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12 Best Hikes in the North Cascades

Washington’s North Cascades is home to some of the greatest mountain-scapes in America. From the towering snow-capped peaks like Mount Baker, Mount Shuksan, Forbidden Peak, and dozens more, to gorgeous alpine likes like the teal green Diablo Lake, hiking in the Pacific Northwest is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts seeking solace in nature’s embrace. Lace-up your boots, pack your backpack, and discover the best hikes in Washington’s North Cascades.

What Are The North Cascades?

The North Cascades, also known as the American Alps is the best place in North America for mountaineering because it has the highest concentration of glaciers in the lower 49 states. Yep, it has even more glaciers than Glacier National Park!

best hikes north cascades

The North Cascades is what people refer to as the northernmost tip of the Cascade Range, which extends all the way down to California where they become The Sierra Nevadas.

Related: Best hikes in the Sierra Nevadas (coming soon)

There is also a national park located in the North Cascades called North Cascades National Park. In this blog, instead of just listing the hikes in the National Parks area, I have also included the hikes in the Baker-Snoqualamie area and the Liberty Bell area which are still in the North Cascades Mountain Range.

North Cascades vs The Rockies

Every summer we make the hard decision, Should we spend our time in Colorado or Washington?

We have hiked extensively through both mountain ranges and must say that these two mountain ranges look incredibly different. I know you’re probably thinking, How different can two mountains look?

The mountains in the North Cascades were shaped by glaciers, making them look more like the European Alps. In addition, the North Cascades are near enough to the coast that the forest is wetter, which creates more lichen and some of the brightest green leaves you’ll ever see.

best campground Washington Colonial Creek

The Rockies, specifically the Colorado Rockies, have more options for hiking and are a much easier mountain range to visit since there are more towns located within them. However, the hikes and adventures in The Rockies are also a bit harder and steeper.

The Rockies are steeper and more rocky, which means more scree and choss, and usually have imposing north faces.

Mount Sneffels Summit in October, Ouray Colorado
San Juans capped in snow in October from the Summit of Mount Sneffels 14er

It’s hard to say which mountain range you should visit as the North Cascades and the Colorado Rockies are both probably the most gorgeous places on earth, but if you do want a more unique experience then strap on your hiking boots and go explore the 12 best hikes in The North Cascades.

Related: Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

1. Cascade Pass

best hikes north cascades, Cascade Pass
  • Distance – 7 miles
  • Elevation gain – 1784′ total (254′ average gain per mile)
  • Difficulty – 3/10….moderate elevation gain on a very well-worn trail
  • Trailhead – Cascade Pass Trailhead
  • See on Alltrails

Cascade Pass is one of the most stunning hikes in the North Cascades and one you probably won’t be alone on since it is also one of the most popular hikes in North Cascades.

Note that getting to the trailhead requires driving to the end of the Cascade River Road. you don’t need 4WD however, the road becomes very rutted out by mid-summer making the vibrations and harmonics quite annoying. Also, since the hikes along this road are so incredible, finding parking can be a challenge so be sure to get there early if you are hiking in peak summer. Getting my Ram 3500 to the trailhead was stressful since it was 2-way traffic on basically a one-lane road due to cars parked on both sides of the road.

2. Extension from Cascade Pass to Sahale Arm

Somehow even more breathtaking than Cascade Pass. Photo Credit of AllTrails.

  • Distance – 11.6 miles there and back.
  • Elevation gain – 3,963′ (341′ average gain per mile)
  • Difficulty – 6/10….a bit more alpine than Cascade Pass with worse winds and exposure in case of emergency.
  • Trailhead – Cascade Pass Trailhead
  • See on Alltrails

Instead of ending at the lookout of Cascade Pass, you can turn left up the obvious signed trail going to Sahale Arm. This adds 4.6 miles total and 2179 feet of elevation gain to your journey. The views definitely make the effort worthwhile.

3. Thorton Lakes

Thorton Lakes lies between two amazing mountain peaks, but all that equates to triple the amount of beauty. Photo credit of AllTrails.

  • Distance – 9 miles
  • Elevation gain – 3,005′ (333′ average gain per mile)
  • Difficulty – 4/10….a bit more of an off-the-beaten-path adventure than Cascades Pass, but an easy and well-worn trail with the crux being getting to it
  • Trailhead – at the end of Thorton Lake Road
  • See on Alltrails

To access this hike drive to the end of Thorton Lakes Road which doesn’t require 4WD however, it is a rough dirt road.

4. Trappers Peak

From the top of Trappers Peak looking down onto Thorton Lakes. Photo Credit of AllTrails

  • Distance – .7 miles from Thorton Lakes split
  • Elevation gain – an extra 500′ of elevation gain from Thorton Lakes split
  • Difficulty – 5/10….a small extra undergoing from your hike to Thorton Lakes that is definitely worth it
  • Trailhead – at the end of Thorton Lake Road
  • See on Alltrails

Trappers Peak is the mountain that lies right above Thorton Lakes, and from the basin, you wouldn’t think much of it, but from the summit looking out east, it is one of the most shocking views of all of Washington…and not just that, it’s also an awesome option for a hike.

Branching off near the end of the Throton Lakes hike, I would highly recommend detouring to summit this peak as it beholds surprisingly incredible views for the fact it’s not that tall or prominent.

5. Hidden Lake Lookout

Hidden Lake Lookout. Photo Credit of AllTrails.

  • Distance – 8.8 miles there and back way
  • Elevation gain – 3,746′ (425′ average gain per mile)
  • Difficulty – 6/10…a hard and steep hike with a last mile push to the lookout crest
  • Trailhead – Hidden Lake Trailhead off Forest Road 1540
  • See on Alltrails

Take Forest Road 1540, which is usually well maintained early in the season, however, during late season, it can get pretty bad. You can opt to park at the lower clearing to avoid driving the rougher road.

