Maple Pass is one of those iconic trails that you have to hike when you visit North Cascades National Park. This epic hike that twists through wildflower-laced meadows, snowcapped peaks, shimmering lakes, and picturesque glaciers indulges a hiker’s every desire. The Maple Pass trail is a quintessential hike in the Cascades, after all!
As you meander through the picture-perfect valleys, you’ll be surrounded by jagged peaks that rival the Alps, jewel-colored alpine lakes, and sky-high fir and spruce forests. You won’t want to miss this hike of a lifetime!
In this Maple Pass trail guide, I’m going to share with you everything you need to know to conquer this legendary trail. I’ll share how to access the trailhead, what months to hike it, what pass you need to purchase/display, exactly how to hike it, and what you can expect throughout the entire trail.
The cherry on top? I’ll tell you which trail is the perfect “cool-down hike” after your grueling trek through the rugged mountains and subalpine wilderness.
Ready? Let’s go to the Cascades and hike the Maple Pass trail!
Maple Pass Trail Guide: North Cascades National Park
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Maple Pass Trail Stats
- Length: 6.5 miles
- Elevation Gain: 2,162 feet
- Type of Trail: Loop
- Difficulty: Strenuous
- Pet-Friendly: Yes
The Maple Pass trail starts in Ross Lake National Recreation Area and skirts the boundaries of North Cascades National Park around the halfway point.
The Maple Pass trail begins at the Rainy Pass trailhead off Highway 20. Get directions here.
This is a large parking lot, but it can fill up very quickly. Like many of the other popular trails in North Cascades National Park, I’d recommend arriving as early as you can!
✨ For snow-free conditions, hike this trail in August or September.
Highway 20 through North Cascades is usually only open from June through October, meaning those are the only months that you can hike Maple Pass.
Due to the heavy snowfall that the area receives, Highway 20 through North Cascades is typically closed from November through May. You cannot hike the Maple Pass loop during these months.
While you can certainly hike the Maple Pass trail in June, you’ll need to bring your snowshoes. Snow often dusts the higher passes well into the summer and arrives early in the fall. We hiked this in late July and most of the trail above Heather Pass was still coated in a layer of wet snow.
There is no fee to enter North Cascades National Park, Ross Lake National Recreation Area, or Lake Chelan National Recreation Area.
❗️However, to park at many trailheads, including Maple Pass and Rainy Pass, you need to purchase and display a Northwest Forest Pass or America the Beautiful Pass.
If you have an America the Beautiful pass, you do not need to pay for the Northwest Forest Pass. Simply display your park pass on your dashboard so that the rangers can see it.
If you do not have an America the Beautiful pass, you will need to pay for a Northwest Forest Pass at the trailhead. At the trailhead self-pay station, fill out the card (bring a pen!), insert $5 cash into the envelope, stick the card and cash into the provided slot, and slip the forest pass on your dashboard.
Make sure to display your pass on your dashboard before hiking the trail! You don’t want to come back from your hike just to find a ticket on your windshield.
Which Direction Should You Hike?
Since the Maple Pass trail is a loop, you can hike it in either direction. We hiked it counter-clockwise simply because we read the views were better, but I can’t imagine there being a bad choice honestly!
If you want to hike Maple Pass counter-clockwise, start on the path directly behind the trailhead sign.
If you want to hike Maple Pass clockwise, head left from the Rainy Pass trailhead on the paved path for about 0.4 miles until you reach the easily-missable dirt trail on your right.
How to Hike the Trail – What to Expect
This trail description is going to be for the counter-clockwise route since that is the way we hiked it.
The first 1.25 miles are wooded and moderately steep. Try to be patient; the panoramic views will open up soon!
At the 1.25-mile mark, you will reach a fork in the trail. This is the branch to the Lake Ann spur trail.
If you choose to add the Lake Ann spur, which I highly recommend, you will be adding about 1 mile and 100 feet of elevation roundtrip to your hike. Well worth the simple trek!
To get to Lake Ann, one of the spectacular jewel-colored lakes that you’ll hike above on the Maple Pass trail, you will need to hike about 0.5 miles through a weedy, overgrown forest. When we hiked it in 2022, it was quite muddy, and the trail was difficult to find at times.
Once you’re at Lake Ann, veer to the right to find some nice boulders to sit on. Here you can munch on a snack while you enjoy the views!
Make sure to look up; you will get to see the zigzagging path you’ll be taking to reach Heather and Maple Pass!
Once you are finished relaxing at Lake Ann, it’s time to hike the same path that you took to the lake back to the fork. Here you will turn left to get back onto the Maple Pass trail.
The views past the Lake Ann spur trail are stunning. Once the trees open up, you’ll get to see those prominent peaks and iconic lake views that snag everyone’s attention.
For the next 2 miles, you’ll be climbing steadily through the meadows on a narrow, windy path, but the expansive views do a great job of distracting you from the gradual elevation change.
As you gain elevation and inch closer and closer to Maple Pass, the views around each tight switchback grow more impressive than the previous.
Allow yourself plenty of breaks to stop and draw in every inch of this picturesque landscape!
Heather Pass and Maple Pass are next, and they’re the crown jewels of this trail! Some of the best views on the trail are from these the tops of these two passes.
Due to Heather and Maple’s high elevations – nearly 7,000 feet above sea level – these two passes can be snow-covered well into July and welcome snow as early as October. In fact, we crossed many treacherous snowfields in late July.
It’s here that you’ll reach the North Cascades National Park boundary and begin your descent back down to the Rainy Lake trailhead.
The 3-mile descent down to the Rainy Lake trailhead is sharp, but once again, the panoramic landscapes are unmatched.
Once you reach the end of the path and come to a junction, you’re about 0.4 miles from the Rainy Pass trailhead and about 0.6 miles from Rainy Lake.
It’s here that you’ll have a choice to make:
- You can turn left at the junction to get back to the parking lot. You’re about 0.4 miles from the parking lot and the comfort of your vehicle.
- Or you can turn right and hike 0.6 miles to another beautiful alpine lake, Rainy Lake. It’s worth the detour. In my opinion, this easy trail is a great way to cool off after a long, grueling hike.
When to Hike Maple Pass
The best time to hike this trail is July through October.
Below is a breakdown of what you can expect while hiking this trail each month that it is open.
If you visit in June and July, you will probably get to witness some lingering snow on the passes. If you’re prepared to trek through the snow, the vistas can be amazing with the contrast of snow-dusted peaks, glistening emerald lakes, and a smattering of wildflowers that are starting to pop up in the meadows.
If you visit in August and September, you will get to witness widespread wildflowers blanketing the meadows and bask in the overall comfortable hiking conditions.
If you visit in October, you’ll get to see those stunning golden larches circling the alpine lakes and lighting up the peaks and valleys.
Pro Tips For Hiking Maple Pass
- Black and grizzly bears are active in this area. Carry bear spray and learn how to hike safely in bear country.
- Avoid crowds on the trail by arriving early, not hiking this trail on weekends, and avoiding major holidays!
- There is no cell service on this trail. Download maps for offline use ahead of time and carry a satellite phone for emergencies.
- The paths on this trail are extremely narrow. Know how to yield on the trail. When there’s snow, the skinny paths become extra dangerous.
- Bring the 10 essentials with you on your hike.
- Always leave no trace!
Other Things to Do in North Cascades
While you’re in the North Cascades National Park complex, here are some other things you should do:
Discover Your Next Adventure
Where to next? I’ve got some suggestions!