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6 Hikes in the Pasayten Wilderness

The vast and remote Pasayten Wilderness stretches across the northern border of our state and encompasses the east-west divide of the Cascades. As the largest Wilderness area in the state, it offers miles of expansive views, 150 peaks, and is home to a huge array of wildlife.

The vast and remote Pasayten Wilderness stretches across the northern border of our state and encompasses the east-west divide of the Cascades. As the largest Wilderness area in the state, it offers miles of expansive views, almost 150 peaks over 7,500 feet in elevation, 160 or more bodies of water and is home to a huge array of wildlife.

Although trails in an iconic location like the Pasayten should be in prime condition, decreases in trail maintenance funding and increasing occurrences of catastrophic wildfires have left portions of the wilderness difficult or nearly impossible to navigate by hikers and other trail users. To help combat this trail loss, WTA has chosen the Pasayten Wilderness as a priority area in our Lost Trails Found campaign. We'll be focusing on advocacy and trail work efforts in the Pasayten to help bring trails back from the brink and keep them open for generations to come.

As we embark on this work—there are still many accessible trails in the Pasayten ready for exploration. Try one of these six classic trails to give you a taste of what the Pasayten region has to offer.


Black Lake

Length: 8.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 750 feet

Black Lake by cascadehiker.jpeg
Photo by cascadehiker.

The 8-mile round-trip hike to Black Lake offers the chance to view the abundance of color that springs up after a wildfire. Toasted by a 2003 wildfire that left only a few fir islands in its wake, this corner of the Pasayten Wilderness is recovering nicely, with pioneering penstemon, paintbrush, fireweed and clematis clambering among the avalanche-deposited boulders littering the Lake Creek drainage.

Wildflowers are commonly encountered along the trail. Keep a look out for bunchberry, Columbia lily, fireweed, red paintbrush, shrubby and Chelan penstemon, and western blue clematis.

> Plan your visit using WTA's Hiking Guide


North Twentymile Peak

Length: 12.8 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 4387 feet

North Twentymile Peak.jpeg
Photo by mtnfrog.

On this little used trail, hikers can see history, both natural and man-made. Large sections of the forest are recovering from the 2006 Tripod Complex Fire, and the two lookouts on the summit provide a glimpse of the 1920's and 1940's construction.

The summit area is an island of short alpine trees in a sea of recovering silver/black forest. The nearby views encompass the 2006 Tripod Complex which surrounds the peak, 2001 Thirtymile to the northeast, and 2003 Fawn Peak Complex to the west. The distant views include many prominent points: Remmel Mountain to the northwest, Windy Peak north-northeast, Tiffany Mountain to the southeast, and the Sawtooth Range directly south.

> Plan your visit using WTA's Hiking Guide


Horsehoe Basin

Length: 12.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 1550 feet

Horseshoe Basin by Hiking Buddies.jpeg
Photo by Hiking Buddies.

The drive to the trailhead may be long, but the destination is absolutely worth it. At the easterly edge of the Pasayten Wilderness, almost touching the Canadian border, lies Horseshoe Basin; a truly unique and beautifully remote place. 

Horseshoe Basin is one of the few places in the Lower 48 to contain arctic tundra and is home to bears, deer and bighorn sheep, if you know where to look. Allow plenty of time to explore Horseshoe Basin by camping at the trailhead, where primitive camping without a water source is available. Bring plenty of water with you.

> Plan your visit using WTA's Hiking Guide


Silver Lake

Length: 9.2 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 2800 feet

Silver Lake by Rolan.jpeg
Photo by Rolan.

Starting at a little under 7,000 feet in elevation and never dropping below 6,200 feet, your hike on Buckskin Ridge will provide miles of dramatic views. 

Get to know the area by trying to identify nearby peaks and the bright array of colorful wildflowers. Revel in Indian paintbrush, yellow aster, lupine, and countless other varieties as you gaze upon the lush fields below you. In autumn, stately larch groves add their color to the landscape, and in spring, babbling brooks accompany hikers on their way.

> Plan your visit using WTA's Hiking Guide


Windy Pass

Length: 7.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 1300 feet

Windy Pass by geezerhiker.jpeg
Photo by geezerhiker.

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.

> Plan your visit using WTA's Hiking Guide


Tiffany Mountain via freezeout ridge

Length: 4.2 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 1685 feet

Tiffany Mountain by Becky108.jpeg
Photo by Becky108.

While the Tiffany Mountain trail isn't technically within the Pasayten Wilderness boundaries, it will give you incredible views into the vast wild! You'll start this trek at one of the higher trailheads in the state (6560 feet) and follow the trail even higher. In early summer, if the thinner air doesn't take your breath away, the flowers and views will.

The 360-degree views from the summit include the North Cascades to the west, the Loup Loup Pass area to the south, the Okanogan Highlands to the east, and peaks in British Columbia to the north. Little Tiffany Lake and Tiffany Lake are down to the northwest. From here, the local view of silver and black trees has a few pockets of green that survived the 2006 fire, and now you can even see your car at the trailhead. The expansive views pretty well explains the use of Tiffany Mountain as a lookout from 1931 to 1953. But now, all that remains are many rusty nails, a few anchors, and the fire sight mounting post.

> Plan your visit using WTA's Hiking Guide

Backpacking the Pasayten

Hoping to spend more than a day exploring the wilderness? Luckily, the Pasayten's trail system is ripe with opportunities for overnights, create-your-own loops and long distance hiking opportunities. Pick up a hiking map and start planning your route today.