“Climb steadily through endless switchbacks to an awe-inspiring pass with impressive peaks & glaciers
— Michelle Kras
Views · Waterfall · Wildlife
Climb steadily through endless switchbacks and earn one of the most spectacular views in North Cascades - no wonder this is the most popular run in the park! Visitors will have the option to complete this full route, or end their journey after reaching Cascade Pass.
Need to Know
Bring extra clothes for when you reach the pass - you may be sweaty and it's often cool and windy at the pass. Arrive early, as this is the most popular run in the North Cascades and the parking area fills quickly.
To get to the trailhead, you'll take Cascade River Road in Marblemont off of North Cascades Parkway (this is not the main entrance to North Cascade National Park). Cascade River Road starts paved, but then becomes unpaved (this will be a slow drive!) Nearing the end of the 23 mile road, you'll see spectacular views of peaks. The end of the road takes you right into the parking area for Cascade Pass - there are picnic tables and restrooms. The parking area alone is worth the drive - beautiful mountain peaks, glaciers, and many tall cascades from melting snow virtually everywhere you look during the summer months. You might also hear some pieces of falling ice from glaciers.
The trail starts right off of the parking area. You'll climb steadily through about 30 or so switchbacks. The trail is mostly covered by trees and there's a chance to see wildlife on the trail. As you climb, a few sections of trees are cleared giving you awesome views of the surrounding mountains (and a little bit of encouragement to keep climbing!) - these are the perfect spots for short breaks. Listen for falling ice or water from the many cascades.
Just when you are about to give up, the trail levels out and you'll have beautiful views. Cross a screefield, and you're almost there. Once you reach the pass you'll be rewarded with open views of peaks and glaciers. There is a short trail to a pit toilet here. This is a great place to stop, rest, and eat lunch. You may be sweaty from the switchbacks, and it can get very breezy and chilly so this is a good time to change into dry clothes before eating lunch. Chipmunks are known to steal food, so watch out!
From here you can continue to explore the area. There are several trails that continue onward toward Sahale Arm
or Pelton Basin (campsites available). The remainder of the route continues to be strenuous, but the extra effort is well worth your while. The Sahale Arm
trail leads to wonderful views and adventurous trail.
If Cascade Pass is your destination for the day, turn around once you've rested up a bit and head back down the way that you came.
History & Background
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.