The Fourth of July Pass is a popular hiking trail near Marblemoth, Washington in the North Cascades National Park. Used primarily for hiking, walking, camping, and bird watching, it is most easily traversed in July through October, weather permitting, of course.
The Fourth of July pass is accessible from two routes, via the Panther Creek or Thunder Creek trails. The Panther Creek Trail is not a trail for mountainous views but rather a hiking trail through a wild and beautiful forest along a bubbling creekside.
The Thunder Creek access also goes through the forest but has some stunning mountain views as well. Both trails are rated moderately strenuous. In this article, we will be accessing the Fourth of July pass via the Thunder Creek trail. It is a 10.5 mile round-trip day hike with a 2300’ gain in elevation. The trail follows Thunder Creek before cutting steeply through the forest to the Fourth of July Pass.
Fourth of July Pass Trail History
Captain Mullan and his men celebrated the Fourth of July holiday 1861 on top of this mountain as they took a break from clearing a passage for the road they were building over it. Hence the name, Fourth of July Pass.
The Mullan Road was the first cleared road for wagon trains to cross the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Northwest. Built by U.S. Army Captain John Mullan in the spring of 1861 and summer of 1862. The road connected Fort Benton, Montana to Fort Walla Walla in the Washington territory and follows almost exactly the route of modern-day Interstate 90 through the Rockies.
The Mullan Road was designated a historic site by the National Register of Historic Places in 1975 and the American Society of Civil Engineers designated it a historic civil engineering landmark in 1977. This route was of great importance in the development of the Northwest.
Captain Mullan married in 1863 and settled down to a life of ranching in Walla Walla but both endeavors failed. He then moved to San Francisco where he opened a successful law practice. Retiring from the law in 1865 he moved to Washington DC where he passed away in 1909. He is considered a central figure in the development of the Northwest Territory of the United States.
Getting to The Fourth of July Pass
From Marblemount, Washington, follow the North Cascades Highway (State Route 20) east for 24 miles. After you pass mile marker 190, turn right into the Colonial Creek Campground and proceed an additional 0.5 miles to the trailhead.
Fourth of July Pass is located near the amphitheater in the day-use area. Water and restrooms are provided at the Fourth of July Pass trailhead. No parking pass or entry fee is required for admission in the Fourth of July Pass.
PARK FACILITIES AND REGULATIONS
The North Cascades National Park offers a variety of recreational activities for everyone to enjoy. The wilderness of the great Northwest offers peaceful surroundings and the opportunity to experience the biodiversity of the area. The National Parks belong to everyone.
With this in mind, the Park Service seeks to create an enjoyable experience for all visitors. Racism will not be tolerated nor harassment of any kind. The Parks are meant to be a place of refuge available to all. The highest priority of the Park Service is to provide a safe, welcoming, and inclusive experience for all visitors.
Pets are allowed in the park but must be controlled and on a leash. Service animals are always welcome, of course. Developed service areas such as picnic tables, campgrounds, fire pits, and restroom facilities are available to all visitors on a first-come-first-served basis. Follow any posted rules for specific sites. No littering and please dispose of all trash in the designated manner or take out what you hiked in.
No entry fee or parking pass is required for the Fourth of July Pass. To remain overnight, you must obtain a Wilderness Backcountry camping permit. They are free and available at the ranger stations. Permits are now required for all overnight stays in the wilderness areas.
As of February 2010, a new federal law allows people who can legally possess firearms under applicable federal, state, and local laws, to legally possess firearms in the National Parks. It is the responsibility of the visitor to understand and comply with all firearms laws before entering the park. It is illegal however to discharge your firearm in a National Park in any situation, except an emergency.
North Cascades National Park would like to clarify marijuana use in the park. Recent legislation passed in Washington state allows for limited recreational use of marijuana but this has no bearing on Federal laws which still classify marijuana as a Schedule I illegal drug and its use is not permitted on Federal lands. Violators are subject to a fine of up to $5,000 and six months in jail per individual.
Encounters with bears are not uncommon in this area. While bear attacks are rare, there are some things you can do to remain safe while out in the wilderness. Do not allow bears to access your food. This will only cause more problems. Use containers that are bear-proof.
If you encounter a bear, it is a rare treat in the National Parks, but remember this is a wild animal and as such, it can be unpredictable. Do not run but slowly wave your arms so the bear can realize you are a human, not prey. Stay calm and pick up any small children. Move away slowly and sideways keeping your eye on the bear. If they follow, stand your ground and wave your arms again slowly. Again, do not run. A bear can run as fast as a racehorse so don’t think of it as a slow and lumbering animal.
Do not climb a tree as both black bears and grizzly bears are expert climbers. Most importantly, never mess with a mother bear with cubs. Bears are not threatening and are only protecting their food, their territory, or their offspring. Proper behavior in bear country can avoid dangerous situations for people and bears. Remember to check the current weather conditions before your arrival and exercise caution in remote areas. Ensure someone not with your group knows of your travel plans in case of an emergency. Cell phone service in many areas is non-existent so plan accordingly.
Navigating the Fourth of July Pass
Starting at the Colonial Creek Campgrounds, the trail starts fairly flat, traveling alongside Thunder Creek for the first two miles till you reach the bridge crossing over the turquoise water below. Day hikers can turn around here after an easy two-mile hike or continue on the more strenuous hike to the Fourth of July Pass. From this point, the trail begins to climb. Rising in elevation by 2300’ in just 2.5 miles, it is a somewhat steep ascent.
Appreciate the cool of the forest cover as you climb. This area is home to many birds, including woodpeckers, owls, and osprey near the water. Look for deer and other animal footprints in the mud near the creekbed. Many hikers consider this to be a prime bird-watching area.
When the forest begins to clear, you will be treated to spectacular views of Colonial Peak, Snowfield Peak, and the Neve Glacier. If you are planning to camp overnight, this is an excellent spot. There are flat sites for tents and a water source is available. No campfires are allowed at this elevation. Exercise caution as bears are known to frequent the area.
From this campsite, the Fourth of July Pass is only a mile away at 3600’ in elevation. The view from the pass is outstanding, of course, complete with stunning jagged peaks and majestic glaciers. The whole hike is a beautiful trek through cool, dense forests, alpine meadows, and glorious, mountain scenery. Many of the views are peek-a-boo until you reach the pass which is considered a somewhat strenuous climb for most hikers. There is no camping at the summit. This is to protect the fragile vegetation there. Camp at the site suggested one mile away.
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 Fourth of July Pass
Less than 3 hours from Seattle, an alpine experience awaits you in the North Cascades National Park. Explore jagged peaks and over 300 glaciers. Listen in the peaceful stillness to the sounds of the cascading waters flowing throughout the park. Gaze in awe at astounding waterfalls and deep, old forests. Wonder at nature and its adaptations to the weather and fires as it experiences global climate change. The wildflowers, wildlife, and unusual flora and fauna of this area are a sight to behold.
National Parks are places of beauty and refuge. It is up to us to preserve the beauty and biodiversity of this unique environment. After your visit, you too will become a steward of the amazing diversity of the Northwest wilderness and the desire to protect it for generations yet to come to enjoy. Enjoy your trip to the Fourth of July pass.
Next, check out the other top hikes in North Cascades National Park outside the Fourth of July Pass by following the links below: