On this tour we explore the wilds of the North Cascades from the westside rainforests to the dry pine forests of Eastern Washington. Snow-clad spires tower dizzyingly above emerald valleys filled with glacier-fed rivers. Locally known as “The American Alps”, the North Cascades region of the Cascade Mountain Range features over ten times the number of glaciers than Glacier National Park in Montana! Amazing views provide a continual backdrop for our “classroom” as we explore the natural history of this rugged region on some of the most spectacular trails the area has to offer.
Summer is a great time to visit, but the late season can be equally spectacular. Beginning in late-September, until the snow begins to fly in October, the fall colors start to show. It’s a small window of time, but to many the golden larches and crimson meadows surpass even the summer wildflower displays for sheer beauty. Regardless of when you choose, you will not be disappointed.
Day 1: Blue Lake
North Cascades National Park. Diablo Lake. Methow Valley.
It’s a bit of a drive from Seattle this morning, but don’t fret; the drive is scenic, and we will stop to stretch our legs at several fantastic viewpoints before hitting the trail. Blue Lake sits high in the mountains, near the crest of the range. Alpine forests line half of the lake while granite walls ascend toward the heavens on the opposite shore. Enjoy a relaxing picnic lunch (and, if you dare, a really c-c-c-cold swim!) at the lake before we head back down the trail. Rest easy in amongst the lodgepole and ponderosa pines of the Methow Valley on the eastern slopes of the Cascades. We’ll be staying at the world-class Freestone Inn, winner of a “Top 25 Lodges in America” award from Travel and Leisure magazine.
Walking Distances: Blue Lake out/back: 4.5 miles, 1100 ft gain, 6250 max. elev.
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Day 2: Heather and Maple Pass
Alpine Lakes & Meadows. Fabulous Vistas.
Two mountain passes, several alpine lakes, countless granite spires… If only there were more trails like this one! While the loop is by no means an easy stroll, the continuous views along the way provide the best motivation your legs and lungs could ask for. Even better, a ridgeline traverse connects the two passes, so bagging both passes is almost a two-for-the-price-of-one deal. It’s a short drive there and back, so there’s no reason to hurry. We have all day to enjoy on the trail. We’ll pick the best place according to the season and the weather to enjoy our picnic lunch. In the afternoon we return to the Methow Valley to enjoy another night of bucolic tranquility amongst the ranches and pines.
Photo courtesy of R. David “Tex” Venegas
Walking Distances: Loop Hike: 8 miles (options for more), gain 2000 ft, max elev. 6700 ft
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Day 3: Cutthroat Lake
Mountain Lake. Eastside Forest.
This trail lies just east of the Cascade Crest and as such features a variety of different flora than on the wetter (rain-forested) west side. The forest is more open here; you can actually see the forest for the trees! Even the rocks the mountains themselves are made of have a different appearance – instead of gray or black, here they are a golden hue. It’s a shorter, easier hike to Cutthroat Lake today, giving us plenty of time to enjoy a relaxed morning in this mountain paradise before beginning the drive back to Seattle. As with the drive to the North Cascades, we will break up our return journey with some scenic stops to stretch our legs and take photos.
Walking Distance: Cutthroat Lake out/back: 4 miles, 400 ft gain, 4900 ft max elev.
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North Cascades Hiking Details
- Tour Highlights
- Is This Tour for Me?
- Tour Inclusions
- Accommodations & Food
- Customizations for Your Family or Group
- Additional Information
- Tour Preparation
Enjoy two nights at Freestone Inn, the Methow Valley’s premiere accommodation!
Choosing hikes along the North Cascades Highway corridor allows for more hiking time and less driving time.
Naturalist guides connect you to the story behind the scenery!
If you want to do more than just hike and see the sights, our naturalist guides will help you connect with the story behind the natural wonders of this diverse region.
The tour can be made suitable for most hiking abilities, however there are fewer options for beginning hikers to access the high-country here.
- Naturalist tour leader
- Overnight accommodations – all included
- We will pack our trail lunches from fresh, local, organic (where possible) ingredients.
- Full breakfasts – all included
- Full dinners – including appetizers. Alcohol at restaurants is not provided. One dinner on your own.
- Transportation fees.
- Snacks, water, sparkling water, local wine, local beer, etc.
- Enjoy two nights at Freestone Inn, the Methow Valley’s premiere accommodation.
- We are happy to tailor the tour to suit your desires and budget! See “CUSTOMIZATIONS” (below) for other ideas and options for your group.
SEASONS (What to expect):
June to mid-July is generally considered early season for hiking at higher elevations in the Park. Some hikes in the high country will be impassable due to snow until mid-July, possibly later. Others will be passable, but partially snow-covered.
July is usually when the wildflowers are at their peak! The unfortunate caveat is that this is also when the bugs (mosquitoes, biting flies etc) are at their peak.
August is considered an optimal time to visit by many. Only patches of snow remain on the high-country trails and there are still ample wildflowers. The bugs begin to settle down and the berry season begins - YUM!
September weather is cooler, but generally still nice. Fall colors begin to appear around mid-September, but usually don’t reach their peak until early October or so. Fall is indeed one of the most picturesque times to visit!North Cascades region weather National Parks and Monuments North Cascades National Park
Below is a suggested list of items that you may want to bring on your upcoming hiking tour. When packing, remember that the weather can offer surprises, especially in the mountains. Plan to dress in layers and carry extra clothing every day for lunch and rest stops.
- Hiking pants or convertible pants
- Casual clothes—jeans, shorts, sport shirts
- Dinner clothes—nice casual attire is fine
- Hiking boots suitable for rocky trails
- Casual shoes
- Hiking socks (no cotton) and casual socks
- Sweater or light jacket
- Waterproof jacket
- Bathing suit for hot tubs and spas
- Camera, extra batteries, charger, and memory cards; dry bag (optional)
- Daypack with hydration system
- Driver’s license
- National Parks or Federal Recreation Lands Pass (optional; bring it if you have one)
- Reading material
- Ball cap for sun protection
- Sunglasses – dark enough for snow and bright sun
- Insect repellant of choice
- Toiletries and blister kit
- Vitamins and / or prescription drugs
- Extra set of glasses or contacts
- Small headlamp or flashlight
- Trekking poles (collapsible)
- A spirit of adventure
Additional Items for Cooler Seasons and High Elevations
- Baselayer shirts and tights
- Long sleeve fleece or mid-weight jacket suitable for active hiking
- Warm jacket for mornings and evenings
- Fleece or wool hat
- Winter gloves
- Thermal socks
- Wool sweater
- Waterproof rain gear