6. Ruby Mountain

best hikes north cascades, Mount Ruby

Diablo Lake from Diablo Lake Vista Point, Ruby Mountain you can’t see but talk about a blue lake.

  • Distance – 17 miles there and back.
  • Elevation gain – 6,368′ (374′ average gain per mile)
  • Difficulty – 7/10…. a hard hike that is long with consistent uphill and even steeper singular sections
  • Trailhead – Colonial Creek South Campground
  • See on Alltrails

Follow the Thunder Creek trail as it winds along the beautiful woods to Fourth of July Pass overlooking two mountain valleys, and only from there after the tiredness kicks in, doing the rough push to the summit of Ruby.

It’s a very straightforward hike, but this is also a hard one that gifts you probably the best views of Diablo Lake anywhere

7. Desolation Peak

The top of Desolation Peak with breathtaking views of Glacier Peak, Mount Spickard, and Mount Challenger. photo credit of Alltrail.

  • Distance – 8.7 miles round trip
  • Elevation gain – 4,534′ (521′ average gain per mile)
  • Difficulty – 6/10….a steep trail that never lets up, luckily it’s not too long and the views are well worth it
  • Trailhead – Only by personal shuttle. For the shuttle click here
  • See on Alltrails

Taking you up a prominent mountain on the Ross Lake Shore 4,500 feet up all the way to the lookout station at the top, this hike is likely going to be empty and quiet except for you, the Cascade Peaks, and the screaming burn of your quads.

8. Ptarmigan Ridge

best hikes north cascades, Ptarmagin Ridge

Nothing better than hiking with all your babies surrounded by views of all three Washington giants.

  • Distance – 11.8 miles from Thorton Lakes split
  • Elevation gain – 2,424′ (205′ average gain per mile)
  • Difficulty – 5/10….long although with not much elevation gain
  • Trailhead – Artist Point Trailhead
  • See on Alltrails

Start this hike at Artist Point Trailhead and take the Chain Lakes trail along the side of the mountain. where Chain Lakes turns to the right, stay straight on Ptarmigan Ridge as it winds its way along the side of the mountains.

My favorite part of this hike is that it ends on an awesome thin ridge just below Mount Baker giving you the best views of the mountain possible.

9. Chain Lakes

best hikes north cascades, Chain Lakes

The famous Mount Baker trying to peek out from behind the clouds

The best part of this hike is that it’s fairly short and very pretty. Of the three must-do hikes in the Baker Ski Resort Area, this is by far the best Bang-For-Your-Buck. You can do this hike in either direction. I preferred starting from the Fire and Ice Trailhead.

10. Lake Ann

best hikes north cascades, lake ann

Lake Ann taking you to the base of Mount Shuksan, my personal favorite over Mount Baker.

  • Distance – 8.6 miles there and back
  • Elevation gain – 2,047′ (238′ average gain per mile)
  • Difficulty – 5/10….long with consistent downhill the first half turning to uphill at the end
  • Trailhead – Lake Ann Trailhead
  • See on Alltrails

I enjoyed this hike a lot. It starts with a moderate decline (I know starting with a decline, ugh) that takes you to the bottom of a valley then up a steeper pass that brings you to an awesome lake and the base of Mount Shuksan with gorgeous glaciers. The view of the glaciers here is way better than anything at Glacier National Park.

11. Enchantment Traverse

Hiking the Enchantments in the PNW

A must do hike for anyone who loves alpine lakes, sharp jagged peaks, and going over steep passes

  • Distance – 18 miles point-to-point
  • Elevation gain – 4,790′ (266′ average gain per mile however, getting over Aasgard pass is about 2,000′ in only 1 mile!)
  • Difficulty – 9/10….going over Aasgard pass is very challenging and the overall length of the hike is long
  • Trailhead – East Creek Trailhead
  • See on Alltrails

Most would prefer to backpack this epic hike, however, getting a permit is harder than the hike itself. We chose to day hike it and while getting over Aasgard Pass was a leg burner, once at the top, the hike is fairly flat and then a gradual, but never-ending, descent.

Related: How To Hike The Enchantments in One Day

best hikes north cascades, Maple Pass

There are no mountains quite like the Liberty Bell Range on the outskirts of the North Cascades.

12. Maple Pass

  • Distance – 6.5 mile loop
  • Elevation gain – 2,162′ (332′ average gain per mile)
  • Difficulty – 4/10….elevation gain but short enough that you can take your time and have plenty of rest spots
  • Trailhead – Rainy Pass Trailhead
  • See on Alltrails

This is an all-time favorite for us, and it’s hard not to see why. It’s easy to get to, has a well-maintained trail, and the views are incredible. Maple Pass has a consistent grade that climbs over a blue alpine lake and ends on an alpine ridge with 360 views of two very different mountain ranges.

Runners Up

13. East Creek Trail to Mabee Pass and Horse Heaven Camp: At 18.4 miles round trip and 6,909′ of elevation gain, this is one hike you may want to just backpack. This hike takes you from the canyon bottom to the breathtaking bare alpine ridges with views of the North Cascades the whole time and finishes with a drop into a gorgeous valley.


Be Fit To Hike

We hope this inspired you to plan a hiking trip to the North Cascades. If you need help getting in better shape for hiking, download our free Fit to Hike workout program and hike further, feel better, & recover faster.

Want to raise confident, capable kids who love the outdoors? Be inspired by this blog.

It’s been Jiraiya’s dream to go hike the North Cascades

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