Weekend Backpacker: Seattle
North Cascades National Park
Okanogan National Forest
Methow Valley Visitors Center
Building 49, Highway 20
Winthrop, WA 98862
North Cascades National Park escapes the attention of many hikers, mainly because it takes a little extra effort to get there (about three hours from Seattle). But those who make the pilgrimage will be rewarded with stunning views from high alpine passes, sheer granite walls that make for excellent climbing, and deep cool forests of fir and lodgepole pine. In the park is the Liberty Bell Roadless Area, which is cut in two by the glacier-carved Methow River valleya quiet patch of hiking heaven.
Recommended trip: Rainy Pass to Harts Pass.
This 30-mile trek pieces together three legs of the Pacific Crest Trail: Rainy Pass to Methow Pass, Methow to Glacier Pass, then Glacier to Harts Pass. Climb out of the forest from the trailhead and you come to the first of many passes, Cutthroat, which opens onto views of the imposing spires of the Liberty Bell. (Between Methow Pass and Tower Mountain, take a short side trip to Snowy Lakes; these two scenic tarns are only a half-mile off the trail and worth the effort.) The trail is characterized by switchbacks, high saddles, and steep ridges, and the final descent takes you past Brown Bear Mine to the Meadows Campground. Follow the road north about another mile to Harts Pass.
Getting there: Drive Interstate 5 north to exit 230 in Burlington and follow the North Cascades Highway 20 east 97 miles to the south parking lot at Rainy Pass.
Note: A section of the trail near Granite Pass can be treacherously slippery with snow in early seasonat times even into August. Rangers recommend carrying an ice axe.
Permit information: No backcountry permits are required.
Maps: Green Trails No. 50 or the USGS topo map of Washington Pass.
Recommended guides: Exploring Washington's Wild Areas (Mountaineers) by Marge and Ted Mueller offers only a cursory hiking description but a colorful rundown of this region's gold-mining past. For a tell-it-like-it-is hiking guide with attitude, check out Don't Waste Your Time in the North Cascades (Wilderness Press) by Kathy and Craig Copeland.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication