Maple Pass Loop North Cascades

Last Updated on February 5, 2024

The Maple Pass Loop in the North Cascades is an amazing view hike that I previously mentioned here and here, but it is such an amazing hike and one of the best in Washington and one of the best larch hikes in Washington that it deserves it’s own post!

This is a loop trail (my favorite kind!) from Rainy Pass on the North Cascades Highway. It is a 4 hour drive from Seattle but the long drive is worth it (or you can stay for a weekend!). The loop is just over 7 miles with about 2000 feet of elevation gain. There are incredible views the entire distance. The hike starts with a forest hike and then opens to a boulder field where I have seen pikas every time I’ve been here.

The Maple Pass Loop is in North Cascades National Park on the homeland of the Chelan, Okanogan and Nlaka’pamux people.

Parking Pass: Northwest Forest Pass

Dog Friendly: yes, on leash

Cell phone coverage: None, also none on Highway 20.

Restrooms: Pit toilet

Accessibility and Mobility: This trail is quite steep in places with lots of rocks and roots. If you go counter clockwise, you have the steepest part on the downhill, go the other way to do the steepest part up.

Related: What to wear for a hike in the Pacific Northwest, What to pack for a hike in the Pacific Northwest

Is the Maple Pass Loop right for me?

This is the ideal hike for those who love big views and don’t mind some significant climbing. The scenery changes frequently which keeps things interesting. This is also a hike for wildflower lovers (July and August) and fall color lovers (late September and early to mid October).

The Maple Pass loop trailhead is in a remote area, at least an hour away from any services in both directions.

Maple Pass gets extremely crowded when the larches are out. If you’re up for a longer drive to an even more remote location, you can see similar scenery and larches at Grasshopper Pass with a fraction of the people.

When is the best time for the Maple Pass loop?

In my opinion September and October hiking is the best we have all year in Washington State. The gorgeous colors, the light, the cooler temperatures, it’s just magical. It’s extra important to bring plenty of food, warm clothes, a headlamp and the other 10 essentials for the colder, shorter days. This hike is extremely popular and crowded in the summer and fall. It’s still worth it!

If you can go on a weekday or early/late in the day you could find more solitude. It’s also really important to check out the weather and recent trip reports on the Washington Trails Association website, fall weather is very changeable and there could be snow and ice a lot sooner than you think! The end of September or beginning of October is the ideal time to catch the fall colors (note: I have encountered heavy snow here in late September so pay attention to the weather!).

You can hike the Maple Pass loop from sometime in July through sometime in October when it gets snowy!

A  sudden snowstorm on the Maple Pass Loop trail, golden and evergreen trees are barely visible through the snowfall.
Heavy snow falling on Maple Pass Loop Trail in late September (earlier in the day it was clear!)

Where is it?

The Maple Pass Trailhead starts at Rainy Pass on the North Cascades Highway.

To get there, go from either Marblemount (on the west side) or Winthrop (on the east side) to Rainy Pass. The large trailhead is located on the south side of the highway and is well signed. There are several pit toilets in the parking area.

Trail Description

You can hike in either direction from the trailhead, I prefer to hike it counter clockwise, which gives a more gradual climb and a steeper descent, but if you prefer a steeper climb and smoother descent, just go the other way around. The counter clockwise direction is described here.

Start climbing gently through the forest and in just over a mile you will come to a junction with the Lake Ann trail. If you go left, you’ll take a half mile detour to Lake Ann and back. The main trail and the Maple Pass loop go to the right and continue climbing. For the next mile, you’ll be climbing along various open rock slopes with pikas!

a pika pokes it's head out between a few boulders and ferns
Pikas live in rocky areas at high altitude. They make and store hay to eat all winter. You’ll often here their loud “MEEP!” noises in rocky areas. If you’re patient and quiet, you may see the pika too!

In addition to pikas, there are also increasingly good views of the surrounding landscape.

Fall colors and the hillside surround Lake Ann on the Maple Pass Loop Trail
Fall Colors around Lake Ann from the Maple Pass Loop Trail

About two miles from the trailhead, you’ll arrive at Heather Pass, the first of the passes you’ll encounter on this trail. Here is where you’ll start to get into the larches and even bigger views in even more directions.

A person in a purple shirt and an orange hat wearing a backpack looks away towards distant forest and mountains. It is an overcast day and there is a bit of snow on the ground. Some of the trees have turned orange in fall color.
Views from Heather Pass

From here, you’ll traverse a steep slope and continue climbing more gently to Maple Pass. The views just get better and better! When you arrive at Maple Pass, you’ll be right on the border of North Cascades National Park and there is a large wooden sign indicating this.

An alpine lake surrounded by forested mountains on the Maple Pass Loop in the North Cascades. There are golden larch trees in the foreground and high snowy mountains in the background
Views down to Lake Ann and across the North Cascades from the traverse between Heather and Maple Pass

Once at the pass, continue on down through more golden larches down a series of steep switchbacks, which take you down through the forest and down to a junction with the rainy lake trail about 2.5 miles from Maple Pass. Go left here for a wide flat walk back to your car (or go right to check out Rainy Lake on the way).

Golden larch trees are dispersed in a green meadow in the foreground on the maple pass loop. In the distance are high mountains against a blue sky.
Even more views from the top of Maple Pass

Breweries and Bakeries near the Maple Pass Trail

As I mentioned at the top of this post, there aren’t any services of any kind near the trailhead. There are lots of great options in Winthrop, about 45 minutes away.

In Winthrop, check out the Old Schoolhouse Brewery for beer and the Rocking Horse Bakery for coffee, soups and sandwiches! Looking for pizza? Check out East 20 Pizza.

Electric Vehicle Charging

The closest fast charging is 100 miles away in Burlington, which is too far for the range of my Nissan Leaf. If you have a vehicle with a much longer range then you might be able to do it!

Golden larch trees are dispersed in a green meadow in the foreground on the maple pass loop. In the distance are high mountains against a blue sky. Text reads: Hiking Maple Pass Loop in the North Cascades
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Jennie Flaming
Hi! I'm Jennie. I’m a fourth generation Seattleite. I lived in Alaska for many years and I still spend lots of time there every year visiting friends and working as a tour director. I've been a guide for many years in both Alaska and Washington, am a field editor for the Milepost and host the Alaska Uncovered Podcast about Alaska Travel as well as the Washington State Hiking Podcast. I love to share the places I love with visitors, newcomers and my fellow locals. I’m so glad to have you here!