The Best of the North Cascades, Washington

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 13114A, Backpacking


  • Hike some of the most stunning scenery in North Cascades National Park
  • Usher in the fall as we hike through the high country of the famed alpine larch
  • Cross paths with PCT thru-hikers toward the end of their 2,600-mile journey


  • A relaxing night at a ranch in Stehekin at the end of the trip
  • Boat trips up and down Lake Chelan
  • All meals on the trail and at the lodge


DatesSep 9–20, 2013
Difficulty4 (out of 5)
StaffMarybeth Dingledy

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Trip Overview

Please note that the trip title and itinerary have changed from what was originally published. If you have questions, please contact us.

The Trip

North Cascades National Park is a land of rock, fire, and ice.  It is also a land of old-growth forests, flowers, and many species of animals, including a species long absent from the area -- the grizzly bear.  A glance at the region's topographic maps confirms that this land was carved by mighty glaciers. We'll travel mile after mile high on the crest of steep-walled cirques, and often hike through meadows lavish with wildflowers. Though we end in a forested river valley, the remainder of the route includes high-elevation landmarks with names like Cascade Pass, Rainbow Pass, and Park Creek Pass.  Let your imagination fill in the details until you see the views for yourself.

September in Washington is a magical time of year. The bugs are gone, the trails are clear, and the weather is generally beautiful. The trip is also timed to usher in the fall colors, particularly the alpine larch, a deciduous conifer that lives only in high elevations such as along our route.


Our trip officially begins on September 9 at the Lake Chelan Boat Company dock in Chelan, Washington. We will have a pretrip meeting at 4 p.m. on September 8 in Chelan. Please make your travel arrangements accordingly. Chelan is approximately four hours northeast of Seattle slightly east of North Cascades National Park.

From Chelan, we will board the Lady of the Lake Express for a 90-minute journey up Lake Chelan, a 55-mile-long lake that is the third deepest in the United States. The trip up the lake is spectacular, as we work our way from the wine country of eastern Washington to the spectacular peaks of the North Cascades.

Once we land at Stehekin, we will shuttle up to the end of the road and begin our hike into the wilderness. Throughout our 12-day trip, we will enjoy the high country as we travel through some of the most wild and glaciated terrain in the lower 48.

We will spend a few days following the Stehekin River toward its headwaters near Cascade Pass, an ancient Native American route through the mountains. After exploring lakes, ridges, and basins near the Cascade crest, we will next head to Park Creek Pass to get up close and personal with the glaciers.

As we travel along the PCT between Rainy Pass and Stehekin, we will also visit the McAlester Pass and Rainbow Lake areas.  Here, we will hopefully catch the spectacular larch as it changes from green to gold and prepares to drop its needles. We may also liberate the last of the blueberries.

We will spend our last night at Stehekin Valley Ranch, about eight miles up the road from Lake Chelan. The next morning, we will catch the park service shuttle to the boat dock, take a spectacular ride down the lake, and arrive in Chelan at 6:00 p.m. Given our late arrival time, please do not expect to fly out of Seattle that night.

Our first trip meal will be lunch on September 9, and the last trip meal will be lunch on September 20. Please consult with the trip leader before finalizing travel plans.



Getting There

Chelan is a small, lakeside community that's four hours northeast of Seattle. Originally a big producer of apples and cherries, it is now one of the state’s newest wine regions. Your leaders will be staying in Chelan the evening prior to the trip. Participants are encouraged to carpool to Chelan, as there is no public transportation from Seattle.

Accommodations and Food

All meals and snacks are included in the trip price. Though there will be several vegetarian entrees on the menu, this is not a "vegetarian" trip. On the trail, participants will take turns preparing meals and cleaning up afterward. We provide group cooking gear, but ask that you bring your own bowl, cup, and utensils.

Our last night on the trail will be spent in a cabin at the family-run Stehekin Valley Lodge. The lodge has hot showers, hammocks, amazing views, and fabulous food.

Trip Difficulty

This trip is rated 4 (moderately strenuous) -- for experienced backpackers only. Hiking days range from 9-13 miles in length.  Altitude should not a problem as our route does not go above 6,500 feet.

Since we travel through bear country, we'll use bear-proof canisters to carry food by day and store it safely by night. Each trip member will carry one 2.5-pound canister, weighing approximately 10 pounds and a share of the group commissary equipment.

Participants will need to keep their personal gear to an absolute minimum, and your leaders will require that everyone commit to a conditioning program suitable to a lengthy backpack. A few short outings with a full pack are the most effective preparation for a more rugged trip later.

Equipment and Clothing

The leader will provide a complete equipment list once participants are approved.



Green Trail Maps:

  • 17 – Jack Mountain
  • 18 – Pasayten Peak
  • 50 – Washington Pass
  • 82 – Stehekin
  • 81 – McGregor Mtn


Copeland, Kathy and Craig Copeland, Don't Waste Your Time in the North Cascades: An Opinionated Hiking Guide to Help You Get the Most from This Magnificent Wilderness.

Manning, Harvey and Ira Spring, 100 Hikes in Washington's North Cascades National Park Region.

Berger, Karen and Daniel R. Smith, The Pacific Crest Trail: A Hiker’s Companion.


The Pacific Northwest is a land of fire and ice. Massive glaciers hang off of the slopes of dormant, but not extinct, volcanoes.

We will discuss the role of global warming and its effect on the diminishing glaciers, fires/fire suppression, and the mountain pine beetle, and the advantages of wilderness versus national park systems in saving land.

Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under permits from North Cascades National Park.



Marybeth Dingledy grew up on the east coast, then migrated west to Seattle in 1995. After picking up a hiking book in a used book store, she discovered her true passion -- backpacking. She has backpacked extensively throughout the western United States in Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Wyoming, Alaska, and Utah. In 2006, she spent four weeks on a solo backpack of the John Muir Trail in California. Marybeth has been leading trips for the Sierra Club in Alaska the Rocky Mountains, and the Pacific Northwest since 2008. One of Marybeth’s greatest backpacking pleasures is teaching people that they really can make amazing meals a on multiday backpack.

Assistant Leader:

Jason Schwarz grew up in rural Oregon and now lives in Seattle, Washington. He has hiked, backpacked and photographed nature extensively throughout the western United States, including Washington, Oregon, Wyoming, Utah, and California.

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