Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm hike is one of the most popular and beautiful hikes in the North Cascades National Park. Cascade Pass Trail is a great day hike with easiest access in the park to alpine environment. Combining it with Sahale Arm makes it little more difficult day hike, but provides even more spectacular views.
Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm hike is surprisingly busy. It is a strenuous day hike that has it all snow-capped peaks, beautiful valleys, endless switchbacks, wildflowers, and busy wildlife. We saw chipmunks, marmots, and mountain goat with a baby goat.
Distance: 12.1 miles, out-and-back
Elevation Gain: 4200 ft.
Trailhead: Cascade Pass Trailhead at the end of Cascade River Rd.
Facilities: Available at the trailhead
Parking: Parking is available at the trailhead however it fills up quickly and you may have to park on the side of the road.
When to Go: June through October, depending on weather conditions.
Getting to the Trailhead
The closest town to the trailhead is Marblemount and it has very limited accommodations. Pretty much the only game in own is North Cascades Inn, unless camping close by. North Cascades Inn is nothing fancy, but it is functional and clean.
Cascade Pass Trailhead is 24 miles from Marbelmount, at the end of the Cascade River Rd. To drive 24 miles takes about an hour since the last 12 miles are on the unpaved road which keeps getting bumpier, curvier, and narrower closer to the National Park you get.
TIP: During shoulder months last 3 miles of the road is closed. In 2022, it opened in early September due to road construction.
The parking area is small and there is a benefit in getting there early. Otherwise, you may have to park on the side of the road.
The restrooms are available at the trailhead. No entry fee.
Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm Hike
The start of the hike takes you immediately into the tree-covered area and you start climbing endless switchbacks. The switchbacks are relatively easy, and you gain 1,500 ft in 2.7 miles. Every once in a while, you get a glimpse of the nearby mountains as the trees clear out.
From the last switchback to Cascade Pass the trail opens up. It is a much easier part of the hike, with wildflowers around you and possibly chipmunks and mountain goats crossing the trail too.
The Cascade Pass is less than a mile from here.
At the Cascade Pass, the view opens up to a beautiful valley and endless snow-capped peaks. During our hike, the clouds just kept rolling in and at times you couldn’t see anything. But then they would clear up and the view would take your breath away. If not interested in hiking any further, you can return from here back to the trailhead.
TIP: It is usually windy here, so bring a jacket to cover yourself while enjoying this view.
From here look for the Sahale Arm signpost to the left and prepare for a harder part of the hike. The switchbacks are much steeper, and there are areas where you are walking over scree.
This effort will be worth your while when you arrive at the ridgeline with the view of Sahale Mountain towering over the Doubtful Lake.
TIP: You can take a trail down to Doubtful Lake. Most people do not, which makes it very peaceful.
For approximately another mile, the hike is relatively easy walking on the ridgeline through fields of wildflowers and marmots (we saw a couple of them running around).
The last ascend to the Sahale Glacier is the hardest part of the hike, with almost 1000 ft elevation gain in approximately 0.5 miles. It is a killer and can be very slippery. And on the day we did it, the clouds rolled in and completely clouded the views.
The way back is mostly downhill and can be tough on the knees. Hiking poles are very helpful going downhill.
About Our Experience
We did this hike on a Labor Day Weekend and it was very busy. I would recommend doing this on a weekday if possible when there are not as many people on the trail.
Even though it was supposed to be a mostly clear day the clouds kept rolling in and out. It was amazing how quickly they will obstruct the view and just stubbornly sit there.
We were tight on time since after the hike we had an almost 3-hour drive to Winthrop and most restaurants in this part of Washington close by 8 pm.
Tips for the Best Experience
Know the road status before you go. There is only one way to the trailhead and it could be closed due to the weather or construction. Check the status here North Cascade National Park Road Conditions.
Leave No Trace. Pack out what you bring into the park.
Wear hiking shoes. The trail is rocky, it can also be muddy or dry and dusty depending on the time of the year and proper footwear is crucial.
Hiking poles were crucial for us. They are crucial, especially for the last part of the climb.
Sun protection is a must. Once out of the wooded area there is little to no shade and it is important to have sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat and other clothing as needed to protect you.
Water and snacks. Bring enough water and food for the entire hike, there is no water filling stations along the way.
To avoid crowds do this hike during a week instead of a weekend.
Where to Stay and Eat
As I’ve mentioned earlier in the post, there aren’t many options. We stayed at North Cascades Inn. It was clean and functional. However, the tree took power out the day we arrived, and everything was running on the backup generator power, which made our room noisy and there was no Wi-Fi.
Glacier Peak Resort has cabins for rental and is located 2.5-miles east of Marblemount.
There are campgrounds off the Cascade River Rd in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
There are three restaurants in Marblemount: Marblemount Diner, Upriver Grill & Taproom and Mondo Restaurant. Due to the power outage, the only one that was open was Mondo (Korean-American Fusion).
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