15 Best Hikes in North Cascades National Park

Dramatic is what best describes this massive but under-visited national park.

With expansive, jagged landscapes topped by white glaciers and towering over large blue lakes, the best hikes in North Cascades National Park offer magnificent views.

Located north of the famous Mount Rainer, here are some of the best North Cascades National Park hikes!

The terrain is steep in this area, in order to fully enjoy everything this park has to offer, there is some tough hiking involved with quite the elevation gain. However, there are a few easy hikes that are definitely worth checking out.

Be aware that due to the elevation of the hikes and the park itself, snow can be present on many trails all the way into July. Be prepared and dress accordingly for the best, safest experience possible.

Note all of the lengths of hiking trails in North Cascades NP listed here are roundtrip.

couple standing in a meadow overlooking mountains when hiking in north cascades national park
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Washington Pass Overlook

Difficulty: Easy

Length: .25 miles

Elevation Gain: 61 ft

Passes/Fees: None

Location: Off Hwy 20 at Overlook parking lot.

This is a must-do for anyone visiting this national park in Washington as the short trail right off the highway offers expansive views with little work. Vasiliki Ridge, Snagtooth Ridge, and Kangaroo Ridge can be observed here 2000 feet above Highway 20.

In the fall, the leaves change into beautiful colors that are seen in few other places in the park. Be aware that Highway 20 is closed in the winter due to snow, check weather conditions before heading up early or late in the season.

jagged mountain view of washington pass overlook, one of the best north cascades national park hikes

Lake Dorothy

Difficulty: Easy

Length: 1.9 miles

Elevation Gain: 800 ft

Passes/Fees: Northwest Forest Pass

Location: Off Old Cascade Highway near Money Creek Campground.

This short North Cascades hiking trail is popular during the summer as the trail and the lake itself is in good condition, though the road to get there has a few potholes.

Further up the trail are two more lakes, Bear and Deer Lakes, that get fewer people and are just as beautiful for a total of 11.5 miles and an elevation gain of 1600 ft.

Keep a lookout for wild blueberries in August!

Blue Lake Trail

Difficulty: Moderate

Length: 4.6 miles

Elevation Gain: 921 ft

Passes/Fees: Northwest Forest Pass

Location: Off Hwy 20, within about a mile of Washington Pass Overlook

A popular hike for its views of surroundings peaks, meadows, and wildflowers throughout the two miles to a pristine lake.

This is a kid-friendly hike and the perfect hike in North Cascades NP for those with a time limit or needing a quick stretch of the legs.

Be on the lookout for climbers on the Early Winters Spire as it is a popular climbing spot.

clear blue lake, one of the popular hikes in north cascades np, with a mountain peak in the background

Boulder River

Difficulty: Easy

Length: 8.6 miles

Elevation Gain: 700 ft

Passes/Fees: None

Location: Off Hwy 530 near Arlington

This popular spot is a family friendly hike through a beautiful forest and along a river. The first part of this trail is an old railroad, meaning it is relatively flat and wide.

Access to the river is past the campsites about a mile in and two beautiful waterfalls are just after the campsites a little further up the trail, past the few switchbacks.

More campsites are at the end of the trail along with the sight of a now-gone lookout.

waterfall along boulder river in north cascades

Chain Lakes

Difficulty: Moderate

Length: 6.5 miles

Elevation Gain: 1860 ft

Passes/Fees: Northwest Forest Pass.

Location: Artist Point OR Austin Pass Picnic Area OR Mount Baker Ski Area

There are multiple access points to these lakes, the choice can be made by personal preference, but all trails lead to the same spots.

Featuring mountain views, wildflowers, meadows, lake beaches, and rip blueberries in late summer, there is a reason this trail is quite popular.

Camping sites are scattered at Mazama lake and Hayes Lake for backpackers.

view of a bright blue lake and snowcapped mountains on chain lakes trail

Cascade Pass

Difficulty: Moderate

Length: 7 miles

Elevation Gain: 1800 ft

Passes/Fees: None

Location: At the end of Cascade River Road

A popular hike that offers some amazing views for valleys, glaciers, and wildlife. The elevation gain is even throughout the hike, making it very do-able.

Keep a lookout for mountain goats on the surrounding slopes and in the summer, snow from the far off glaciers may take a tumble down the mountain side.

This trail also leads to many other trails and destinations including an abandoned mine.

jagged mountain views from cascade pass

Diablo Lake

Difficulty: Moderate

Length: 7.6 miles

Elevation Gain: 1400 ft

Passes/Fees: None

Location: Off Hwy 20, on Diablo Dam Road

Featuring a vista view of multiple peaks, waterfalls, and a suspension bridge this is a great hike for a little bit of everything the North Cascades has to offer.

Though a great hike year-round, it is especially popular in the winter and early spring as access is before the seasonal closure point on Hwy 20.

