Pacific Northwest Trail: Cold Springs Campground to Ross Lake

Find plenty of raw adventure on the Pacific Northwest Trail while hiking a 120-mile roadless stretch from Cold Springs Camp to Ross Lake in Washington’s remote Pasayten Wilderness--the Lower 48’s longest such track outside of the John Muir Trail.
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Find plenty of raw adventure on the Pacific Northwest Trail while hiking a 120-mile roadless stretch from Cold Springs Camp to Ross Lake in Washington’s remote Pasayten Wilderness--the Lower 48’s longest such track outside of the John Muir Trail.

First conceived in 1970 by Ron Strickland (a colorful Massachusetts conservationist whom BACKPACKER once branded a "pulpit-pounding evangelist"), the PNT dream rode the crest of the 70s-era backpacking
boom. Then, in June 1980, it crashed when a Congressional study decreed “it is overwhelmingly evident...the trail...is neither feasible nor desirable.” But Strickland rallied supporters—swinging axes and pulaskis—to work
toward making the PNT an on-the-ground reality. And in the past seven years the PNT benefited from a happy confluence of changes: support from each Washington congressman and senator, renewed public interest, and a new leader of the Pacific Northwest Trail Association, the passionate yet diplomatic Jon Knechtel. Thirty years after Congress’s snub, the 2009 Public Lands Omnibus Management Act designated the PNT a National Scenic Trail. It had entered the pantheon.

This instant 1,200-mile classic starts in Glacier National Park at Upper Waterton Lake, then punches west through the Rockies, Selkirks, North Cascades, and Olympic Mountains to Olympic National Park at Cape Alava, the westernmost point of the Lower 48. This trip report hits the PNT’s finest miles, a 120-mile roadless stretch--the Lower 48’s longest such track outside of the John Muir Trail--crossing crossing Washington’s remote Pasayten Wilderness, from Cold Springs Camp to Ross Lake.

PLAN IT

GUIDEBOOK AND MAPS The Pacific Northwest Trail Guide, by Ron Strickland ($20, out-of-print, used at amazon.com); Green Trails Maps Nos. 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, and 21 ($7 each, greentrailsmaps.com)

PERMITS Required. Pasayten Wilderness: Self-register at trailhead. Ross Lake National Recreation Area: ick up at ranger’s office in Winthrop prior to trip. Both are free. Trailhead parking at Cold Springs Camp requires a Washington Discover Pass ($30, discoverpass.wa.gov).

INDULGE On the road to Cold Springs Camp: Stop at the Duck Brand Cantina in Winthrop (509-996-2192; methownet.com/duck) for BBQ duck quesadillas and microbrews. Leaving Ross Lake: Grab any pizza at locals’ favorite Annie’s Pizza Station (360-853-7227) in Concrete. Our trail scout and area map contributors rave about the Chicken Caesar Pizza.

GEAR UP Get dehydrated food and last-minute supplies at Winthrop Mountain Sports, 257 Riverside Ave., Winthrop, WA; (509) 996-2886, winthropmountainsports.com.

CONTACTS Pasayten Wilderness, Winthrop Ranger District, (509) 996-4003; Ross Lake National Recreation Area, (360) 854-7200, nps.gov/noca

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 195.8

Waypoints

PNT001

Location: 48.938936, -119.790344

Trailhead: Cold Springs Campground. To begin hike, walk up road 300 yards, to Loomis Natural Resource Conservation Area sign. Campground: A Washington DNR facility (Department of Natural Resources). Due to budget constraints, the DNR has been closing facilities, but as of Aug. 2010, the campground was open and no permit required. Driving: From Seattle 5 to 6 hours. Seattle , I-5 north to Hwy 20 West, to Hwy 20/97 to Tonasket, WA (last good supply town), via Highway 7 to Loomis, left on Toats Coulee Road, then a hard right onto Road 4075. There is a primitive “Chopaka Grade” sign just after the turn. This is a steep dirt road, but quite do-able even in a four-door sedan. Rumor has it that it is a 1930’s convict-constructed road. There are a number of “Y” junctions on the way to Cold Springs Campground. None are signed. Go with the more traveled, uphill route.

