Cascade Pass, North Cascades National Park

photo of the week for Tuesday, 2008, July 1
Photographer: National Park Service

The Cascade Pass Trail is the most popular day hike in North Cascades National Park. According to the park, the trail offers spectacular views of peaks and glaciers. The trail climbs steadily to the pass, with views of peaks such as Eldorado, Johannesburg, Magic, Mixup and McGregor.

This trail provides the shortest and easiest access in the park to the alpine environment. As a result, Cascade Pass is the most popular day hike in the national park and can be quite busy on summer weekends.

Distance from the trailhead to the pass is 3.7 miles and you'll climb 1,700 feet in elevation.

To reach the trailhead, take the Cascade River Road from where it leaves State Route 20 at Marblemount and travel 23.1 miles to the trailhead. That drive will take you about an hour. The road is paved for the first third and then becomes gravel, with some narrow and steep sections near the end. The road typically opens to the Cascade Pass parking lot by the end of June, except in heavy snow years when it may not open until early July.

The trail climbs steadily to the pass, from which hikers may explore in several directions. The Cascade Pass Trail is also a popular starting point for climbing routes to Sahale, Boston, Mixup, and Magic Peaks, and the Ptarmigan Traverse into the Glacier Peak Wilderness.

The trail switchbacks through cool forests then traverses through meadows to the pass. While hiking up the trail, listen for the roar of falling ice from hanging glaciers on Johannesburg Mountain and the sound of water from the many falls which give the Cascades their name. As you reach the pass, you are following the footsteps of travelers from ancient times. Native Americans used this route as a passage through the rugged Cascades. In 1811, fur trader Alexander Ross explored this route. Later, prospectors with dreams of gold and silver came this way.

Cascade Pass is in the subalpine life zone, a place of deep snows and brief summers. A show of yellow glacier lilies and other brightly flowered plants quickly follow melting snow. Look for mountain heather, a short, woody evergreen shrub with pink blooms. Although heather thrives in this harsh environment, its brittle stems easily succumb to careless steps.

Cascade Pass is the site of a major revegetation effort. Seeds and cuttings are collected here and nurtured in greenhouses. Later they are planted back to heal old scars. Please help in this effort by staying on designated trails and stopping for breaks on trail or rock!

Just to the east of the pass, the Sahale Arm Trail veers steeply north towards Sahale Peak. The views from Sahale Arm are breathtaking as the trail ascends through sublpine meadows and over steep rock scree, before ending at the toe of the Sahale Glacier and a designated campsite.

From Cascade Pass, you can also head east and downward towards campsites at Pelton Basin and a popular side-trip to Horseshoe Basin—a spectacular steep walled cirque with waterfalls, wildflowers, and an historic mining site.

Past Horseshoe Basin, the trail continues into the Stehekin Valley, following the course of this scenic river for much of the hike. This trail provides access to the east side of the park, including the village of Stehekin. Because of severe flood damage to the old Stehekin Valley Road, it is now a 23-mile (37 km) hike from the Cascade Pass parking lot to the Stehekin shuttle bus at High Bridge.

Look and listen for wildlife, such as marmots and pikas on rock slopes. Deer, and sometimes black bear, may be seen in meadows.

On the Web: www.nps.gov/noca

Comments

I have hiked this trail several times. I consider it to be among the very best short hikes in the entire National Park System.

Owen Hoffman
Oak Ridge, TN 37830

I have posted several photos from my hike of Cascade Pass. It is a great hike.