Five Best Trails in North Cascades National Park

Covering 1000 square miles of staggeringly beautiful wilderness, the North Cascades National Park is one of Washington State's finest gems. With jagged mountains clothed in conifers and topped with white glaciers, and over 400 miles of gorgeous trails winding through lush backcountry, this is a bucket list destination for hikers.

Hiking in the North Cascades is pure pleasure, and the perfect place to enjoy a wilderness escape. This is the place to come to get away from the daily grind and lose yourself in wild territory, with plenty of opportunities for wildlife spotting along the way. The vast expanse of the North Cascades National Park is occupied by gray wolves, grizzly bears, Canadian lynx, bald eagles, and spotted owls, to name just a few of the animals and birds that call this diverse eco-system home.

Out on the trail you'll pass through dense, old growth forest, trace the contours of dazzling glacial lakes, and admire gushing waterfalls in the midst of dramatic mountain scenery. Above all, the Cascades National Park is known for its glaciers (over 300 within the park's borders), which provide an incredible sight as you rise above the tree line on some of the higher trails.

To give you a little inspiration for your next trip, we've put together our five favorite hikes in the North Cascades National Park. It's time to grab your hiking boots and head for the trail!

1. Hidden Lake Trail

The hike to Hidden Lake is one of the most popular trails in North Cascades National Park, and with good reason. The views at the enigmatic, secluded lake are simply stunning, and the ideal spot to take some truly spectacular travel photos. The route ascends steeply up a fragrant, fir-clad hillside, before opening up on to expansive wildflower-studded meadows. This is a challenging hike, with a long climb up to the lake, but we think it's well worth the effort.

2. Maple Pass Loop

The Maple Pass Loop is one of the finest trails in the North Cascades, offering stellar views in the heart of this remarkable wilderness. The path will take you along a wildflower-studded ridge with a spectacular panorama over a peaceful alpine lake, the surrounding cirque, and the dramatic peaks of the North Cascades range. This is also a wonderful trail if you're hoping to spot some wildlife, as the craggy ridge is a favourite haunt of local marmots, which can be seen sunbathing on the rocks, or heard by their distinctive whistle. If you've only got time to do one hike in the North Cascades, make it this one! Try to complete the route in early fall, when the autumn larches set the scenery alight with their vibrant colors, and there will be fewer hikers on the trail.

3. Easy Pass Hike

Don't be fooled by the name -- the hike up to Easy Pass is a bit of a challenge, with considerable elevation gain passing over some rocky terrain. This beautiful spot, high up in the North Cascades range, was dubbed Easy Pass as it was the only place where it was possible to establish a trail between the rugged, rocky peaks and ridges. The route passes through dense forest before emerging at a rocky, wildflower meadow, where you'll enjoy lovely views over to Greybeard Peak and New Morning Peak. The views just keep getting better and better the higher you go, and by the time you reach the pass you'll have an incredible panorama, with a vista stretching all the way to the glaciated heights of Mount Logan. The contrast between the ice and snow-capped peaks, the dark rock, and the colorful forest makes this place incredibly special, showing off the North Cascades National Park at its very best.

4. Cutthroat Pass Hike

This lovely day hike will take you along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), all the way to the beautiful Cutthroat Pass. This section of the PCT is a dream to hike along, with wide, well-marked paths that were originally designed for pack animals, meaning it's easy to traverse and not too steep. You'll traverse forests and pass by gushing waterfalls, before ascending in to the alpine, where you can expect some classic North Cascades views. When you finally reach the ominously named Cutthroat Pass, you'll experience a 360-degree panorama over the range. If you've got the energy, you can extend the hike all the way to Granite Pass, for a slightly different perspective and equally breathtaking views.

5. Cascade Pass Trail

If you're looking for a classic North Cascades hike, look no further than this wonderful trail. The Cascade Pass Trail really packs a punch when it comes to epic scenery, and although the ascent requires a bit of energy, it isn't too strenuous. The trail begins with fantastic views of Johannesburg Mountain and its creaking glaciers, before passing into dense, atmospheric forest. After just over 4km you'll exchange the trees for rocky meadows, strewn with wild heather and huckleberry, before finally reaching the scenic heights of Cascade Pass. This is the place to stop for a while, enjoy the views, and contemplate the majesty of the North Cascades National Park.

This article is excerpted from Hiking in the North Cascades

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Richard Campbell has written route guides for hiking in Canada, USA, UK and Italy. In addition, he has written about ski touring, cycling and snowshoeing in the Rocky Mountains. Richard also routinely writes gear reviews for brands such as Arc'teryx and MSR. Richard gained his love of the outdoors by spending summers hiking all over the world, including the Alps, Rockies, Himalayas, Andes and Pyrenees. Find more at 10Adventures

Photos courtesy of Richard Campbell

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