While visiting North Cascades National Park, I found that this is one of the most recommended hikes if you are willing to endure 13 miles of rough gravel road to get to the trailhead.
The Washington Trails Association says "At Cascade Pass, the wow factor far exceeds the “ow” factor – perhaps no other trail in the state delivers as much reward for the effort."
I can vouch that the rewards are high and, while there is still some effort required in this 7-mile out-and-back trek, it's easier than the just-as-rewarding Maple Pass Loop I did two days earlier.
I wasn't planning to do this hike today, but from the weather forecast it appeared this may be the last day without rain while we're in the area. Again, Linda sat this one out, so I packed up and headed out around 8:00 a.m. with plans to be on the trail by 9:00 or 9:30.
From the town of Marblemount on Hwy 20, you take the Cascade River Road for 23 miles to the end. The first 10 miles are paved and you can find a pull-out with this view.
Then you have eleven miles of unpaved, gravel road that changes in quality a few times from deep, rough washboard to occasional potholes to a perfectly benign backroad (very narrow in some parts).
The last two miles are inside the National Park where sections are surprisingly paved giving you a false sense of security before you plow into some teeth-rattling, bumpy, gravel sections. But that section of road has beautiful scenery, so you don't mind going a bit slower (plus it's barely wide enough for two vehicles to pass, so you have to be cautious).
I had read to plan an hour for those 23 miles, and that's probably good advice although it didn't take me quite that long this morning. The road was actually much better than I expected.
Reaching the large parking area, it was already full of cars, but I found a spot near the trailhead. The Cascade Pass hike is just the first part of several longer hikes and backpacking trips, so many of the cars there when I arrived were probably those of backpackers.
Here are a few shots of the beautiful scenery from the parking lot.
I was on the trail by 9:00, and Johannesburg Mountain, which looms over the parking lot, would be a featured part of the views all day.
Actually, once you start up the trail, you only have a few places where you have a view. The trail winds through the forest on over 30 switchbacks for the first 2.7 miles of the 3.6-mile hike.
So, I kept an eye out for bears as there were several recent reports of sightings, and I took advantage of any opening to take pictures of the mountains, glaciers, and gorgeous fall colors.
The switchbacks were gentle, and I ended up putting my hiking poles away as they really weren't necessary. The switchbacks also were a bit monotonous, but once they were done, the last mile to the pass was absolutely amazing.
Looking back down the valley in the next photo, you can barely see the parking lot at the trailhead (bottom center).
The colors in the next section were unreal. Just like the Maple Pass Loop a couple of days ago, I could only stand in awe and say "Wow!"
The pikas were squeaking as I walked through the rocky sections, and I would spend some time trying to photograph them on the way back.
But with the pass visible, I moved on continuing to marvel at the trailside foliage.
It was also getting very cold and windy, so I stopped just short of the pass to put on my fleece shirt and take a couple more pics before reaching my destination.
So, this was the view once I reached Cascade Pass.
View to the left where the trail continues and then splits into two.
Many people continue on to Sahale Arm making it a 12-mile round-trip hike. I considered continuing on (for about 30 seconds), before turning around and going back to the pass.
Going the other direction at the pass leads up the steps to a toilet and a backcountry trail beyond.
View back down to the pass from those steps.
A nice young lady took my photo at the pass.
Man, it was cold and windy there, so I didn't stay long. I started back down and people kept telling me my bright fleece shirt blended into the scenery.
You would think I had enough pictures, but apparently not.
I stopped by the large piles of rocks among the bright yellow plants, and watched the pikas. I waited patiently until all the hikers had passed for the moment and this one hopped up on a nearby rock to squeak a little. Very cute.
These are American Pikas, and I enjoyed watching them. They were skittish as people walked by, but I stayed still and patiently watched them as they came out from under the rocks and went about their business. It wasn't a bear sighting, but I have more bear photos than pika photos, so it was nice to get a couple shots.
Speaking of bears, before long, I was back on the switchbacks. I passed a couple on the way up that said they saw a bear and cub down below. I started hustling and passed two more couples that said the sow and cub were moving pretty quickly downhill cutting the switchbacks.
Even a lady wearing loud bear bells saw the bears. I asked others coming up after bear bell lady, and none of them saw the bears, so I was pretty sure the opportunity was gone.
Then I came upon a slow-moving guy going in my direction, and he was telling another group that he saw a bear about 45 minutes prior up the trail. It appeared I just missed that one, too.
That's three trails I've hiked in the last few days with several bear sightings, but I guess it just isn't my time to see a bear on a hike yet.
As I continued down, I heard what sounded like thunder. It took me a minute to realize it was ice breaking off from the hanging glaciers and tumbling down the mountain. What a cool sound!
I couldn't see it, but I got a view around the next corner, and I'm pretty sure the sound came from this mountain.
There was a waterfall below those glaciers, and looking more closely, there were several of those thin cascades which may have something to do with the name of the pass.
With bears on my mind, my pace was apparently pretty quick and before I knew it, I was back in the parking lot.
It took me about four and a half hours to do this hike and, as I mentioned previously, it was easier than the Maple Pass Loop although the elevation change was only a couple hundred feet less at about 1,800 feet.
This was an amazing hike and another one I can highly recommend.
If I had to choose one, it would be a very difficult decision between this hike and Maple Pass. Both had mind-blowing fall colors and both had about the same amount of people. Maple Pass is dog friendly while Cascade Pass is not if that makes a difference to you. The Maple Pass trailhead is certainly easier to get to on paved roads. Both are about the same distance and take about the same amount of time. Bears were seen on both trails even with quite a few hikers present.
I think I would lean slightly toward Maple Pass because 1) I prefer loop hikes, 2) there is more varied scenery, and 3) you're not hiking up switchbacks with limited views for over five of the seven miles.
But, with that said, do them both if at all possible!