PNT002

Location: 48.94019, -119.793909

Road junction; sign for Loomis Natural Resource Conservation Area. Look at PNT symbol on the Loomis sign. It is the only one you will see the whole 120 miles. Loomis NRCA is 24,672 acres, the largest in the state. No camping permit required.). Ahead on the road to the left is the Cold Springs day use area. Just past the sign and dropping downward is a five-foot wide new freeway of a trail that is slated to be the new official PNT track (Chopaka Mountain Trail). Our route, the old PNT, is higher and more scenic, continues upward on dirt road to a restricted access locked gate.

PNT003

Location: 48.94136, -119.793363

Closed gate. Road closed to vehicles. Continue up dirt road.

PNT004

Location: 48.946432, -119.794689

First big open view. To the west, Horseshoe Mountain, Horseshoe Pass and Horseshoe Basin, Pick and Arnold Peaks. Trail heads to Horseshoe Pass ten miles from Cold Springs Campground.

PNT005

Location: 48.950855, -119.798375

Enter Chopaka Mountain Natural Area Preserve. Four-foot tall orange border stakes mark border. Trail dances along CMNA border a while

PNT006

Location: 48.963886, -119.806469

Barb wire gate to left on off-trail road just before PNT dirt road/trail ascends pass between Joe Mills Mountain and the Disappointments.

PNT007

Location: 48.964749, -119.810976

Unnamed pass, begin steep, viewless descending trail. From here you have over 110 roadless miles. Not even a Jeep track mars the view, except on Bunker Hill for a short while looking over the Canadian border.

PNT008

Location: 48.971329, -119.826539

Cross Olallie Creek.

PNT009

Location: 48.966335, -119.837758

Re-cross Olallie Creek on new bridge. Just ahead on left old log cabin ruins. PNT track up Goodenough Trail is supposed to begin .1 miles on left. However, new 2010 trail here obliterates entrance to Goodenough Trail. In 2011 trail work should clean this up. We backtracked after going .4 south to take Snowshoe Creek Trail 340.

PNT010

Location: 48.960551, -119.839317

“It’s easy to be seduced by good trail.” After heading .4 miles south too far, we backtrack, never finding Goodenough Trail, returned over the bridge and went up Snowshoe Creek Trail 340. Trail 340 eventually disappears amid blowdowns and cow paths. Cross-country traverse in direction of west junction of Trail 340 and Goodenough Trail just before entering Pasayten Wilderness.

PNT011

Location: 48.9858, -119.859003

First elk dropping.

PNT012

Location: 48.988225, -119.863317

First bear scat. Lots and lots of blowdowns, no trail, many disappearing cow paths, orange markers on trees for snowmobilers in winter.

PNT013

Location: 48.988489, -119.874606

Great view west in burn area along ridge. Sketchy, disappearing trail.

PNT014

Location: 48.982801, -119.880911

After following fence, old gate between two spruces and new zigzag wooden gate.

PNT015

Location: 48.982132, -119.881783

Pasayten Wilderness sign 100 yards after gate. Good trail.

PNT016

Location: 48.979502, -119.935074

Horseshoe Pass. Good campsite with small stream at nearby signed trail junction.

PNT017

Location: 48.986166, -119.949839

Lauden Lake. Close by is a beautiful un-named pass.

PNT018

Location: 48.96685, -120.032092

1.6 miles past Teapot Dome. There is a use trail to a Teapot Dome campsite, but it is hard to spot.

PNT019

Location: 48.969934, -120.032358

Trailside campsite.

PNT020

Location: 48.965917, -120.048608

Great view of Teapot Dome.

PNT021

Location: 48.963811, -120.062173

First snow flurry. “This is supposed to be August.”

PNT022

Location: 48.981405, -120.086724

Sheelite Pass.

PNT023

Location: 48.97752, -120.127618

Old trail gate remnant.

PNT024

Location: 48.977433, -120.130058

Cross stream. Lower trail to Tungsten Mine site continue ahead to mine buildings.

PNT025

Location: 48.977664, -120.132401

Tungsten Mine cabins. Cool.

PNT026

Location: 48.976414, -120.147846

Apex Pass. Snow flurries and hail.

PNT027

Location: 48.97311, -120.149975

First view of Cathedral Peak.

