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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.

Rating

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

To Trailhead

To Cold Springs Camp, go east on WA 20/97 for 127 miles to Tonasket. Then northwest via WA 7/Loomis-Oroville Rd. for 19 miles to left on Toats Coulee Rd. Go seven miles to right on Road C1000, then go six miles to Cold Springs Campground; make right turns at unsigned forks.

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