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Cutthroat Lake

North Cascades


North Cascades -- North Cascades Highway - Hwy 20
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3.8 miles, roundtrip


Gain: 400 ft.
Highest Point: 4900 ft.


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Parking Pass/Entry Fee

Northwest Forest Pass

This pleasant trail offers an almost level walk to a grassy forested lake set in the rocky basin beneath Cutthroat Peak. This is an easy hike in an area of rugged, steep country and one of the few that are suitable for small children. It is an especially pretty hike in the fall when the larch are turning golden.

The hike starts out by crossing a nice sturdy bridge built to take both hikers and horses across Cutthroat Creek. Once across, the trail then veers away from the creek as it heads toward the lake. A wide and mostly level trail takes you through the open forest. Notice the thin gray trunked subalpine firs and the sparse understory. Since it is east of the Cascade crest, it is drier than the wooded areas to the west. It is interesting to note the two species of pines growing here together. Both have bundles of five needles, which helps identify them. One is western white pine, it has long soft gray green needles, and usually found growing more to the west. The other is whitebark pine, it generally grows in dry soil at high elevations and has greener needles that are more waxy. On more exposed ridges, whitebark pine would be found exclusively, much smaller and in a more contorted shape.

As you approach a more open area, views of Cutthroat Peak and Cutthroat Ridge can be seen ahead of you to the left. In 1.7 miles come to a junction with the Cutthroat Pass trail heading up to meet the Pacific Crest trail at Cutthroat Pass. Your path to the lake is to the left. Follow it down toward the lake, cross a log footbridge across a creek and meet the lake in 0.2 miles. There is no established trail around the lake, but it is possible to spread out along the grassy lakeshore.

Eat a sandwich and admire the view of the ridge with the unusual golden rock, and in fall, golden larch to match. Enjoy the quiet here, just on the other side of the ridge lies Washington Pass and the busy North Cascades highway.

Extending your hike: This is just the beginning of a varied and scenic hike to Cutthroat Pass. The pass is 3.8 miles further and 1900 feet higher, but worth the extra effort, the views from the ridge are stupendous! Bring four people, have two start north on the PCT at the Rainy Pass trailhead, and two start at the Cutthroat Lake trailhead. Meet on the top of the ridge at Cutthroat Pass, have lunch together, then pass the car keys. You can also combine this hike with a hike into Blue Lake just a few miles west of Washington Pass.


Cutthroat Lake

Map & Directions

Co-ordinates: 48.5563, -120.6547 Open map in new window


North Cascades -- North Cascades Highway - Hwy 20

Cutthroat Lake (#483)

Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, Methow Valley Ranger District

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Guidebooks & Maps

Green Trails No. 50 Washington Pass

National Geographic North Cascades National Park

Getting There

From I 5, take Highway 20 across the North Cascades, enjoying the beautiful scenery along the way. Cross both Rainy and Washington Pass, and after the hairpin turn, near milepost 167, look for Cutthroat Creek road 400, signed Cutthroat Lake trailhead. Turn left and drive a mile on the good gravel road to the end and trailhead. There is a large parking lot and a vault toilet.

Parking Pass/Entry Fee

Northwest Forest Pass

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Cutthroat Lake

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