The 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail is a hiker’s dream. In Washington State, it runs past windswept views, expansive meadows, pristine glaciers, old-growth forests, and more. Let local hiking expert Adrienne Schaefer guide you on 33 day and overnight trips that include her favorite pieces of the PCT, from the Mount Adams Wilderness Area to North Cascades National Park and beyond. Enjoy outstanding wildflowers, great swimming, and delicious huckleberries as you experience parts of this world-class trail on foot.
This handy guide includes
- 33 day or weekend trips in geographical order from south to north across the state
- at-a-glance ratings for scenery, trail condition, difficulty, solitude, and accessibility for children
- trail maps, elevation profiles, and details about what to expect on each trip
- driving directions and GPS waypoints
- permit and fee information
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- Scenery: *****
- Children: ***
- Solitude: **
- Hiking Time: 5–7 hours
- Trail Condition: *****
- Difficulty: ***
- Distance: 10 miles
- Green Trails Map: Washington Pass 50
- Outstanding Features: Grand vistas of snowcapped mountains and weather-worn peaks, a gradual ascent on a well-maintained trail, and plenty of opportunities to extend your hike once you reach the pass
While researching the trails for this book, I ran into a gardener from Stehekin who set out to hike the entire Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in the 1970s. He made it all the way to southern Oregon. When I asked why he didn’t keep going, he simply said, “Well, the Pasayten Wilderness was just too beautiful to leave.” He hitched a ride back north and hasn’t left since. While Cutthroat Pass is not part of Pasayten Wilderness or North Cascades National Park, many believe it should be. Since it’s not, however, dog lovers can bring their canine companions.
Unlike most hikes in the North Cascades, this one begins with a warmup. The trail is mostly flat for the first 0.25 mile as it travels north through a forest thick with fir, hemlock, and spruce. You hike a few long, leisurely switchbacks before the trail levels out. At the 1-mile mark, a rock offers a place to sit and enjoy excellent views to the southwest toward Corteo Peak. Views open to the west as well, but the trail soon reenters the forest, obscuring the vista.
Walking is pleasant as the trail continues its journey north up the Porcupine Creek drainage. At 2 miles, you cross the creek on a footbridge, after which the trail begins a gradual climb to the northeast. In a little less than 1 mile, there’s a small campsite beside the trail, a great spot if the weather is bad, but the camping up higher is much more beautiful.
At 3.2 miles, the trail transitions from dark, forested slopes to open meadows littered with wildflowers. Views open in all directions, and for the first time you can see Cutthroat Pass at the head of the valley to the northeast. The trail quickly reenters a short section of trees before immersing you in spectacular alpine terrain.
The trail rounds the head of the valley and at 4 miles comes to the best camping in the area. A sign directs hikers to three or four sites that have access to a few small springs, a good place to refill water bottles or let thirsty dogs grab a drink before your final climb to the pass, where water is absent unless snowfields linger.
From here, the trail begins a long series of switchbacks. As you wind up the east side of the valley, Peaks 7004 and 7726, to the west, rise steeply above the path you took to get here. The vegetation takes on a scrubbier appearance; harsh winds and fierce storms permit only the strongest of plants to survive. Larch trees, low-lying huckleberry bushes, and heather soon dominate the landscape.
Cutthroat Pass (6,820') is at 5 miles, and vistas open in all directions. Tower Mountain is directly north, Cutthroat Peak’s rocky summit lies to the south, Silver Star dominates views to the east, and the dark-colored rock of Black Peak can be seen to the west.
And that’s just the beginning. If time and energy permit, there’s still a ton of exploring to do. Cross-country travelers can venture out on a number of spur trails from the pass. You can also continue another mile north on the PCT to Granite Pass (6,290'), where you’ll be rewarded once again with breathtaking views of the North Cascades and Pasayten Wilderness.
Not feeling ambitious? Don’t worry: a large rock, with room for two, is conveniently located at the pass for your lounging pleasure. The rock has been worn white from years of use by marmots and mountain folk basking in its warmth in the late afternoon sun.
If you want to spend the night, there are a couple of sites at the pass itself. Be aware that there’s no water here once the snow is gone and very limited protection from the elements; storms can roll through without warning. If there’s any chance of poor weather, it’s probably best to spend the day exploring the pass and the evening hunkered down in the shelter of the campsites you passed on the way up.
To return, simply retrace your steps, or, if you can arrange to swap keys with another hiking party, you can do a thru-hike by descending to Cutthroat Lake via Trail 483. The trail branches off from the PCT just north of Cutthroat Pass; Cutthroat Lake is about 3.5 miles on. From the lake, it’s another 2 miles to the trailhead.
Northwest Forest Pass ($30/year)required; see tinyurl.com/northwestforestpass for more information. Self-issued permits available at the trailhead.
From Seattle: From Seattle, take I-5 north about 65 miles to Exit 230 and turn right (east) on WA 20. As you head toward North Cascades National Park, note that services are limited east of Concrete, about 30 miles east of Exit 230, so this is your best bet for shopping for food or getting gas. Drive 51 miles past Marblemount to Rainy Pass; if you’re coming from the east, Rainy Pass is approximately 35 miles from Winthrop. Turn north off of WA 20, following signs for the northbound PCT. The road ends in 0.25 mile, at the trailhead parking lot. The trail, clearly signed, is in the back left (north) corner of the parking lot.
To Cutthroat Lake Trail 483: Continue east on WA 20 from Rainy Pass. Turn left (west) about 4.5 miles from Washington Pass onto Cutthroat Creek Road (Spur Road 400), and drive a little more than a mile to the road’s end. The trailhead is at the end of the road.
GPS TRAILHEAD COORDINATES N48° 33.347' W120° 39.344'
Table of ContentsOverview Map
Overview Map Key
Southern Trails: Oregon Border to White Pass
Central Trails: White Pass to Stevens Pass
Northern Trails: Stevens Pass to Canadian Border
Park and Local Contacts
About the Author