Jagged peaks, alpine lakes, and meadows. Glacier-carved valleys, mountain streams and subalpine forests. Sound lovely? If you are looking the best way to spend three days in inspiring wilderness getting to know the most dramatic topography in Washington State, this tour is for you. We take in spectacular vistas and keep our feet moving, exploring the various facets of this wild and remote range of mountains!
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 to travel, you will not be disappointed.
DAY 1: Blue Lake
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 Inn at Mazama.
Blue Lake out/back: 4.5 miles, 1100 ft gain, 6250 max. elev.
Day 2: Heather and Maple Pass
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.
Loop Hike: 8 miles (options for more), gain 2000 ft, max elev. 6700 ft
Day 3: Cutthroat Lake
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.
Cutthroat Lake out/back: 4 miles, 400 ft gain, 4900 ft max elev.