Cascade Pass is a popular day hike through the glorious Cascade Mountains. No other short hike packs so much value with astonishing views of the surrounding mountains, glaciers, and waterfalls. It is easy to see why this trail is packed with hikers on sunny summer weekends.
The Cascade Pass Trail provides the easiest access in the park to the alpine experience. The trail climbs a moderate 1,800 feet in 3.6 miles making it the perfect hike for everyone to enjoy.
Before you even find the trailhead, the amazing views begin. Cascade River Road runs along with massive old-growth forests on your way to the circular parking lot with the towering presence of Johannesburg Mountain looming at over 4,000 feet overhead.
Cascade Pass Trail History
Archeologists have uncovered evidence of humans living in the area of the trail since 9600 BCE. Stone tools dating from that period have been discovered as well as charcoal indicating abundant fire pits.
Mount Baker and Mount St. Helens erupted several times over thousands of years, scattering the population who returned in 2100 building new cooking hearths on the layer of volcanic ash.
Native Americans, the Skagit, used the pass as a trading route. The earliest written record of the Cascade Pass Trail is in 1814, written by a New York newspaperman Frank Wilkerson, who accompanied Alexander Ross, who explored and mapped the area.
In 1858 the Cascade Pass Trail was used by gold miners heading to the Skagit River and Fraser River mines. In 1889 the Cascade Pass Mining District was established in the area. The State of Washington funded and “completed” the work to turn the trail into the trans-Cascade Wagon Road in 1896 but the following winter avalanches and wash-outs destroyed many segments of the new “road” which consisted of a few cleared spaces en route.
In 1940, after much funding but little actual work was completed, the U.S. Forest Service and the State of Washington’s highway department abandoned the Cascade Pass. In the 1980s archeologists began discovering artifacts in the area that renewed interest in the preservation of the past. After the passage of the Washington Wilderness Park Act in 1988 incorporating parts of the park, including the Cascade Pass, into the national wilderness preservation system, a committee was formed to preserve the trails, vegetation, and wildlife for future generations yet to come.
Getting to The Cascade Pass Trail
The Cascade River Road leaves Highway 20 at Marblemount and continues about 20 miles, or an hour drive, to the trailhead. Following the river the whole way, the road begins as a paved road for the first ⅓ but turns into gravel and potholes after that, with sometimes steep and narrow sections before it reaches the parking lot.
The road typically opens to the public by the end of June but in years of heavy snowfall, it has opened in July. Always check with the park about road conditions and passability before heading to the park.
PARK FACILITIES AND REGULATIONS
The Cascade National Park offers diverse recreational opportunities for all to enjoy. Visitors can experience the alpine wilderness including the rushing rivers, melting glaciers, wildflowers, and wildlife indigenous to the area. The wilderness areas offer peaceful surroundings and the opportunity to experience the biodiversity of the Olympic peninsula.
The National Park Service believes the wilderness is meant to be enjoyed by all people, and as such, they have a zero-tolerance policy in place which prohibits racism, intimidation, or harassment in any form. The Park’s highest priority is providing a safe, welcoming, inclusive experience for all park visitors.
The Cascade Pass Trail is one of the most popular destinations in the park and being so, it can be difficult to obtain a camping permit during the busy time of the year. A backcountry permit is required for any overnight stay. Permits can be obtained at Marblemount on a first-come-first-served basis. While no overnight camping is permitted at the Cascade Pass Trail itself, there is camping available nearby at Pelton Basin, Sahale Glacier, Basin Creek, and Johannesburg. No campfires are permitted of any kind. Fire pits are available in designated areas only.
Recreation areas are available for everyone to use and are on a first-come-first-served basis. Be respectful of fellow wilderness enthusiasts and wear headphones to avoid sharing loud music with others. Clean up your trash and deposit it in containers provided by the park; if none are available, remember to pack out what you packed in.
Aerial drones are not to be used in the park.
