Loop Backpacking Trips
These are four of the most popular loop trips in the park. However, many more loops are possible, by combining neighboring US Forest Service trails with park trails, using a water taxi service on Ross Lake, or staging a vehicle at either end of a long trail. Get out a map—the possibilities are limited only by your imagination!
This moderate, beautiful forested loop combines the best of two old growth valleys: Big Beaver and Little Beaver. Add a day for a side trip to scenic Whatcom Pass, with views of Challenger glacier and peak. This “loop” requires a water taxi either to or from Little Beaver to complete the final leg—there is no connecting trail along Ross Lake that joins Little Beaver landing to another trail. This lower elevation trail is usually snowfree by mid- to late-June.
Rainbow / McAlester Pass Loop
This moderately strenuous loop combines climbs over both McAlester and Rainbow Passes, and two subalpine lakes by the same name, with steep descents into valleys in between. The loop combines the Bridge Creek (Pacific Crest Trail), McAlester Lake, Rainbow Creek and Rainbow Lake trails. Add a day to explore some cross-country (off-trail) areas, especially around McAlester Pass, or to fish. An ice axe may be required to navigate the steep snows that linger on the north side of Rainbow (Bowan) Pass well into July.
Copper Ridge / Chilliwack River Loop
This strenuous loop trip combines the best of North Cascades terrain: a rare ridge walk with expansive mountain views, and one of the finest old growth forested hikes in the park, along a salmon river. Follow the US Forest Service Hannegan Pass Trail #674 to Boundary Camp, then either head up to Copper Ridge or down along the Chilliwack River, depending on your permitted itinerary. You will work hard for your views, ascending steeply to the ridge no matter which direction you hike the loop, so plan reasonable mileages. This is an immensely popular area and the sites along Copper Ridge fill quickly—come prepared to be flexible with your first-choice itinerary. An ice axe is required to navigate the steep snows of Copper Ridge until July.
Devil’s Dome Loop
Most of this strenuous loop trip is located in the adjacent Pasayten Wilderness, in the Okanogan National Forest, but the loop completes along the shores of Ross Lake, on the East Bank Trail. Much of this trail is high ridge walking above treeline, as you circumnavigate Jack Mountain. This loop is known for its wonderful wildflower displays and views of the Pasayten, and many other mountains. Begin at the East Bank trailhead, and follow USFS Ruby Creek Trail #736 east, or start at Canyon Creek trailhead. Follow USFS Jackita Ridge Trail #738, to USFS Devil’s Dome Trail #752, and finally return on the East Bank Trail. This high elevation trail often holds the snow until well into the summer months.
Did You Know?
In addition to Wilderness, Recreation Areas and National Park designations there are also five Research Natural Areas in the complex: Silver Lake, Pyramid Lake, Boston Glacier, Stetattle Creek and Big Beaver Valley.