What an absolutely stellar hike we took here! We both agreed Maple Pass Loop Trail was our favorite hike so far this year. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
At first I was just going to lump this hike with my previous post about Winthrop, but this hike was so amazing that it deserved its own space. But first some stuff about the national park…
We figured a visit to North Cascades National Park would be a forgone conclusion, considering its location in the Pacific Northwest. With our home base at Winthrop a one-hour drive away, we decided now was the time to go for it. So in the last week of July we made it to one of the best-kept secrets in the National Park System. It seems the lack of roads, unpredictable weather and ruggedness of the terrain all work in concert to make the park less visited. And perhaps because the best way to explore it is on foot, it’s not so enticing to many people – even though access to this park is FREE!
This park is one unit of the three-unit North Cascades National Park Complex, the other two being Ross Lake National Recreation Area and Lake Chelan Recreational Area. This makes it a bit different than most national parks we’ve visited.
There is no designated scenic driving route; North Cascade Scenic Highway (State Highway 20) traverses east to west up and over the mountains and is the only paved road. It has several overlooks and trailhead access points. Despite its ruggedness, the park has something for everyone – camping, climbing, boating, fishing, birding, wildlife viewing, horseback riding and educational programs – and yay, awesome hiking!
We left Winthrop bright and early, but got to the trailhead a bit late due to the stunning scenery along the North Cascade Scenic Highway that required several stops and photo shoots. By the time we arrived at the trailhead there were only a few empty spots left, a sure sign that this is a popular trail.
There’s a wealth of hiking trails to choose from, and we picked the popular Maple Pass Loop Trail #740 in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. It skirts the edge of the park’s eastern boundary, and because it runs partly through the National Forest a valid National Forest Pass is required for a $5 fee. Dogs are allowed.
After about a mile of gradual ascent we caught a glimpse of Lake Ann, an alpine lake cradled in a talus bowl – a glacial cirque created in eons past. I took many pictures, not realizing it would be visible for quite a while as we climbed the ridge line.
We continued on above the lake, where the trail opened up to hillsides and meadows with swathes of wildflowers beckoning me to stop and take pictures:
Eventually the trail left the ridge line and continued upward toward Maple Pass. The awesome views continued unabated:
Gaining the ridge connecting Heather and Maple passes, the panorama stretched like a sea of peaks out in every direction, including some snow-covered ones in the distance. WOW!
We continued up to the summit on Maple Pass:
At the highest point around 7,000′, we stopped for lunch and soaked in the views framed by seemingly endless summits and valleys. We were treated with dramatic views of the rugged peaks that define this beautiful place:
Next we shifted into low gear for a major downhill effort, beginning with the switchbacks that we had seen from the top. It dropped rapidly along the ridge line between Lake Ann and Rainy Lake:
On this stretch the hillsides were painted with a variety of vibrant wildflowers, so you know what happened next – yours truly stopped for a wildflower photo spree!
Everywhere we looked the wildflowers were bursting in abundance and colors!
We re-entered the forest and the knee-buckling descent continued:
It took us five hours to complete the hike, but that included many stops for pictures and a short lunch break as we soaked in the beauty and fresh mountain air around us. It was a 7-mile hike of postcard-worthy views that gave me hundreds of pictures to sort through later 🙂
It’s recommended that if you can hike only one trail while here, this is it. And if I may say so, going in the Fall might make it even better!
With little energy left, we drove 30 miles west to see one of the park’s most iconic features, Diablo Lake. It’s a reservoir known for its bright turquoise color caused by glaciers grinding rock into a powder that gets carried into the lake by glacial melt:
This hike was one for the books!
Thank you so much for sharing these beautiful pictures!
Words can’t really describe the beauty of this trail….thanks so much for hiking it and then showing us the results of your efforts. Oh….the flowers!
Oh yes, Sue, it was breathtaking and our WOWs were non stop.
Hi ! what a fantastic hike that was. The views are sublime and the flowers !!!
Just a question: what is the app you’ve used to GPS track your hike as show at the end of this blog ?
Fan of your stories since…? forever I guess. God bless U both.
Definitely a stunner hike, we can’t enough of the beauty everywhere we look. We used “All Trails” app on our iPhones. We liked it, for where ever we go, there are always trails listed every location we go.
Oh my goodness! I can see why this is your favorite hike of the year. I’ve driven through the Cascades but never done any hiking, but clearly that needs to change ASAP! Beautiful photos, as always, thanks for sharing them with us!
Diana, this is just one of the many trails at the North Cascades National Park Complex. You can spend your entire summer here and not hike all the trails 🙂
These photos are simply astounding. They truly look like postcards! What a gorgeous trail and to know that it’s relatively unknown? Wow! That may be the craziest part of all! I cannot wait to see this scenery myself. In the meantime, thanks for taking me along!
Thank you Laura. Hey, in case you come up to the Pacific Northwest, this hike should be on your list 🙂
Wow, just awesome. How did you ever decide on which photos were blog worthy? It looks like the views were ever changing.
It’s was a difficult task to cull through the hundreds of pictures. I still have a few but I have to limit it 🙂
Stunningly beautiful. Thanks for sharing. I, too, would like to know the app that gives the details of the hike. The one pictured on your phone.
Hi Mari, Thanks for enjoying our hike. We use “AllTrails” app for our hikes and we liked it.
WOW!!! Added this one to the bucket list, thanks for sharing.
We’ve been wanting to hike this trail for years, but the two times we’ve been to the North Cascades the trail has been buried in snow. I’m so glad you posted your beautiful photos—the wildflowers are spectacular, and so are the views! Now I want to do it even more. It looks like it was a challenging hike! How would you rate it compared to other hikes you’ve done?
Maybe we should schedule this one as a fall hike on our way back from Alaska 😉
That’s a great idea, NP should be on your route back from AK
I think you need to revisit this route and this time do it in fall, Im sure the fall colors will be spectacular!
Knee buckling descents seem to be a constant in the Cascades. It’s either up, or down, but the scenery makes it worthwhile as you discovered. Highway 20 was out of our daily hike range while living in WA, but TLG and I will need to figure out how to plug it into a route.
Thanks for the nudge.
Do you need more nudging? Im surprised you chose to ignore the North Cascades Mountains!
It ended up being too far away for 1-day trips.
Wow! Absolutely stunning and what a hike.
WOWZA! That looks like a total winner. We have to get to that park some day…
Yes, you have to visit this area, lots of trails that are just right in your alley!
This trail has been on my list of must do trail in the Northern Cascades. Hope, hope, hopefully this is where we will be next late summer/early fall 2020. Your photos are just spectacular, ML!! I love those alpine lakes when you are looking down on them. The drive to Diablo Lake sure was worth it. That color is unbelievable. Thanks for sharing so many spectacular mountain/wildflower photos.
This is your kind of hike Pam, and I would say if you can make it in fall, the colors will be spectacular!
I am glad you only have a few blog posts left covering Washington because you’re making TBG homesick, and it is NOT time to go back there yet! So many places there yield stellar views no matter which way you turn. They really do make the Herculean effort worth it!
And you are not homesick ? 🙂
All of the photos are awesome, but the wildflower shots are off the chart! Thanks for sharing.
Thank you Shawn, and glad you liked the wildflowers as we did.
We were just there hiking that same trail on July 29th. We stopped at Lake Ann and turned back. I kind of wish we had made the entire loop. Wonderful photos.
Oops, i think you should go back and do the whole loop in September.
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