Table Mountain isn’t the same, but it gives you a taste – just a taste – of what it would be like to hike that trail. And since the views over Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan are incredibly impressive, well, why not hike it? 0 miles RT.
Do you have a favorite hike in or near North Cascades National Park? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!