This is the 3rd and 4th day's itinerary in the North Cascades series, and related posts are linked below. Enjoy!
Day 3: Ross Lake Boating
Since we were close to many lakes at North Cascades, we wanted to do a water activity. We decided to go to Ross Lake Resort which provided kayak and boat rentals. We started a little late from our campsite since we hiked the big Cascade Pass the day before, but the hiking route to Ross Lake Resort was a little longer than we anticipated. We parked at Ross Dam Trailhead on State Route 20, and after a short downhill path through the forest, came to a paved path at the top of Ross Dam. The ranger told us it was a short walk to the resort from here, and we could even see the resort, but it felt very long as we walked in the midst of a second forest to finally reach the Ross Lake Resort. Maybe it felt longer because we didn't pass any other hikers on our path there. 🤷🏽♀️
Luckily, there were boat rentals still available – and we rented one. After getting our boat, life-jackets and a quick lesson on how to operate the boat – we were off! Seeing the mountains and glaciers from the midst of the lake is a unique perspective, and I'm glad we got to experience it. We first went to Devils Creek, about 30 mins into the boat ride which was a must-see. It's a steep canyon in the midst of these mountains, and very narrow, so it's not possible to ride the boat through it. You have to use paddles and maneuver the boat through it. Kayaks have an easier time in this creek. It's unique compared to the rest of the landscape of mountains, forests and glaciers.
We saw some islands and waterfalls as we passed through the mountains, along with some boat-accessible campgrounds, but my favorite view was that of Nohokomeen glacier atop Jack mountain. You can't get a better view of this glacier from anywhere except Ross Lake, which made it very much worth the experience!
After passing Cat Island and Desolation Peak – we turned around since we were getting close to the Canadian border, and we wanted to return the boat back in time by 6 pm. The ride back to Ross Lake Resort was much more bumpy, because the winds had picked up, and thus much less enjoyable. But we did see a flying fish, which made it memorable.
After returning our boat at Ross Lake Resort – instead of hiking back, we took the ferry ride to Ross Dam, which cut down our return hike by half. I wish we'd known about it when we were coming to the resort though 😂. After climbing the uphill in the first forest of around 500 ft, we were back to the trailhead at the end of the day.
Looking back, we started the day a little late for a water activity, we didn't take the ferry from Ross Dam to Ross Lake Resort, we didn't pick up kayaks which might've made it more adventurous, and neither of us are into fishing, which Ross Lake is most famous for. So while it wasn't a bad experience, I wouldn't repeat it. If you're into fishing, I'd recommend Ross Lake Resort without hesitation.
Stats for part of the hike (From trailhead to Ross Dam and back):
- Distance - 1.5 miles (to and fro)
- Elevation gain - 500 feet
- Leashed dogs allowed
- No fees to get to Ross Dam or Ross Lake Resort
- 150$ for day-long boat rental, including ferry ride back to Ross Dam
Day 4: Maple Pass Loop and Washington Pass Overlook
This was the only trail we did in the Rainy Pass area. We chose it because we'd get some beautiful views of lakes and mountains, but also since the length and elevation gain for this hike was something we were comfortable with. There was ample parking space at the trailhead, and this hike also requires that you carry a Northwest Forest Pass (like any hike in the Rainy Pass area). No worries if you don't have one, you can buy it by paying 5$ at the trailhead. The instructions at the trailhead are pretty clear on how to fill the form, and deposit the amount.
There were several unique aspects to this hike. It was the only trail which was a loop. Secondly, we were going to pass through not one, but two lakes. We start the trail at Lake Ann and end on the Rainy Lake side. Thirdly, the hike is along a mountain pass (aka Maple Pass) where we cross from one mountain to another. There aren't any dramatic glaciers or lot of snow-covered mountain views in this one as Cascade Pass trail, but that made it unique.
The hike is standard for a hike in North Cascades, starting in the midst of a forest, and moving upward, with the tree cover reducing as you get to the sub-alpine meadows. There are fewer switchbacks, and much less of an immediate ascent anytime on the trail, which makes it more family friendly. There are sunny sections even at lower elevations, since the trail is almost at the edge of the mountain overlooking the lake, instead of staying in the forest cover. The first views of Lake Ann are around an hour into the hike and as you go higher, the views get better 😍
Before you get to the highest point (Maple Pass), you pass through a section where you can see the distant snow-covered mountains, which makes for a pretty view. Maple Pass makes for a great view too, with mountains all around – but what makes it special is Lake Ann deep below, showing how high you've climbed on the trail.
The descent was a tad hard, because while there is a trail, it isn't best-paved and since there are no switch-backs, it feels more steep. There are some sections along the descent where you can see Rainy Lake, but it's never as clear a view as Lake Ann. At the end of the hike, you can take a wheelchair-accessible paved trail (about 2 miles from the trailhead) to see Rainy Lake, but we gave it a pass.
Stats for the hike:
- Distance - 8 miles
- Elevation gain - 2185 feet
- Leashed dogs only part-way allowed
- Fees of 5$ for Northwest Forest Pass
After the hike, we went to see Washington Pass overlook, since it was nearby and recommended by the park rangers. I went in with high expectations, since it is named after Washington – and it lived up to the hype. Glorious 180-degree views of all surrounding mountains, and very much accessible. This viewpoint is worth the visit!
That's days 3 and 4 at North Cascades, and I'm out of words again! Day 5 details will be coming soon.