What a Hike! Maple Pass Loop Trail – Washington

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!

North Cascades Scenic Highway – aka State Highway 20

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!

Liberty Bell Peak

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.

Liberty Bell Group mountains

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 ForestIt 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.

The trail is also called the Heather-Maple Pass Loop Trail or the Lake Anne- Maple Pass Trail. It is a 7.4-mile circuitous ridgeline loop trail, circling a basin and an alpine lake with 2198 feet in elevation gain. Because it is a loop, it can be done either clockwise or counter-clockwise and both have merits, it just depends on whether you take on a steep ascent early on or take steep descent towards the end.  For us we opted for the counter-clockwise with a steady gradual climb and with my hiking poles, I can tackle the steep descent later on.

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.

First glimpse of Lake Ann

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:

Alpine Heather in full bloom

Eventually the trail left the ridge line and continued upward toward Maple Pass.  The awesome views continued unabated:

Another pause to view Lake Ann
The ridge that connected Heather Pass and Maple Pass continued to the summit at the left
Leiberg Stonecrop
A glimpse of Lewis Lake (in the middle of the photo)
Whew, that was a tough climb!
Looking back at the trail we came up
More climbing…

There are about 300 glaciers at National Cascades NP

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!

Glacier Peak

We continued up to the summit on Maple Pass:

Made it!
Looking back at our ascent

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:

Looks daunting, but switchbacks help

One last look at Lake Ann from the summit

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:

Rainy Lake
Waterfall feeding Rainy Lake

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 🙂

Almost there, Highway 20 in sight

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:

Kayakers on the lake
Such a beautiful lake, it reminds us of a couple we’ve seen in Canada

This hike was one for the books!




  1. 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!

  2. 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.

  3. 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 🙂

  4. 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!

  5. Wow, just awesome. How did you ever decide on which photos were blog worthy? It looks like the views were ever changing.

  6. 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.

  7. 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?

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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!

  11. All of the photos are awesome, but the wildflower shots are off the chart! Thanks for sharing.

  12. 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.

Comments are closed.