If you've got aching knees but still crave some mountain air, this is the hike for you. According to many, this is the most scenic and easily-accessible stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail in Washington State. The views of the North Cascades and Pasayten are magnificent almost every step of the way, and you don’t have to work terribly hard to reach them.
The road up to Windy Pass is, well, memorable. It’s full of potholes and boulders with some sizable drop offs that might make your stomach churn. Make sure to bring a sturdy car with a relatively high clearance and make your way up slowly. Once you reach the top of the road, however, you’ll be rewarded with an entirely unobstructed view of the North Cascades. This is the where the hike begins.
From the trailhead, simply follow the well-maintained Pacific Crest Trail north 3.5 miles until you reach Windy Pass. You will first meander under the slopes of Slate Peak and then drop into Benson Basin where you will find more possibilities for exploring and flowers. Then head up to a spur ridge and contour to Buffalo Pass-- a nice spot for a snack and more photos--before descending to Windy Pass.
As you hike along the relatively flat trail, you’ll encounter breathtaking views at every turn: Gardner Mountain, the Needles, Silver Star, Golden Horn and nearby Ballard and Azurite are to the south. Look west to Jack and Crater and look east to the Pasayten Wilderness. Time your trip right and you’ll find wildflowers decorating the sides of the trails. If your knees start to flare up, search for a ski yurt tucked into the mountainside about 2.5 miles in and make that your turn around point.
Want to keep exploring? Windy Pass provides an ideal turn-around for a day hike, allowing you to return on the same trail and to view your surroundings from the opposite direction and slightly more elevation gain.
Or you can spend the night in Windy Basin and enjoy plentiful opportunities for exploration. Tamarack Peak 7290 feet is an easy scramble and you can also meander over to Foggy Pass.
WTA Pro Tip: Whether you do this at the beginning of your trip or at the end, make sure you leave time for short side-trip to the fire lookout on the summit of Slate Peak.
- 7.0 miles, roundtrip
- Elevation Gain
- 1300 feet
- Highest Point
- 6900 feet
Hiking Windy Pass
Map & Directions
Co-ordinates: 48.7321, -120.6751 Open in Google Maps