Pets are not allowed at Cascade Pass due to the fragile vegetation in this area. Dogs are NOT allowed, on or off-leash. The Park Service asks you to use durable surfaces such as rocks to rest on and please stay on the trail. Limit the size of your party to twelve people maximum.
Enjoy viewing the wildlife but please do not feed them. There are tons of cute but obese chipmunks in the area who are not afraid to ask hikers for a handout. Respect the Leave No Trace policy of the park and keep your crumbs to yourself, allowing the wildlife to return to a more natural diet. When camping overnight, be sure to use bear-proof containers for any food you are carrying with you.
Navigating the Cascade Pass Trail
The first three miles of the trail travel through the cool forest traversing about 30 switchbacks. Johannesburg Mountain continues to make its presence known although it is only visible a few times through the trees. The sound of snow and ice breaking loose and falling down the mountain can be heard during the warm summer days. The silence of the wilderness is pierced by the thunderous sound of ice falling from its glacial peaks.
Once you round the final switchback, you have about one more mile to go proceeding straight, more or less, to the pass. The trees get thinner as you reach open slopes and the pass comes into view. After hiking through a long rockfield, the trail makes a few bends before arriving at the pass and the post marking Stehekin in the lush valley below almost thirty miles from where you stand.
As you reach the pass, remember you are following in the footprints of travelers from ancient times. Many people have traversed this path over the years for many different reasons. Many men sought their fortune in gold, furs, or lumber in the Cascades. From Native Americans to gold prospectors, from wagon trains to archeologists, this trail has a storied history to explore.
Cascade Pass Trail is in the subalpine zone, a place of deep snow and short summers. Following the melting snow, look for bright yellow glacial lilies and other wildflowers bursting into bloom. Note the pink blooms of mountain heather, a short woody evergreen shrub, and try to avoid crushing its brittle stems.
This area is the site of a major revegetation effort. Seeds and cuttings are collected to be grown in greenhouses and planted back to heal old scars. Try to stick to the trail to avoid damage to the fragile vegetation here. Do not pursue wildlife off the trail.
Look and listen for wildlife, such as marmots or the squeaking of the pikas on the rocky slopes. Deer, goats, and bears are often spotted in the meadows. Chipmunks frolic at will and are seemingly unafraid of hikers. Please resist the urge to feed them, helping the wildlife stay wild.
Cascade Pass offers amazing views of several impressive peaks and glaciers. The ridge from Johannesburg Mountain connects to Mixup Peak and Magic Mountain, in between lies the Cache Glacier. Traveling back the way you came, the view of the horizon consists mainly of glacier slopes and the snowy summit of El Dorado Peak. Total hiking time, in and back, should be about four hours. Always call ahead to get the latest information on the weather and the condition of the road.
For more incredible hikes in North Cascades National Park, check out our guide to Finding the 10 Best Hikes in North Cascades National Park.
If you’re planning a trip to North Cascades National Park and are looking for a great place to stay, look no further than The 6 Best Hotels Near North Cascades National Park
Something for Everyone at Cascade Pass Trail
Human beings have traveled the Cascade Pass Trail for thousands of years and even today, it is not the end of this trail. From here you can hike to Stehekin through the abandoned gold mining claims of the Horseshoe Basin. To the north, the trail continues to Sahale Arm. To the south, a less-traveled backcountry high route known as Ptarmigan Traverse climbs the slopes of Mixup Peak until it disappears over the ridge.
One visit to Cascade Pass and you will realize why it is such a popular trek. The amazing views of surrounding peaks and glaciers, wildflowers and foliage, pikas, goats, bears, and more will have you snapping pictures the whole day. Hear the sound of thunder in the distance as the melting and falling of snow and ice creates cascades of waterfalls for visitors to marvel at as they enjoy the peaceful wilderness setting.
Whether you spend the day hiking or remain overnight, a visit to Cascade Pass Trail is an unforgettable experience for everyone.
Next, check out the other top hikes in North Cascades National Park outside the Cascade Pass Trail by following the links below: