A free backcountry permit is required for all overnight trips into the park, a policy meant to reduce overcrowding and preserve the fragile alpine environment. Pick one up from the Wilderness Information Center in Marblemount or from information or ranger stations in Newhalem, Hozomeen, Sedro-Woolley, Winthrop, Twisp, Chelan, or Stehekin.
Some areas fill up on summer weekends, so you may need to go with another option. The North Cascades are among the most rugged mountains in the Lower 48, so plan accordingly: lots of wool clothing, extra food, a waterproof tarp, and a flexible schedule for waiting out storms or resting feet and muscles sore from all the ups and downs.
From June to November, enjoy the 31-mile trip from the East Bank Trailhead (milepost 138) to Hozomeen along Ross Lake’s East Bank Trail. The trailhead is on Highway 20, eight miles east of the Colonial Creek Campground at the Panther Creek bridge. The trail leads through low forest and along the lakeshore for 18 miles, at which point you have the option of continuing to Hozomeen or taking a side trip up 6,102-foot Desolation Peak.
The round-trip up the peak is nine miles, almost straight up, with an elevation gain of 4,400 feet; you’ll be rewarded with views of Mt. Baker, Mt. Shuksan, Jack Mountain, and The Pickets. To get right to the peak, skip the first 18 miles of hiking by taking the water taxi to the Desolation Peak trailhead; stay overnight at Lightning Creek Campground, since you probably won’t return in time to catch the boat. Beat Generation fans will want to make this pilgrimage to spend time as one of their own did: Jack Kerouac spent the summer of 1955 as a fire lookout here.
The Pacific Crest Trail enters the park from the south from Glacier Peak Wilderness Area, crossing Highway 20 at Rainy Pass and heading north through the Liberty Bell Roadless Area and the Pasayten Wilderness Area to the Canadian border.
If you can set up a vehicle shuttle or are willing to hitchhike, an excellent long hike begins at the Colonial Creek Campground, climbs over 6,100-foot Park Pass via Thunder Creek and Park Creek trails, and ends at Flat Creek Campground, a total hike of 27 miles. From here, you can catch the shuttle bus to Stehekin and then ride the Lady of the Lake II down Lake Chelan to the town of Chelan. An alternate ending would be to hike (or catch the shuttle bus) four miles up Stehekin Valley Road and follow Cascade Pass Trail over this 5,400-foot pass to the end of Cascade River Road (23 miles south of Marblemount).
If you don’t mind a long uphill slog, Easy Pass makes a fine overnight hike. The trailhead is six miles west of Rainy Pass on Highway 20 (46 miles east of Marblemount), and the misnamed Easy Pass Trail climbs steadily for 3.7 miles to this 6,500-foot summit, where you enter North Cascades National Park. The magnificent vista includes knife-edged mountains and active glaciers. From here, you can continue deeper into the wilderness on Fisher Creek Trail. Easy Pass Trail is usually open from late July to late September.
© Ericka Chickowski from Moon Washington, 8th edition