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Sun going down over Maple Pass Loop in the North Cascade mountain range

The Perfect Weekend Getaway in the North Cascades

As a nature photographer I’ve found the lockdown portion of 2019 to be exceptionally difficult. Endless weeks spent isolated in my apartment, without a breath of fresh air, hike, or camping trip to be found. Once restrictions here in Seattle were lifted I was incredibly eager to stretch my legs and practice social distancing the way I prefer to: in the wilderness. Thankfully, western Washington has quite an abundance of beautiful scenery to soothe the soul, and I had no trouble finding a few spectacular views.

Blazing Bright on Maple Pass with a view of the North Cascades in Washington State

The scenery of Washington is famously dramatic. Towering, glaciated volcanos and rugged coast lines are the main stars, but despite the North Cascades being one of the least visited National Parks in the country, this area is (in my humble opinion) one of the absolute most beautiful mountain ranges in the world.

I am very lucky to own a camper van, making it much easier to venture outside while still respecting social distancing guidelines. The van is a recent purchase for me, but I’m loving the ability to go hiking without needing a hotel, restaurant or any other amenities. As an additional bonus, my van has a small fridge inside - perfect for ensuring I always have a nice cold Apricot Ale waiting for me after a hike! We were unlucky enough to get caught in a record-breaking heatwave during this adventure, so the apres-hike libations felt like less of a treat and more of a mandatory refreshment! With food and equipment all packed, we set out for two days of adventures and exploring the beautiful mountains in our backyard.

Small refrigerator full of Pyramid beer

The Swim: Diablo Lake

Glacial runoff at Diablo Lake provides a very chilling swim spot in the North Cascades National Park

While Diablo Lake is technically a reservoir, the glacial runoff that feeds it gives the lake a brilliant turquoise color. Diablo Lake is easily accessible from the North Cascades Highway making this an absolute must-see if it’s your first trip through these mountains. Visit the overlook above for an expansive vista of the lake and surrounding mountains, or park down below to dip your feet in. The reservoir is fed by melting snow and ice, so be warned that the water is extremely cold, even at the peak of summer. We wanted to get to our hike with plenty of daylight left so our stop here was brief, but the area surrounding Diablo Lake has dozens of spectacular hiking trails as well as numerous campsites accessible by either hiking or paddling.

The Hike: Maple Pass Loop

Sun going down over Maple Pass Loop in the North Cascade mountain range

Perhaps one of the most scenic hikes in the entire park, Maple Pass is a fairly easy 7.2 mile loop trail. Although the distance isn’t extreme, there is a fair amount of elevation gain to reach the top, so come prepared with plenty of water and snacks. The trail starts with steep switchbacks through dense forest before opening up to a beautiful view of Ann Lake and the surrounding valley. The rest of the hike is marked by expansive views in every direction, culminating in a sign welcoming you to North Cascades National Park just as you reach the summit. We found a perfect sitting rock and sat down for a sandwich and delicious Blazing Bright IPA while we watched the sun go down. The return hike is through spectacular fields of wildflowers with more incredible views in every direction. Take your time, and enjoy letting the stress of every day life melt off.

Maple Pass Loop hiking view at sunset

Day 2

The Swim: Pearrygin Lake State Park

Coast Day can in the Moss

We began our day attempting to catch sunrise at the Cascade Pass overlook, but we woke up to overcast skies. We made some breakfast while waiting for the clouds to clear, and ended up with a beautiful view of Liberty Bell Mountain. The blistering heat wave was in full force today, so we drove to the nearby town of Winthrop for a refreshing dip at Pearrygin Lake State Park to beat the heat. While the park was significantly more crowded than we hoped for, we found it fairly easy to keep our distance from other people and a dip in the water with a Coast Day Lager was just what we needed!

The Hike: Cascade Pass

Cascade Pass hiking in the North Cascades National Park

This was my first time at Cascade Pass, despite it being considered one of the absolute “must-do’s” in North Cascades National Park. Even the parking lot at the trailhead had spectacular views, so it wasn’t very hard to get motivated! The trail begins with a brutal stretch of switchbacks leading straight up the side of the valley. If I’m being honest, opening stretch of the hike felt nearly endless as every turn led us into another stretch of dense forest and rocky trail nearly indistinguishable from the one before it. Finally, after somewhere between 1 hour and 75 years of switchbacks we crested the ridge and were rewarded with an incredible view of Cascade Peak, the Triplets and Johannesburg Mountain. The trail traverses across the side of Sahale Mountain and through a large scree field before reaching the top, but the summit of the pass has a few very nice stone benches for relaxing and enjoying a few snacks and a beer while taking in the sights. We stayed up for sunset and saw a massive male deer cross a snow field below us—possibly one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen all year (and my job is to literally travel the world looking for beautiful sights). When enjoying a summit beer remember to bring cans instead of glass and always pack out what you pack in! When enjoying a summit beer remember to bring cans instead of glass and always pack out what you pack in!

Pyramid Brewing Coast Day Hazy Lager craft beer at North Cascades National Park Wildlife walking across glacier in North Cascades National Park in Washington State Mountain views along Cascade Pass

We arrived back at the car exhausted but fulfilled. A weekend of fresh air and exploration was a very welcome break from the ordinary, and just what we needed.

Nate Luebbe
@nateinthewild | www.nateluebbe.com