PNT028

Location: 48.972517, -120.154127

View of long cirque trail traverse to Cathedral Pass. First long “destiny view” of trail ahead.

PNT029

Location: 48.985314, -120.1924

Cathedral Pass.

PNT030

Location: 48.981625, -120.204581

Upper Cathedral Lake. Many campsites.

PNT031

Location: 48.977793, -120.2104

Trail junction below upper Cathedral Lake. Go right to stay on PNT.

PNT032

Location: 48.976438, -120.211963

Junction with trail to lower Cathedral Lake. Good sign.

PNT033

Location: 48.971268, -120.213207

“Boggy area,” described in PNT guidebook.

PNT034

Location: 48.966683, -120.220999

Trail Junction, the first of two going off toward right (southeast) toward Remmel Lake. Green Tails Maps calls this 1.7-mile stretch between the two Remmel Lake trails, Trail 565, but PNT guidebook says it is Boundary Trail 533.

PNT035

Location: 48.963524, -120.223782

Bridge and good water/stream crossing.

PNT036

Location: 48.960819, -120.22913

Junction with trail signed as 494, not on GT or PNT maps, a Remmel Lake cutoff trail.

PNT037

Location: 48.960554, -120.237332

A “T” Junction at Spanish Camp. Turn right onto Trail 510 for a short way.

PNT038

Location: 48.961253, -120.238417

Spanish Camp Patrol Cabin (locked).

PNT039

Location: 48.961499, -120.239212

Bridge, stream crossing, trail splits 50 yards past bridge. Right, up the hill, is the new boundary trail, and left down valley floor and Bald Mountain’s flank is old Boundary trail. We took slightly longer, but more distinct, new boundary trail.

PNT040

Location: 48.970001, -120.292957

Great lunch spot with views back to Cathedral Peak and Pass and up along broad, open shoulders of Bald Mountain.

PNT041

Location: 48.961947, -120.301927

Amid PNT guidebook’s “interminable switchbacks” down to the Ashnola River. First view of Peeve Pass four miles past Ashnola.

PNT042

Location: 48.961933, -120.310161

First quaking aspen.

PNT043

Location: 48.962489, -120.311108

First bear. On trail, ~2–years-old, 140 pounds, forty feet ahead.

PNT044

Location: 48.966555, -120.321978

Campsites.

PNT045

Location: 48.967469, -120.321939

Old log gate. Not closed.

PNT046

Location: 48.968096, -120.323681

Large campsite at Ashnola River. Old log lean-to bunkhouse.

PNT047

Location: 48.96835, -120.324524

Bridge across the Ashnola River. Single log, flat top and chest-high cable guide

PNT048

Location: 48.974183, -120.337574

Bridge over unnamed stream.

PNT049

Location: 48.978903, -120.342879

Pass an old broken fence/gate; campsite just ahead.

PNT050

Location: 48.966444, -120.357822

Trail junction at 6,700 feet: take the trail on the right; the left side is blocked with rocks. A series of sharpened stakes begin to mark trail.

PNT051

Location: 48.966948, -120.368076

Barker Brown cabin ruins visible 200 yards below trail. Looking back you can see the last 20 trail miles' progress, Cathedral Peak and Pass and Bald Mountain.

PNT052

Location: 48.963559, -120.374753

Stream crossing; campsite, (False) Peeve Pass, broad, open, Sounds of Music high meadow country. Junction with old trail (.8 mile long trail coming back in from south).

PNT053

Location: 48.961559, -120.383303

Junction at Peeve Pass. You descend, just like on the CDT, rather than climb to the pass.

PNT054

Location: 48.963884, -120.389853

Junction with trail to Park Pass and Sheep Mountain (506). There’s water a hundred feet down Park Pass trail. This begins a possible seven-mile stretch to the next water.

PNT055

Location: 48.962596, -120.391118

Cross stream in calendar photo-like meadow. There’s a large campsite on the right.

PNT056

Location: 48.957828, -120.395903

Full running stream and hillside covered with carpets of purple lupine and yellow arnica.

PNT057

Location: 48.955563, -120.400406

Bear right at the unsigned “Y” junction at this notch.

PNT058

Location: 48.956351, -120.40303

Turn left at this unmarked trail junction.

