Image: Craig Romano
Maple Pass: sweet views and no repeats

Maple Pass

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 7.2 mile loop

Of the supreme hikes on the breathtaking North Cascades Highway, the Maple Pass Loop is perhaps the absolute best. In just seven non-repeating miles you’ll traverse old-growth forest, alpine meadows, and open ridges with stunning North Cascades vistas. And if you love wildflowers, Maple Pass’s annual floral show is one of the finest in Washington.

For a gentler ascent, hike the loop counter-clockwise. Start by steadily gaining elevation through a stately ancient forest of fir, spruce, and hemlock. Huckleberry bushes crowd the understory, tempting you to join the birds and ground squirrels for a snack. At 1.4 miles reach a junction: The trail left leaves for an easy 0.6 mile to Lake Ann tucked in an open cirque beneath rock walls. It’s a beautiful side-trip.

The loop continues right. Enter subalpine forest and work your way around Lake Ann. At 2.5 miles reach Heather Pass, where a rough path branches right to Lewis and Wing Lakes. Continue left along the cirque rim through heather and dazzling rock gardens.

The trail eventually crests an open ridge coming to 6,600-foot Maple Pass at 3.5 miles. There’s still more climbing to do, however. Continue upward topping out on a 6,900-foot shoulder of Frisco Mountain. Now savor sublime views of the serrated and icy skyline.

The trail then rapidly plunges off the ridge to a hanging valley, but not without traversing yet more glorious meadows and flower gardens. Rainy Lake, 1,700 feet below, soon comes into view, as do Frisco’s glaciers. It’s a quick descent through hemlock, heather, and huckleberry to the paved Rainy Lake Trail. Follow it left for a half-mile back to your start

Watch for: pikas and marmots among the meadows and talus slopes

Note: Northwest Forest Pass required

Getting there: From Seattle follow I-5 north to Exit 230 in Burlington. Then continue on the North Cascades Highway (SR 20) east for 98 miles to Rainy Pass near Milepost 158. Turn right into the Rainy Pass Picnic Area for the trailhead.

Craig Romano is the author and co-author of 12 Washington State hiking books including Day Hiking North Cascades

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