Cartographers only started mapping North Cascades in 1906, about the time that trappers and prospectors—defeated by the vertiginous terrain and famously wet weather—decided to pack it in. Even today, only experienced backpackers should attempt to cross the ragged heart of this 300-glacier park. If that’s you, you’ll love this off-the-radar, 60-mile circuit, which winds across the most glaciated basin of the most glaciated park in the Lower 48.
Start at Easy Pass (don’t believe it) trailhead and end at Rainy Pass (true) trailhead. You’ll gain more than 14,000 feet, tracking along streams of fresh glacier-melt, and see mountain goats, marmots, and maybe black bears as you link up the Fisher Creek, Thunder Creek, Park Creek, and Pacific Crest Trails. The paths intermittently fizzle, so pack a compass, maps, and GPS. But it’s not all slogging and navigation: The campsites, set amid old-growth cedar and Western hemlock, are lush and temptingly close to easy side hikes. Target Fisher Camp, Junction Camp (catch the sunset from a rocky outcropping just north), Upper Thunder Basin Camp (get morning views of glaciers from nearby Park Creek Pass), and North Fork Camp. First-come, first-serve permits are required, but our contributors say they’ve never been denied.
›› Magic Moment After climbing to 6,100-foot Park Creek Pass, you recover in an oasis of greenery and heather perched between icy peaks, 20 miles from the nearest asphalt.
›› Local Knowledge Fisher Camp, below skyscraping rock walls, lies near the site where the last North Cascades grizzly was killed in 1967. More satisfying: From camp, follow a use trail southeast .5 mile to ultimate solitude in Fisher Basin, a creek-split meadow below the peak.
›› Do It Start: Easy Pass trailhead, between mile marker 151 and 152 on WA 20. End: Rainy Pass trailhead, about six miles east. Map Trails Illustrated North Cascades #223 ($12; natgeomaps.com) Contact (360) 854-7245; nps.gov/noca