Travel Tips 

Maple Pass Loop: One of the Best North Cascades Hikes

The fact that North Cascades National Park is one of the least visited US national parks is surprising, to say the least. The Cascade Mountains are stunning, and anyone planning a trip to or through Washington should be sure to take time to appreciate this area. A great way to see the beauty of the North Cascades is to take a hike. One of the best North Cascades hikes is Maple Pass Loop. This hike has breathtaking views of snowcapped mountains, lakes, waterfalls, glaciers, and wildflowers. Plus, it’s a loop, so you get new scenery every step of the way.
Prepared By:

Danella Myers

Adventurer & Photographer

Diablo Lake Overlook

Getting There

To access the Maple Pass Loop hike, use the Rainy Pass Trailhead, located just off North Cascades Highway. This is the highway that goes through North Cascades National Park. You should definitely at least drive through the national park, even if you don’t have too much time. One of the places that’s a quick and easy stop on the way through North Cascades National Park is the Diablo Lake Overlook. The lake’s beautiful turquoise water with surrounding mountain peaks make it a wonderful photo op. 

From the Diablo Lake Overlook, continue on North Cascades Highway for about 20 more miles and you’ll see signs for Rainy Pass Trailhead. The trailhead is located in Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, and has a large parking lot with a few vault toilets and picnic tables.

Hiking Maple Pass Loop

Because the trail is a loop, you have a choice which direction to hike it—clockwise or counterclockwise. For those that prefer a more gradual descent to spare some stress on the joints, doing the hike clockwise is recommended. Some claim hiking the trail counterclockwise offers slightly more dramatic views. But really, the views will be stunning no matter which direction you choose to hike Maple Pass loop. When doing the hike clockwise, one of the first large clearings you come upon offers a view of Rainy Lake and the winding North Cascades Highway. If you’re up for more adventure, you can take the branch of the trail that leads to Rainy Lake.

Rainy Lake

The views of Rainy Lake with trickling waterfalls continue as you make your way up the trail. This will help distract you from the workout you’ll likely be getting from the elevation gain during the ascent.

Wateralls and wildflowers near Rainy Lake

After a while, you’ll reach the series of switchbacks that leads to the trail’s summit. Wildflowers dot the hillside and snowcapped peaks appear closer and closer, motivating you to continue the climb to the top.

Summit

Upon reaching the summit at just under 7,000 feet elevation, you’re greeted with incredible views of mountain peaks and glacial features. This is the perfect place to stop for a rest, have a snack, and take plenty of photos.

Peaks and glacial features.

From there, it’s basically all downhill. Well, at least in terms of elevation. The scenery certainly doesn’t go downhill, as you continue to have gorgeous views of alpine lakes and towering mountains. Watch for a beautiful turquoise lake that’s visible through a clearing (pictured below). This is Lewis Lake with Black Peak behind it. The allure of this little lake is something else. If you can’t resist exploring that area, look for the less-established trails going to Lewis Lake, Wing Lake, and Black Peak. You can access those trails in the Heather Pass area. However, these trails are slightly more difficult to navigate so be prepared.

Lewis Lake with Black Peak

As you continue on the trail, a little while later you’ll get a great view of another lake, Lake Ann. Wildflowers are also abundant in this area, especially in mid-July. If you have time and energy, the branch trail to Lake Ann is a fun detour.

As you continue on the trail, you’ll go through a more treed area. Then eventually you’ll reach the Rainy Pass Trailhead and parking lot. After finishing, you’ll likely feel a deep sense of satisfaction from experiencing one of the best hikes of your life. This hike just about has it all—mountains, lakes, wildflowers, and glaciers. And, it’s a decent workout, but not unreasonably strenuous. Be sure to add Maple Pass Loop to your list of must-do North Cascades hikes!

Lake Ann

Tips & More Things to Know

If you’re planning to hike the Maple Pass Loop, here are a few tips and things to know:

  • Due to the elevation, it’s not uncommon to encounter patches of snow on the trail, even in July. You may want to bring hiking poles or some sort of traction system for your footwear, depending on the time of year you’re doing the hike.
  • To spare your joints while descending, do the hike clockwise.
  • Wear sunscreen⁠—always a good reminder especially at higher elevations!
  • Bring bug spray because there are some places along the trail where bugs will find you pretty quickly if you stop moving.
  • Although bear sightings are not common along Maple Pass Loop, carrying bear spray is a good idea since there are bears in the area.
  • Dogs are allowed on this trail, but should be kept on a leash.

Want to do even more exploring?

There’s more to see in the North Cascades area. Check out our Cascade Loop Itinerary. It even has a few more suggestions for North Cascades hikes.

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