14 must-do wilderness hikes in Washington's North Cascades

North Cascades National Park, WA

Marc Adamus

It’s a little-known-fact that the some of the most spectacular wilderness lands in the country are in the North Cascades of Washington state.

This area, stretching from just north of Mt. Rainier to the Canadian border, is anchored by a network of ten wilderness areas encompassing more than 2.5 million acres of the most pristine wild lands in the state. These areas protect the most iconic peaks, lakes, and vistas of the North Cascades such as Mt. Baker, Glacier Peak, the Enchantment Lakes region and the Lake Chelan high country.

In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, The Wilderness Society has just released a list of 14 wilderness hikes in the North Cascades that will take you to some of the most spectacular sights in the region.

These hikes capture the best of what each wilderness area in the North Cascades has to offer—from the sprawling alpine meadows of Spider Meadows in the Glacier Peak Wilderness and waterfalls of the Boulder River Wilderness to the historic Evergreen Mountain Lookout in Wild Sky Wilderness and panoramic views of Bandera Mountain in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

Everyone will find something to love on one of these wilderness adventures.

  1. Hannegan Peak

    Start gentle and end steep on this 5.2-mile trail (one-way) to the rewarding summit of Hannegan Peak. Enjoy panoramic views of the Cascade range and Mt. Baker and Stephen Mather Wilderness areas.

  2. Watson Lakes

    Enjoy this family-friendly two-mile trail (one-way) to three backcountry lakes. The scenic Watson Lakes are within the Noisy-Diobsud Wilderness and offer views of snow-covered Mt. Watson and Bacon Peak as well as fishing opportunities.

  3. Cascade Pass

    Enjoy the popular and incredibly rewarding 3.7-mile trail to Cascade Pass at the edge of the Stephen Mather Wilderness. Alpine meadows, amazing views, and whistling marmots await; continue another 2.2 miles to Sahale Arm to experience the Sahale Glacier and panoramic views of the most impressive peaks in the Cascades.

  4. Lake Ann to Maple Pass

    Start at Rainy Pass and enjoy a range of short hikes to Rainy Lake (one mile) and Lake Ann (two miles); a longer loop trail offers larch-infused alpine meadows and views of majestic peaks along Heather and Maple passes, with views into Glacier Peak Wilderness and Stephen Mather Wilderness areas.

  5. Buckskin Ridge

    For sweeping views of the Pasayten Wilderness, Buckskin Ridge doesn’t disappoint. Hike through spectacular wildflower meadows and larch groves, enjoying two lakes and cresting two passes before descending to the Pasayten River. For the perfect day trip, enjoy a picnic at pretty Silver Lake.

  6. Libby Lake

    For the solitude seeker, enjoy the steep 5.3-mile trail to Libby Lake in the Lake-Chelan Sawtooth Wilderness at over 7,000-feet elevation. Delight in wildflowers, larches, and an old cabin along the way and the final destination surrounded by formidable granite walls. 

  7. Spider Meadows

    One of the most popular destinations in the Glacier Peak Wilderness, Spider Meadows is spectacular—a long gentle climb (6 miles one-way) leads to a sprawling alpine meadow surrounded by towering peaks. Avoid the crowds and visit mid-week! 

  8. North Fork Sauk River

    Explore old-growth and towering cedars as you enter the Glacier Peak Wilderness from one of the few west-side access points. For ambitious hikers and equestrians, navigate switchbacks to scenic vistas and join the Pacific Crest Trail at 8.4 miles (one-way). 

  9. Goat Lake

    Two trails (3.5 miles one-way; lower trail recommended) lead the way to impressive Goat Lake. The trails converge and enter the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness through a gateway of giant cedars. The trail continues about 1.5 miles, meeting beautiful McIntosh Falls and the lakeshore with snow-capped Cadet Peak in the distance. 

  10. Boulder River

    Take time to walk among moss-covered giants and the rushing Boulder River on this 4.3-mile (one-way) wilderness trail. Impressive waterfalls await only 1.2 miles along the trail. 

  11. Evergreen Mountain Lookout

    Take a short and steep 1.5-mile trail to a unique wilderness destination, Evergreen Mountain Lookout, with sweeping views of Wild Sky Wilderness and beyond. The lookout was built in 1935 and is available for nightly rentals through the Skykomish Ranger District. 

  12. Lake Dorothy

    This popular trail reaches the long, sparkling Lake Dorothy in 1.8 miles then continues another 3 miles to admire views of the lake and granite cliffs. For more solitude, travel a short distance beyond to Bear and Deer lakes. (Photo at right: Lake Dorothy. Credit: Matt Kowalcyzk.)

  13. Bandera Mountain

    With rewarding views of the Cascades and beyond, this 3.5-mile trail (one-way) climbs steadily to the 5200’ peak of Bandera Mountain, with the Alpine Lakes Wilderness a stone’s throw to the north. Enjoy alpine meadows and a short side trip to Mason Lake. 

  14. Ingalls Creek Trail

    This trail gently climbs a scenic valley on the eastern edge of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Roaring Ingalls Creek, the craggy Stuart Range, and wildflowers provide endless wonder. Falls Creek (6 miles one-way) is a good daytrip turnaround point.