backpack: North Cascades – Copper Ridge
Copper Ridge is one of the few high ridgelines in the North Cascades with access to trails and designated campsites. The scenery is incredible, with endless views of peaks in Washington and Canada.
- distance & elevation gain to Boundary Camp: 5 miles, 2,000 ft. gain, 650 ft. loss
- Boundary Camp to Silesia Camp: 3.2 miles, 1,300 ft. gain, 195 ft. loss
- hike out: 8.5 miles, 835 ft. gain, 3,275 ft. loss
- day hike options: Copper Ridge Lookout, Copper Lake
- best months: July to September
- location: North Cascades; nearest town: Glacier, WA
- land management: Mount Baker National Forest; North Cascades National Park
- trail conditions: Hannegan Pass Trail | Copper Ridge Trail
- hike description: Washington Trails Association – Copper Ridge
- permits: required for all backcountry campsites via lottery process
- trailhead pass: NW Forest Pass required
- regulations: dogs are not allowed; bear boxes are provided for food storage; no campfires
This is definitely a trip I’ll never forget. We had permits for an epic campsite on Copper Ridge with views of endless peaks (including some in Canada), and I saw my first ever black bear on the trail right in front of me as we hiked out.
I also had a few struggles on this trip that are likely common amongst backpackers, including a back that tires far too easily, a throbbing sinus headache due to allergies, gut issues due to backpacking food, physical exhaustion due to physical exertion, and a few bouts of anxiety due to everything else listed here. Regardless, I love backpacking more than anything else I can think of and I’m already planning my next (shorter and easier) trip before the season ends.
Day 1: Hannegan Pass trailhead to Boundary Camp
5 miles +2,000 ft gain -650 ft loss
I applied for our permits as soon as the application process began. I’d seen photos of a campsite on Copper Ridge that enticed me to this location, and I was lucky enough to snag permits for two nights at the same camp area. The drive from Portland to the Hannegan Pass trailhead is about 6 hours total, including a required stop at the ranger station in Glacier to pick up our permits.
It was cool and foggy when we arrived at the trailhead. We met a group of four guys who had just hiked out and said they had no views for several days. The forecast for days 2-5 of our trip called for clear skies and warmer than usual temps, so we were happy with our timing.
The first several miles of trail to Hannegan Pass go through brushy exposed areas along a ridge with a few sections through the forest. We could only see glimpses through the clouds of the peaks above us as we hiked in.
After reaching Hannegan Pass, the trail switchbacks down 650 feet to our first campsite of the trip at Boundary Camp. The campsites aren’t very scenic, but it’s a good place to stop before heading up to Copper Ridge.
Day 2: Boundary Camp to Silesia Camp
3.2 miles +1,300 ft gain -195 ft loss
In the morning, everything was fogged in and our tents were wet with condensation. We took a bit of time to dry gear while we ate breakfast, then we packed up to head to our next campsite at Silesia Camp. By the time we left camp, the fog was completely gone and we had clear blue skies for our hike.
The trail switchbacks up through a forested section, goes around several knolls and eventually climbs to Copper Ridge. All along the way, we were treated to views of the peaks that surrounded us.
As we neared Silesia Camp, we rounded a corner and a whole new horizon full of peaks came into view. There are only two campsites at Silesia, but no one was there when we arrived so we picked the spot with big views. : )
Since the campsite was quite small, we had to position our tents right next to each other to fit in the available space.
The camp has a bear box for food storage located between the two campsites, and a composting toilet with a great view is on the ridge below camp.
Short hike to filter water: 1 mile -400 ft +400 ft roundtrip
There’s no water at camp, so we hiked down to Egg Lake to filter water to carry back to camp. Carrying eight liters of water is a slogfest when you are hiking back up hill.
At sunset, we wandered around taking photos while the peaks all around us looked magical in the light. Then we slept for a few hours until it was time to get up to see the stars and Milky Way. This place is incredible!
Day 3: zero day at Silesia Camp
At sunrise, one of my friends was already up and running around again with her camera. I could see the pink color in the sky from inside my tent and didn’t want to miss out, so I got up and grabbed my camera. The colors were amazing! After shooting a zillion photos, I went back to bed until I was too hungry to wait any longer for breakfast.
It’s probably hard to believe that the sky looked like this, with bands of pink and blue above the peaks, but this is exactly what it looked like.
I was feeling exhausted most of the time on this trip, and then I woke up with a throbbing sinus headache, so I decided to skip the day hike I had intended to do. Instead, my friends hiked to Copper Mountain Lookout and Copper Lake while I stayed at camp and rested.
I spent some time taking photos with the Peakfinder app to identify all of the peaks I could see, and did a quick photo shoot of a new water filter that I’m testing for a gear review. Then I spent the rest of the day relaxing and soaking in the views while waiting for my tent to be in the shade so I could take a nap. It was incredibly quiet all day, with hardly any sounds other than from the Chilliwack River far below Copper Ridge.
On our last night at Silesia, we repeated our sunset and midnight photo shoots. We were in one of the most incredibly scenic places we’ve ever been to and we didn’t want to miss anything, especially since the conditions were perfect… warm and dry weather with clear skies. The sky was streaked with pink rays and it didn’t look real, even when I was standing right there admiring it.
Day 4: hike out to trailhead
8.5 miles, 835 ft. gain, 3,275 ft. loss
On the last day, we had planned to hike 5 miles to Hannegan Creek Camp to spend one more night before hiking out to the trailhead the next morning. However, hiking all the way out added only another 3.5 miles to our day, so we decided to go for it. An added benefit was that we’d be driving back at night and would miss rush hour traffic in Seattle and Portland.
I was in the front on our hike out, and after rounding a corner, I found myself standing less that 10 feet in front of an almost full-sized bear! It was right on the trail! I didn’t attempt to take any photos… we were both startled as we looked at each other, then it decided it was more interested in the huckleberries than in me, so I turned around to tell my friends about it before they ran into me and the bear.
We decided to give the bear plenty of space, so we backed up and waited while we called out to let it know we were there. We didn’t have a clear view of the bear, but we could see the shrubs moving and the top of its head bopping up and down as it ate. After about 10 minutes, we didn’t see any movement and decided to continue on the trail. Slowly. While we called out “hey bear” the entire time. One of my friends on this trip has previous experience with bears, so I asked her to lead us past this part of the trail. Soon enough, we felt safe and continued hiking at a normal pace. We sang all kinds of “hey bear” related songs for another 15 minutes or so.
I needed one more Peakfinder photo so could identify all of the peaks around us on this trip. This was a view on the hike out.
I’ve been having back issues all year and it was hurting quite a bit on the last several miles of this hike. We stopped at Hannegan Creek to give my back a break, have a quick lunch, and filter more water for the hike out. Since it had been cloudy when we hiked in and was now clear and sunny (and hot!), we had new views to discover on the hike out.
In spite of any difficulties I endured on this trip, I absolutely loved this place! I’m already planning future trips to more locations in the North Cascades. : )