Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Maple Pass Loop (North Cascades)

One of the premier hikes in the North Cascades is the Maple/Heather Pass loop which leaves from Rainy Pass along Washington 20. This evaluation is true at least for the average day hiker not getting into backpacking deep into the mountains. This loop holds the promise of two great mountain passes and plenty of fantastic views along the way. There is the added bonus of a spur to a mountain lake and views of another lake. The trail is very hikable with no rock scrambling necessary. We saw good words on this trail in our research on the North Cascades during our family vacation to the Pacific Northwest. Looking for a big afternoon hike to add in to our day's tour through the park this was the perfect fit.

Trip Info:
Maple/Heather Pass Trail Loop from Rainy Pass - Counterclockwise
Trailhead Elevation: 4,867 ft.
Maple Pass Elevation: 6,938 ft.
Distance: 6.99 mi. 
Elevation Gain: 2,198 ft.
Start Time: 2:10pm
End Time: 5:15pm

Trip Report:
The trailhead is located at the signboards you pass as you head into the picnic area at Rainy Pass. It is well marked enough. With loops like this there is always a good debate as to whether to do them clockwise or counter-clockwise. Here at Maple Pass it appears that most do it counter-clockwise and we chose the same. The north side of the loop which hits Heather Pass first is much more gradual. The south side of the loop hitting Maple Pass is quite steep from the top to the bottom. We opted to be descending the steeper portion. Our group was all young enough that steep descents on old knees wasn't quite an issue, yet.

Steady gain to begin the day

Wildflowers were beautiful throughout

Views begin to open up

Though the north side isn't quite as steep, it still gains steadily for the first mile before relenting for a bit. This side works its way up the slopes to the north of Lake Ann until a marked trail junction heading for Lake Ann. Above the lake the trail begins to switchback passing through numerous wildflowers until eventually reaching Heather Pass. The loop trail doesn't exactly head into Heather Pass proper but there is signage mentioning the forbidding of camping in that area. On a switchback above the pass you can see more of the flat that is Heather Pass. On the climb my boys were absolutely rocking it making as good a pace as I could have hoped to do by myself. They're all teenagers now and this was one of the first more serious hikes with gain we've done in a couple years and I was impressed.

Lake Ann sitting below

Beginning to near treeline

Looking ahead to the ridgeline between the passes

Snow as we top out above Heather Pass

Above Heather Pass are a number of switchbacks and then a long traverse which can be seen from below. A couple more switchbacks put us up to another pass which originally I thought was Maple Pass. Not quite. The ascending isn't done yet. The views are great though. Here the trail hugs a ridge line doing some more slight ascending and dodging some snow patches which were still lingering into July. From up here we caught glimpse to the southwest of Glacier Peak, one of the top 5 peaks in the state of Washington.

Beautiful peaks to the west

Along the ridgeline and on to Frisco Mt.

Glacier Peak in the distance

Heading on to Maple Pass

Throughout the loop we would be encountering other dayhikers every so often. It was never crowded but certainly a popular hike. It was one more steep gain til we finally topped out on Maple Pass at 6,938 ft. From here we were treated to more good views of the cascades as well as Rainy Lake now sitting below us. The trail from here began its quick ascent with a few switchbacks. At times this south side of the loop would run the ridge line that separates the Lake Ann Basin and the Rainy Lake Basin. There were a few spots of exposure where the trail narrowed along the side of the ridge. Once into the thick of the trees the trail began numerous tight switchbacks as it wound down to the bottom. The descent wearied legs are treated at the last to a half mile or so of flat, somewhat paved trail out to the trailhead.

Snow as we top out on Maple Pass

Looking down at Rainy Lake

On the descent

We absolutely loved this hike. We kept things simple on it carrying water for every person, basic snacks and I had most of the 10 essentials in my daypack for emergency. I don't think any of us actually ate anything along the way. While the skies were partly cloud the weather held up nicely for us. On the descent we could see rain clouds brewing and felt a few sprinkles but it held off for us til we made the car.

I have a track and waypoints from the activity all contained in the embedded Google Map. Check it out and use at your own risk.

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