In Sahale Arm, the forces of nature have conspired to create an improbably gentle, gorgeous landscape at an elevation where it seems as if there should be only rock and ice. Instead, a scenic trail ambles peacefully through rolling alpine meadows blanketing the broad shoulder of Sahale Mountain. This park-like setting is made all the more spectacular by contrast with the dramatic mountainous terrain that stretches off in every direction near and far.
Begin by following the Cascade Pass trail. From Cascade Pass, the trail heads north (left when arriving at the pass) and switchbacks its way up a steep slope. In early summer, it is a sea of glacier lilies; in fall, it is covered in mountain blueberries. In amongst the shrubs and wildflowers here, a population of marmots-unofficial ambassadors of Sahale Arm–begin a welcome that continues for much of the hike. Lumbering through the meadows, they seem not only unconcerned by the hikers passing through, but intent on entertaining them.
Approximately three quarters of a mile from Cascade Pass, the trail crests a rounded shoulder at 6,000 feet in elevation and emerges suddenly to an awesome sight: Sahale Mountain and its eponymous glacier. Shimmering silver ribbons of meltwater snake their way down the precipitous slopes of the mountain some 3,000 feet to Doubtful Lake, tucked just out of sight.
The trail heads left, offering peeks at Doubtful Lake below. The next fifth of a mile is mostly flat, a gentle stroll through heather before turning right towards Sahale Mountain. Though seeming to make its way gradually through small groves of trees, the trail climbs quite steeply around the bend before once again attaining the ridge. To the left, views open up to the unforgiving terrain of Boston Basin. Peaks with names like “Forbidden” and “Torment” tower above the Quien Sabe (“Who Knows”) Glacier. Further off in the distance, Mount Baker, Shuksan and Eldorado dot the skyline.
After another half mile, the trail once again levels out as it passes the occasional tarn and outcroppings of granite set amongst windblown grass. You could be forgiven for feeling as if you’ve been transplanted to the Scottish Highlands.
Enjoy this section while it lasts. In another fifth of a mile, the trail pitches upward again through a rutted, muddy section along a quietly cascading stream. The trail doesn’t let up again until it reaches the Sahale Glacier Camp, a collection of flat spots ringed with rocks piled up against the wind. The final half mile climbs sharply over scree and rock.
Some of the campsites sit on the very edge of the terminal moraine of the glacier. The views are simply amazing. From here, you can see beyond the peaks of Cascade Pass to an endless procession of mountains such as Formidable and Spider. To the east, Sahale connects to Buckner Mountain, and beyond sit Storm King and Goode, the tallest summit in North Cascades National Park. In fall, Sahale Arm itself is the best part of the vista, as the meadows turn a brilliant shade of rust-red.
As if there weren’t enough to draw you here already, Sahale Arm is also a reliable place to spot bear. An impressively large black bear with a glossy coat has been repeatedly spotted meandering across Sahale Arm and occasionally down to Cascade Pass.
The bear knows what many a hiker does as well: of all the many incredible places in the North Cascades, this may very well be the finest to wander through.
WTA Pro Tip: Camping in the Sahale Glacier Camp requires a backcountry permit, available on a first-come, first-served basis at the ranger station in Marblemount.
Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm
- 12.0 miles, roundtrip
- Elevation Gain
- 4,000 feet
- Highest Point
- 7,570 feet
The Cascade River Road is closed for the winter season
Hiking Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm
Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm
Map & Directions
Co-ordinates: 48.4755, -121.0750 Open in Google Maps