The New Northwest Passage

North Cascades
By Ronald Strickland, Pacific Northwest Trail Founder

The PNT threads west across the northern half of this showcase of the Cascades Mountains. The name Cascades speaks for itself; massive precipitation produces a lot of water to make snowfields and glaciers. It was flowing ice that gouged the great U-shaped valleys such as Big Beaver Creek and Little Beaver Creek that the PNT follows. Unfortunately, little of the park's spectacular high country is currently serviced by the PNT. But giant western red cedars, calving glaciers, surging gray-green rivers, alpine passes, and a sense of remote wildness still make this section worthwhile.

Who to Contact

North Cascades National Park
Headquarters and Visitors Center
2105 State Route 20
Sedro-Woolley, WA 98284

Pacific Northwest Trail Association
PO Box 1817Mount Vernon, WA 98273

Recommended Trip

West Shore, Ross Lake : 6.5 miles.

This is a scenic day trip that is a special treat in early summer before the snow has melted out of the high country. You will enjoy fine views of Ruby Mountain, Ruby Arm, and Hidden Hand Pass. From Rte. 20 you will descend the PNT 0.8 mile from the parking lot down to Ross Dam. Supplying hydroelectric power to Seattle City Light, this massive facility provides trail access to the North Cascades interior. Good grades make the west side trail suitable for active families.

There are several National Park Service campsites along the 5.7 miles between Ross Dam and the mouth of Big Beaver Creek. If you wish indoor accommodations, you could rent a floating cabin at the Ross Lake Resort. Or, just before Big Beaver Creek, a short side trail takes you to the hikers-only Pumpkin Mountain Camp.

Getting There

Three hours north of Seattle and east of I-5, follow State Highway #20 to Ross Dam.

Permit Information

Permits and reservations are required from the U.S. Park Service to camp in both the Ross Lake National Recreation Area and in North Cascades National Park. Permits for the designated campsites of your choice could be difficult to obtain during the height of the backcountry visitation season in August. "Primitive" camping permits (i.e., for camping away from the designated camps and shelters) are often a safer bet.

Free backcountry permits and campsite reservations are issued on a first come, first served, in-person basis at Marblemount's Wilderness Information Center (360-873-4500). If you will not be passing through Marblemount before the start of your trip, you may obtain your backcountry permit from rangers at Glacier (360-599-2714), Newhalem (206-386-4495), Sedro-Woolley (360-856-5700), and the Hozomeen Ranger Station.

Maps and Guidebooks

The best maps are the 7 1/2' USGS Ross Dam and Pumpkin Mountain. Also refer to the Pacific Northwest Trail guidebook.


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