backpack: North Cascades – Cascade Pass
Cascade Pass is a popular area for hiking and backpacking due to stunning scenery of glaciated mountains in the North Cascades. Advance permits are required and well worth the effort to obtain.
- distance & elevation gain to Pelton Basin Camp: 3.7 miles, 1,700 ft. gain, 600 ft. loss
- Pelton Basin to Basin Creek Camp: 3.2 miles, 1,700 ft. loss
- hike out: 7.4 miles, 2,300 ft. gain, 1,700 ft. loss
- day hike options: Sahale Arm
- best months: July to September
- location: North Cascades; nearest town: Marblemount, WA
- land management: North Cascades National Park
- trail conditions: Cascade Pass & Sahale Arm Trails
- hike description: Washington Trails Association – Cascade Pass & Sahale Arm
- permits: required for all backcountry campsites via lottery process
- trailhead pass: none
- regulations: dogs are not allowed; bear boxes are provided for food storage; no campfires
- note: as of 9/17/2021, the Cascade River Road is closed at milepost 20 due to road damage (3 miles before the trailhead)
3.7 miles, 1,700 ft. gain, 600 ft. loss to Pelton Basin Camp
My first time visiting the North Cascades National Park, I was blown away on the drive in, with towering peaks with snowfields and glaciers viewable from the parking lot. This is the first year that backcountry permits are required for the Cascade Pass area and we were lucky to score three nights at campsites at Pelton Basin and Basin Creek.
The trail to Cascade Pass goes up 37 switchbacks, which were hot, dusty and buggy on the day we hiked in. We were headed to the group camp at Pelton Basin.
day hike to Sahale Arm: about 5 miles, 1,500 ft. gain
On the second day, we woke up to foggy conditions, but decided to go ahead and do a day hike to Sahale Arm since we had to move camp the next day to Basin Creek, another 1,700 ft. lower than where we were camped at Pelton Basin. The trail junction for Sahale Arm is near Cascade Pass, so we headed back towards to the pass from camp. As we hiked up, the fog and low clouds cleared, allowing for fantastic views in all directions.
It was cold with high wind gusts, and I didn’t go all the way to the base of glacier. Instead, I stopped on the ridge and enjoyed the panoramic scenery while part of our group continued higher up the ridge.
moving camp to Basin Creek: 3.2 miles with 1,700 ft. loss
On the third day, we moved camp to Basin Creek, going down, down, down 1,700 ft. into the valley below.
7.4 miles with 2,300 ft. gain and 1,700 ft. loss
I woke up not feeling well, which turned out to be a case of hyponatremia – which is low sodium due to excessive sweating without replacing electrolytes. Lesson learned for sure! We had a long hike out on the last day, getting back up to Cascade Pass, then back down the 37 switchbacks to the trailhead. It wasn’t easy, but I made it thanks to the help of my friends. Regardless, I loved everything about this trip and hope to come back again to explore the area more.