If popular Cascade Pass has been on your to-do list this year, then now’s the time to-do it. This weekend or next would be especially good—because it’s about to get way more difficult to get up there. The road will close for construction on September 1, reopen briefly for the Labor Day weekend, then will close again till sometime in October.
The namesake pass of the Cascade Range is not the place for solitude on a sunny summer weekend—and for good reason. The view from the parking lot is the penultimate mountain scene, a flirting temptress for the bigger panorama above. Go early, if possible, while the crowds are still topping off their travel mugs in Seattle. Or just mosey along, knowing that all those people are the real reason we have any national parks at all.
Expect a 3.7-mile hike each way and a 1,700-foot elevation gain, more if you choose to wander the additional mile or two up Sahale Arm which rises steeply from the pass. The main trail descends eastward to Horseshoe Basin and the Stehekin River valley, then another 20 miles to the mountain village of Stehekin at the head of Lake Chelan. For most of us it’s a two or three day backpack, but an experience you’ll likely be bragging about for some time.
Not too many years ago, it was possible to skitter over the pass with a sandwich and a raincoat and catch the shuttle van at Cottonwood. But no more. The old Stehekin Valley Road, originally a wagon road to a mine, is gradually being reclaimed by nature. The big floods we’ve been hearing about over the past decade have washed away major sections of the road, with the river taking away more of the fading roadbed almost annually.
The Park Service gave up the battle on the upper ten miles a couple of years ago. The move sparked a controversy among those who want to reestablish that easy access to a North Cascades wonderland, and those who think roads and cars don’t belong, well, in a North Cascades wonderland. The issue seemed to be done with until an eastside congressman recently introduced legislation to get the road fixed. Cost estimates to reopen the road are in the millions of dollars. But you can’t get there from here. The road stops at Stehekin, reached by a foot ferry only, 50 miles up Lake Chelan.
On our side of the mountains, the road to Cascade Pass should be in good shape and the trail is generally maintained in excellent condition. This is a great outing for families, but since you’re in the national park, Sigfreud and Rover gotta stay home this time. The trailhead is at the very end of the Cascade River Road south of Highway 20 (head across the big bridge at Marblemount). The planned closure is about 12 miles up, which is only halfway to the trailhead.
For more information and a map, visit the Washington Trails Association website - link below - or stop in at the North Cascades National Park offices in Sedro Woolley or Marblemount.
: John Servais recently completed his monster map of Whatcom County—a total of 51 USGS topographic sheets carefully fitted together on a big wall in Fairhaven. You’ll find it toward the back of the Bay-to-Baker Trading Company at 911 Harris Avenue. The map doesn’t quite reach the far hinterlands of eastern Whatcom County (i.e. Harts Pass and the Pacific Crest Trail), but it’s definitely worth sitting and staring at for awhile, wondering how we came to live in such a magnificent place.
Editor note: Ken has written several NW Washington hiking guides. They are available at NW Wild Books . Local ones are also available at Village Books in Fairhaven and several other local shops.