>> It’s all yours.
So often, backpackers have to get strategic (or silly) to avoid crowds—go midweek in the off-season at night. Not here. During the first half of our route, we don’t see enough hikers to fill a bridge game. The two “busy” sections—the PCT overlap and shoreline walk on Ross Lake (mile 108.2 to 120.6)—still bring only six other parties. Sandy dreams of trekking in Nepal someday, and we’ve tramped New Zealand’s famous tracks. But the PNT proves a passport is no prerequisite for serious wilderness adventure that feels like the end of the Earth.
Get there From Seattle, go north 65 miles on I-5 to WA 20. Head east 77 miles to Ross Lake trailhead, the end of this route. To reach the start at Cold Springs Camp, continue east on WA 20/97 for 127 miles to Tonasket. Then head northwest via WA 7/Loomis-Oroville Rd. for 19 miles to a left on Toats Coulee Rd. Go seven miles to a right on steep dirt Road C1000 (just before North Fork Ninemile Campground; primitive “Chopaka Grade” sign after the turn). From here, it’s six miles to Cold Springs Campground; make right turns at unsigned forks (the more traveled, uphill route).
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: Pick it up at the 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
GPS data Download a GPS track and waypoints, view more photos, and print a custom map of this route at backpacker.com/PNT12.
*Daily cost per person, based on double occupancy: $ <$50 $$ 50-100 $$$ 100-150 $$$$ 150-200 $$$$$ >200