Maple Pass Loop
Hike of the Week:
August 25, 2008
Location: North Cascades Highway
Distance: 7 miles roundtrip
Elevation: 2100 ft to 7000 ft
Map: Green Trails 49 Mt Logan, 50 Washington Pass
The Maple Pass Loop is one of the jewels of the North Cascades. It is a hike that gives you a little bit of everything - forests, wildflowers, lakes, ridgetops, a huge waterfall, and views - all in a splendid loop that is spectacular nearly every step of the way.
There will probably be a short window in August and September this summer to access this trail, and you should still expect patches of snow along the ridge from Maple Pass (elevation 7000 ft).
The more gradual ascent is to hike the trail counter-clockwise (described here), but do note that the descent is quite steep this direction. The trail starts out in cool forest then opens to pretty meadows, gaining nearly 700 feet in the first mile. At 1.3 miles is a left fork to Lake Ann (another .5 mile). Many people make it a day there, but it is well worth pushing on.
Returning to the trail, you will hike high above Lake Ann and up to Heather Pass (6200 ft.), Maple Pass (6600 ft.) and top out at nearly 7000 feet. The ridge walk along here is absolutely fabulous - views in every direction and wildflowers galore. This is the place to spend some time.
Eventually, you will have to peel yourself away for the knee-jarring descent into the Rainy Lake basin. Watch for the huge waterfall cascading into the lake and check across the Lake Ann cirque for the trail you hiked on the way up. You can take another side trip to Rainy Lake, if you choose, before you return to the trailhead.
Note to those tempted to backpack this trail: no camping is permitted within a quarter mile of Lake Ann, Heather Pass or Maple Pass. The meadows are simply too fragile. Also, be prepared for mosquitoes.
From the town of Newhalem in the west, drive Highway 20 (North Cascades Highway) 37.2 miles to Rainy Pass. Turn right into the Rainy Pass picnic area. Northwest Forest Pass required.