I’ve previously talked about how in my opinion September and October hiking is the best we have all year! The gorgeous colors, the light, the cooler temperatures, it’s just magical (as long as you make sure 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 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.
This is a loop trail (my favorite kind!) from Rainy Pass on the North Cascades Highway. It is a solid 3 hour drive from Seattle at least (more if you make stops or hit traffic). The loop itself 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.
Once above the boulder field, the trail continues to climb with increasing views of Lake Ann and the North Cascades.
Once at the pass, the views of the surrounding North Cascades really open up
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. Go left here to get back to your car.
There are a couple of options for extending this hike, one is to go to the shores of Lake Ann, which is about half a mile added (turn left at a junction about one and a half miles in). You can also go to Rainy Lake near the trailhead, adding about a mile to the trip (for this you would turn right instead of left near the end).