The heart of the North Cascades National Park Service Complex — 93 percent of it, in fact — is wilderness backcountry, accessed by some 400 miles of trails. Here are three of the park’s more-fabled backcountry hikes:
Cascade Pass/Sahale Arm
This hike gets five stars in the guidebooks, and it’s a crowd-pleaser that draws crowds. It’s reached by the one widely known passable road that penetrates the actual national-park boundary, 23-mile Cascade River Road (the last 17 miles of which are gravel), which branches off from Highway 20 at Marblemount. Stop at the pass, at 3.7 miles, for a hike filled with spectacular views of mountains and glaciers. Backpackers can continue on this trail toward Stehekin. Or trundle left and upward (steeply) and continue to Sahale Glacier at 6.2 miles for a true heart-of-the-mountains experience.
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Desolation Peak Trail is a steep hike — 4,400 feet of elevation gain in 4.8 miles — from the shore of Ross Lake to open meadows, grand vistas and a historic fire lookout where writer and poet Jack Kerouac spent the summer of 1956 waiting to hear if “On the Road” would be published. It is a popular day hike for boaters staying on the lake, or a scenic but strenuous side trip for backpackers along the East Bank Trail. Bring plenty of water for this sun-baked trail.
Park Creek Pass
For wilderness all to yourself, Park Creek Pass gets hyperbolic praise from bloggers with words such as “one of those places that will haunt you indefinitely; truly incredible!” The 6,059-foot pass is at the heart of the park’s southern district among a garden of glaciers below the park’s highest peak, 9,220-foot Goode Mountain. For a multiday backpack with cars at both ends, follow the Thunder Creek Trail 19.6 miles up the cloudy-green stream to its source at the snowy pass, crossing the brand-new Skagit Queen Bridge, then follow Park Creek down to the Stehekin River and take Cascade Pass Trail to the trailhead.