PNT059

Location: 48.955984, -120.404319

Continue straight (southwest) at this junction with Quartz Lake Trail.

PNT060

Location: 48.949362, -120.4179

Great view, including Bunker Hill ahead.

PNT061

Location: 48.958398, -120.432147

Trail obscured; start of pole- and cairn-marked stretch.

PNT062

Location: 48.959463, -120.432284

Great Cascades view. No disagreement with Guidebooks pronouncement that this one of PNT’s “ten best.” Traversing along west side of Quartz Mountain.

PNT063

Location: 48.976278, -120.460326

There's a stream crossing near this saddle.

PNT064

Location: 48.973107, -120.472842

Ahead, you'll hike through the 2006 Tatoosh fire burn area.

PNT065

Location: 48.974192, -120.483761

Crest the false summit of Bunker Hill.

PNT066

Location: 48.973384, -120.485483

Crest the official summit of Bunker Hill. There is the foundation of an old lookout tower. Great lunch spot.

PNT067

Location: 48.972232, -120.48755

Second trail junction. Go right (due west) following rock cairns, soon there is trail, don’t take trail straight ahead. There is a sign on the tree 30 feet from the junction ahead.

PNT068

Location: 48.975177, -120.493866

First water from top of Bunker Hill.

PNT069

Location: 48.977344, -120.494659

Start of Tatoosh Fire burn area.

PNT070

Location: 48.987615, -120.54765

Next water. This last stretch must have once been a verdant green tunnel. Only bare, charred tree trunks remain. Trail here is sketchy.

PNT071

Location: 48.987175, -120.548546

Stream crossing. Trail is obliterated on the other side for first 50 feet then you can see it angling up the slope. First huckleberry bushes.

PNT072

Location: 48.982907, -120.560251

First view of Pasayten River.

PNT073

Location: 48.972406, -120.560573

East Fork River. Left is Hidden Lakes Trail. Stay right along East Fork.

PNT074

Location: 48.97363, -120.568248

Two hundred yards above the Pasayten River, blowdowns like matchsticks across the trail.

PNT075

Location: 48.9732, -120.570497

Cross Pasayten River. Bridge burned in 2006 Tatoosh fire. Bridge cement foundations remain. Forded just above bridge crossing, knee deep in late August.

PNT076

Location: 48.974745, -120.572923

No trail on other side of Pasayten River. Dense brush. Bushwhacked 300 yards after crossing river toward first raised bench. Picked up the trail tread on top of bench.

PNT077

Location: 48.974127, -120.573475

Campsite

PNT078

Location: 48.97566, -120.569407

Junction Trails 533 and 461. Waypoints 78 to 96 are of a 5.3 mile (round-trip) side trip to Monument 85 at the Canadian border. Trail faint under burned forest. Twenty percent totally covered, but waypoints mark locations of tattered, pink surveyor’s tape tied to branches. On the last quarter mile before the Monument and the Canadian border, the trail disappeared completely.

PNT079

Location: 48.985002, -120.56615

Trail disappears; tattered pink surveyor's tape tied to branch marks the way.

PNT080

Location: 48.987351, -120.564991

Trail disappears; tattered pink surveyor's tape tied to branch marks the way.

PNT081

Location: 48.987807, -120.564742

Trail disappears; tattered pink surveyor's tape tied to branch marks the way.

PNT082

Location: 48.988212, -120.564662

Trail disappears; tattered pink surveyor's tape tied to branch marks the way.

PNT083

Location: 48.988568, -120.564199

Trail disappears; tattered pink surveyor's tape tied to branch marks the way.

PNT084

Location: 48.988665, -120.564044

Trail disappears; tattered pink surveyor's tape tied to branch marks the way.

PNT085

Location: 48.989034, -120.563671

Trail disappears; tattered pink surveyor's tape tied to branch marks the way.

PNT086

Location: 48.989483, -120.563184

Trail disappears; tattered pink surveyor's tape tied to branch marks the way.

PNT087

Location: 48.989702, -120.562911

Trail disappears; tattered pink surveyor's tape tied to branch marks the way.

PNT088

Location: 48.989793, -120.562682

Trail disappears; tattered pink surveyor's tape tied to branch marks the way.

