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.
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!
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.
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!
In addition to pikas, there are also increasingly good views of the surrounding landscape.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Hi! I'm Jennie. I’m a fourth generation Seattleite who lived in Alaska for 7 years and I still spend lots of time there every year. I've been a tour guide for many years in both Alaska and Washington and am a field editor for the Milepost. I love to share the places I love with visitors, newcomers and my fellow locals. I’m so glad to have you along on the journey to experience your best adventure in Washington, Alaska and Western Canada!
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