The New Northwest Passage

Pasayten Wilderness
By Ronald Strickland, Pacific Northwest Trail Founder
  |  Gorp.com

PNT thru-hikers accord the Pasayten top honors over all the other spectacular country on the trail's 1200 miles. One thing that sets the region apart is the sheer length of continuous wilderness walking. Including the national park to its west, the Pasayten can easily occupy two weeks of your time. Another obvious lure is the terrain itself. In the northeastern part, you will be entranced by vast meadows and long ridges. In the west, the views are more up close and personal as mountains abruptly crowd together.

At elevations of six to seven thousand feet, the Pasayten almost makes its own weather. Hailstorms are not infrequent, even in August. In midsummer, when other parts of eastern Washington are baking, look to the high Pasayten for moderate temperatures.

If you are a thru-hiker, be sure to arrange in advance for a Ross Lake Resort boat to ferry you to the west bank at Little Beaver Creek. That way, you'll be able to enter the backcountry of adjacent North Cascades National Park without having your wilderness mood spoiled by too much civilization.

Recommended Trip

Horseshoe Basin: 9.2 miles.

The PNT crosses the Loomis Forest down Olallie Creek and up over the high meadows of Goodenough Park, where there are hawks on thermals, coyotes in the grass, and deer in the shadows. The PNT winds northwest over Goodenough Peak through lodgepole and fir, as well as open, grassy slopes that just might surprise you with a fine trickle of pure, cold water.

In a maze of cattle trails, contour the north side of 7408-foot Goodenough Peak and then follow the ridge down to a barbed wire fence with a gate made of two large spruces. Go straight ahead through the gate and follow the route that is well-marked by cairns to the Pasayten Wilderness boundary sign. Descend through verdant meadows following the cairns all the way down to where you turn west along the lower slopes of Arnold Peak. This trail alternates timber and meadows and features a well-watered site about halfway at Lone Wolf Camp. When you reach 7006-foot Horseshoe Pass, you will have come home to as sweet a meadow basin as you have ever seen.

Getting There

Loomis Washington, located about seven hours northeast of Seattle, is a good jumping-off point. Campground is located at the dead end of Ninemile Creek Road (reached from Loomis via Toats Coulee Road #39.) An alternate way to reach Horseshoe Basin from Loomis's Toats Coulee Road is via Daisy Creek Road #500, Hodges Horse Pasture, and Trail No. 533.

Permit Information

Backcountry self-registration permits are required for the Pasayten Wilderness. They may be obtained at trailheads.

Also, a Camping Pass ($5/night) is necessary for trailhead parking in the Okanogan National Forest anywhere west of the Okanogan River. (A $25 annual sticker is available.)

Maps and Guidebooks

The best maps are the 7 1/2' USGS Hurley Peak and Horseshoe Basin. Also refer to the Pacific Northwest Trail guidebook.

Who to Contact

Methow Valley Ranger District
PO Box 188
Twisp, WA 98856
(509) 997-2131


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