PNT089

Location: 48.990337, -120.562271

Trail disappears; tattered pink surveyor's tape tied to branch marks the way.

PNT090

Location: 48.990609, -120.562266

Trail disappears; tattered pink surveyor's tape tied to branch marks the way.

PNT091

Location: 48.990617, -120.562265

Trail disappears; tattered pink surveyor's tape tied to branch marks the way.

PNT092

Location: 48.990624, -120.562267

Trail disappears; tattered pink surveyor's tape tied to branch marks the way.

PNT093

Location: 48.990882, -120.562107

Trail disappears; tattered pink surveyor's tape tied to branch marks the way.

PNT094

Location: 48.992257, -120.561137

Trail disappears; tattered pink surveyor's tape tied to branch marks the way.

PNT095

Location: 48.992587, -120.560901

Trail disappears; tattered pink surveyor's tape tied to branch marks the way.

PNT096

Location: 48.996618, -120.557382

Trail disappears; tattered pink surveyor's tape tied to branch marks the way. From here north to Monument 85 no trail.

PNT097

Location: 49.000514, -120.559078

Monument 85. Once the site of the Parson Smith Tree. The stump of the tree with Smith's engraved poem is now at Winthrop Forest Service office.

PNT098

Location: 48.969558, -120.588241

Junction with trail to Monument 83.

PNT099

Location: 48.96581, -120.593825

Cross Harrison Creek.

PNT100

Location: 48.957955, -120.606598

Stream crossing.

PNT101

Location: 48.94999, -120.617754

Cross Holdover Creek

PNT102

Location: 48.945496, -120.625041

Burn Creek crossing.

PNT103

Location: 48.942391, -120.626205

Thomson Creek crossing.

PNT104

Location: 48.922992, -120.627631

Soda Creek crossing.

PNT105

Location: 48.922117, -120.629954

Trail junction. North end of the old Pasayten airport. Last used in the 1960s. It is recognizable today because of the extensive flat land and uniform age trees. This junction is easy to miss and may require backtracking.

PNT106

Location: 48.924795, -120.639825

First huckleberry bushed with ripe huckleberries.

PNT107

Location: 48.953315, -120.676495

River crossing.

PNT108

Location: 48.953233, -120.676993

Junction with Trail 462; not well-defined.

PNT109

Location: 48.953954, -120.677533

Junction with Trail 482.

PNT110

Location: 48.957921, -120.691053

Cross Frosty Creek.

PNT109

Location: 48.962233, -120.722873

Cross small stream.

PNT112

Location: 48.961545, -120.725142

Cross small stream.

PNT113

Location: 48.96299, -120.740419

Frosty Creek, with unseen Frosty Lake nearby. Junction with Trail 495 not seen.

PNT114

Location: 48.956598, -120.767615

Frosty Pass. View back to top of Cathedral Peak (just shy of due west) and Remmel Peak about 30 compass degrees south of Cathedral.

PNT115

Location: 48.957195, -120.779303

Junction with Trail 2000, the Pacific Crest Trail.

PNT116

Location: 48.956972, -120.780774

Castle Pass and campsite, .1 mile north (off PNT) on PCT

PNT117

Location: 48.945891, -120.770216

Stream crossing

PNT118

Location: 48.942898, -120.767099

Stream crossing

PNT119

Location: 48.928634, -120.762247

Hopkins Pass

PNT120

Location: 48.919982, -120.772585

Top of Devil’s Staircase

PNT121

Location: 48.885133, -120.767259

Woody Pass: More windy than woody; you may spot snow patches below.

PNT122

Location: 48.882541, -120.762545

Rough, but serviceable, dry campsite.

PNT123

Location: 48.869784, -120.753786

Rock Pass

PNT124

Location: 48.858025, -120.744114

Good campsites. Small flowing spring, better in early summer.

PNT125

Location: 48.852622, -120.747956

Stream crossing

PNT126

Location: 48.840403, -120.737327

Holman Pass trail junction: leave PNT/PCT here and turn right onto PNT.

PNT127

Location: 48.838765, -120.751589

Stream and campsites. Many small use trails. Confusing junction. Can be hard to find trail out to west.

