Many locations would require a trail three times as long to offer such spectacular scenery – three alpine lakes, two mountain passes and endless views over Washington’s Northern Cascade Range – all on a moderately easy trail. If this trail were in Yosemite, you’d be entering a lottery for a chance to hike it, so it’s no wonder the Lake Ann, Heather and Maple Pass trail is considered one of the best loop hikes in Washington – yet without the annoying crowds.
Begin the hike at the trailhead in the parking area at Rainy Pass, starting up forested switchbacks toward Lake Ann (save the trip to Rainy Lake for the end). About a mile up, get a break in the forest cover by contouring around a large hillside meadow that explodes with wildflowers in summer; fireweed, aster, pearly everlasting, columbine, thistle and pink monkeyflower. Keep your eyes peeled for black bear, as they’re known to habit the area. At 1.4 miles the trail forks, left through Bridge Creek’s marshy meadows to the shores of Lake Ann, right for the gradual climb to Heather Pass. It’s worth taking the 0.5 mile spur for a closeup look at the lake cirque below towering Frisco Peak, however camping is no longer permitted in the area.
Back at the fork, start heading up toward Heather Pass. After another short stretch though pine and fir forest you break out into the open, starting a steady yet manageable ascent along the flank of an unnamed peak amid more wildflowers, now including paintbrush, lupine, spirea and stonecrop. The higher you go, the more impressive the views get, with Whistler Peak and Cutthroat Pass behind, Heather Pass and Frisco Mountain ahead, and Lake Ann far below. Just before Heather Pass at 2.5 miles, a spur trail heads north, then west to Lewis Lake in the next valley over (camping permitted).
Continue above Heather Pass, contouring around the upper walls of Lake Ann’s cirque, up a couple of switchbacks dotted with larch trees to the ridge meadows below Corteo and Frisco Peaks then hold your jaw in place to keep it from hitting the ground as you soak in 360º views of all of Washington’s Northern Cascade peaks – Corteo, Black, Frisco, Storm King, Stiletto, Benzarino, monstrous Glacier Peak to the southwest, and many, many more. Probably hungry for lunch, pick your own little patch of nirvana amid the large, rocky meadows to sit and soak in the endless views. Unfortunately, camping is not permitted within the area.
Ready to move on, continue south, then east to begin the climb to Maple Pass on the flank of Frisco Peak amid meadows of pink mountain heather and yellow stonecrop. By this time, you’re probably dizzy with scenery overload. Descend several switchbacks on the other side of Maple Pass to a rocky overlook high above Lake Ann offering another stupendous view, then on through more open, flower-filled ridgetop meadows, soon with views of big, blue Rainy Lake in the cirque far below to the south. Listen for the cracking sounds of Lyell Glacier. When you’re back in forest, you now pay for the delights of your day with a 2,000′ bone-crunching descent on steep swtichbacks. At the bottom, fork right 0.5 mile on the paved trail for a closeup view of Rainy Lake before following it back to your starting point.
More info: http://www.nps.gov/noca/index.htm
Mapped by Eli Boschetto Bosco Mountain Photo