Be careful on the trail though as snow is present in the winter and persists through early spring.

diablo lake, one of the best hikes in north cascades np with a snowcapped mountain in the distance

Spider Meadows

Difficulty: Moderate

Length: 13 miles

Elevation Gain: 1900 ft

Passes/Fees: None

Location: 15 miles west of Leavenworth off Chiwawa River Road

A popular entry point for backpackers to access Glacier Peak and Holden Village. This trail crosses over 15 creeks, so be sure to wear water proof shoes or wait until later in the season.

The meadow itself is about 5.5 miles in, wildflowers are in abundance in the spring and views of the surrounding areas are throughout.

purple wildflowers along a trail in north cascades np

Maple Pass Loop

Difficulty: Difficult

Length: 7.2 miles

Elevation Gain: 2000 ft

Passes/Fees: Northwest Forest Pass

Location: Off Hwy 20, near Rainy Pass trailhead

This North Cascades hike changes almost completely in scenery depending on the time of the year.

In the early or late season, snow covers most of the trail, in the spring wildflowers are in abundance, and fall offers views of the golden larches on lake edges.

No matter what time of the year it is, spectacular views of surrounding peaks are a great reward for hikers.

maple pass, views of lake and mountains, one of the best north cascades hiking trails. hiking boots in bottom left corner of image

Easy Pass

Difficulty: Difficult

Length: 7 miles

Elevation Gain: 2800 ft

Passes/Fees: Northwest Forest Pass

Location: Off Hwy 20

Don’t let the name fool you! This trail is not easy, but still very popular as the views throughout the hike while in fields of wildflowers are absolutely stunning.

Most of the climb is at the end of the trail with not much shade, so be sure to bring plenty of water.

Thornton Lake

Difficulty: Difficult

Length: 10.2 miles

Elevation Gain: 2900 ft

Passes/Fees: No day pass required, backcountry permit required for overnight.

Location: Off Hwy 20

Breathtaking views and multiple lakes make the difficult trail absolutely worth it.

Despite the name, there is not one lake, but a series of them with the lowest lake about four miles in.

The peak requires a scramble of 1000 ft in less than a mile, but views stretch as far as the eye can see.

thornton lake in north cascades np as seen from above

Hidden Lake

Difficulty: Difficult

Length: 8 miles

Elevation Gain: 3300 ft

Passes/Fees: No day pass required. Backpackers need a back-country permit.

Location: Off Hwy 20 and Cascade River Road.

This steep hike is well worth it as the trail goes well above the tree line to get unobstructed views of the surrounding North Cascades National Park.

The old, decommissioned lookout at the very peak of the trail can be used as a shelter for an overnight stay.

The best part about this trail is the diversity as it starts in a thick forest, wanders through meadows, and ends in a grey rock field littered with blueberries and brush.

bright blue hidden lake as seen from above with snowcapped peaks behind it, one of the best north cascades hikes

Desolation Peak

Difficulty: Difficult

Length: 9.4 miles

Elevation Gain: 4400 ft

Passes/Fees: No day pass required. Backpackers need a back-country permit.

Location: Ross Lake near Rockport.

This one is a calf burner and this trail in particular (via Ross Lake) requires a water taxi to get to the trail head. But it is likely there will be very few other people and the amazing, 360-degree views at the top stretch as far as Canada.

Wildflowers are also in abundance during the right season and the fire lookout on top is usually occupied with friendly National Park Service personal.

white fire lookout house on desolation peak

Sourdough Mountain

Difficulty: Difficult

Length: 10.4 miles

Elevation Gain: 4870 ft

Passes/Fees: No day pass required. Backpackers need a back-country permit.

Location: Off Hwy 20 and Diablo Road.

One of the first lookouts established by the U.S Forest Service and inspiration for two poets, this mountain is breathtaking for its view and challenging climb.

For a more experienced hiker, this tough trail is well worth it for the meadows along the way and the 360-degree views that await at the very top that make it one of the best hikes in North Cascades National Park.

view of lakes and mountains from soughdough mountain with purple flowers in the foreground

Thunder Creek

Difficulty: Easy/Moderate

Length: 12 miles

Elevation Gain: 1300 ft

Passes/Fees: No day pass required. Backpackers need a back-country permit.

Location: Off Hwy 20, near Lake Diablo and Colonial Creek Campground.

This trail is perfect for the easy-going day hikers and more intense over-night backpackers.

The beginning of the trail is flat and wide offering views of the beautiful blue river. At about two miles in, a campground is a good rest spot or turn around point.

After this, the trail gets steep and narrow, but the views at the top are well worth the climb.

What to Read Next

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Washington: 21 Best Hikes in Washington State

photo from sourdough mountain trail in north cascades np with turquoise lake below and purple flowers in foreground. black and pink text on a white background reads "15 best hikes north cascades"