PNT128

Location: 48.839603, -120.763164

Stream crossing and campsite

PNT129

Location: 48.832948, -120.767058

Three small stream crossings

PNT130

Location: 48.823404, -120.771761

Sky Pilot Pass

PNT131

Location: 48.822802, -120.783015

Stream crossing with series of wood marsh bridges.

PNT132

Location: 48.823133, -120.787578

Stream crossing

PNT133

Location: 48.823657, -120.792365

Low point between Sky Pilot Pass and Devil’s Pass. Start climb.

PNT134

Location: 48.826123, -120.835137

Stream crossing

PNT135

Location: 48.824634, -120.836332

Stream crossing. Great view.

PNT136

Location: 48.813308, -120.853698

Trail junction, unmarked, near Devil’s Pass.

PNT137

Location: 48.814151, -120.895974

Unmarked high pass. View east is fantastic. Stunning view west of Jack Mountain and its glaciers.

PNT138

Location: 48.818219, -120.905408

First view of Ross Lake far below. Jack Mountain rocks!

PNT139

Location: 48.824383, -120.917891

Stream crossing just past Devil’s Dome. Get that camera out on top of Devil’s Dome. Start of 5,200-foot descent to Ross Lake.

PNT140

Location: 48.828831, -120.941675

Trail junction. Go straight, the trail to left goes to Bear Skull cabin, .9 miles distant.

PNT141

Location: 48.828759, -120.948682

Dry Creek Pass. Trail junction, turn left. Campsite. Portions along this 5,100-foot descent are overgrown and could use a serious brushing.

PNT142

Location: 48.826139, -120.97352

Small stream crossing

PNT143

Location: 48.829183, -120.984475

Stream crossing

PNT144

Location: 48.829895, -121.007844

Leave Pasayten Wilderness and enter Ross Lake National Recreation Area (permit for overnight camping required).

PNT145

Location: 48.837052, -121.018545

Trail Junction. Campsites close, 200 yards toward lake and go right at sign.

PNT146

Location: 48.823086, -121.033579

Suspension bridge

PNT147

Location: 48.814026, -121.037243

Dripping rock wall spring

PNT148

Location: 48.800247, -121.042221

Trail junction. Rainbow Point with campsites below.

PNT149

Location: 48.787752, -121.029119

Stream crossing. Single log with handrail. Campsites below.

PNT150

Location: 48.782581, -121.028696

Stream crossing

PNT151

Location: 48.776774, -121.026895

Stream crossing

PNT152

Location: 48.773108, -121.025568

Alder Creek sign

PNT153

Location: 48.739692, -121.010311

Cross Alder Creek.

PNT154

Location: 48.727213, -121.011796

Trail junction. Highway 20 is less than 3 miles away.

PNT155

Location: 48.723562, -121.005168

Stream crossing

PNT156

Location: 48.717955, -120.993099

Stream crossing

PNT157

Location: 48.715033, -120.988592

Stream crossing

PNT159

Location: 48.708581, -120.97565

Turn right at this trail junction, and cross the bridge over Ruby Creek.

PNT160

Location: 48.708094, -120.978157

The route ends at the East Bank trailhead.

Cold Springs Campground

Location: 48.938626, -119.790115

Start of this section of the PNT.

Baurerman Ridge

Location: 48.966583, -120.068035

View as trail traverses south flank of Baurerman ridge -- One of the Guidebook's "Ten Best" spots on the entire 1200-mile Pacific Northwest Trail.

Cathedral Peak

Location: 48.96816, -120.284843

Looking back to Cathedral Peak.

Peeve Pass

Location: 48.968611, -120.350761

On the approach to Peeve Pass

Bunker Hill

Location: 48.973231, -120.480709

Another Ten Best view from top of Bunker Hill. Be careful not to take the Dean River Trail descending west off of Bunker Hill.

Frosty Pass

Location: 48.966019, -120.752449

Wide open bowl just east of Frosty Pass

Devils Staircase

Location: 48.925093, -120.772018

Climbing Devil's Staircase

Top Staircase

Location: 48.920582, -120.770817

Top of Devil's Staircase

Devils Dome

Location: 48.826757, -120.925055

Looking across at Jack Mountain from just west of Devil's Dome