Backpacker Magazine called this place one of the ‘Loneliest Campsites in the Lower 48.’ I’d also add ‘one of the most incredible campsites in the United States.’ Period. After spending a night backpacking Sahale Glacier Camp, I was floored. It was majestic with no light pollution, likely fewer than 15 people at the camps, and jagged peaks rising thousands of feet from the valley below.
If you’re looking for one of the most epic backpacking or hiking views in the North Cascades without needing a rope or mountaineering experience, I think this is it. Except for the last 350 feet up to the camp, the trail is in good shape and doable for nearly all hikers.
The final half mile from Sahale Arm to Sahale Glacier Camp consists of some rock crossings and slippery dirt, but none of it is exposed and can also be done by most hikers. So again, I’d recommend taking your time and bringing hiking poles.
Backpacking Sahale Glacier Camp in North Cascades National Park
Sahale Glacer Trail Details:
- Starting Point: Cascade Pass Trailhead
- Length: 13-14 miles round trip
- Elevation Gain: 4,000
- Difficulty: Strenuous
- Time on trail: 4-7 hours
- Permit: Required to camp, not to day-hike
- Bear Canister: Required
- Temperature: An estimated 21-28 degrees cooler than Marblemount
Can you sleep at Cascade Pass?
You cannot sleep at Cascade Pass. First, there’s no good spot to do it. Secondly, it’s way too crowded, and you would not have a good time! Make sure to consult the North Cascades National Park rangers for more information on where you are allowed to sleep in the park.
What if I didn’t get a permit during the lottery, can I still go?
Even if you didn’t win the North Cascades National Park preseason lottery, you can still get walk-up permits for backpacking Sahale Glacier Camp. Each day during the season, they hand out a set number of permits. This means you still have a chance to sleep under the stars at this incredible destination.
Better, you are still able to hike this area as a day hike. There’s no prohibition for going up there and spending the day exploring!
Everything you need to know
Sahale Glacier Camp Permits
To sleep at Sahale Glacier Camp, you must have an overnight permit through North Cascades National Park. You can acquire this permit in two ways. The first is to win one during the pre-season lottery that happens between February and April each year. The second is to get one via a walk-up permit which means showing up at the Marblemount Ranger Station the day of or one day before you are to hike.
Be warned that some people show up hours before the office opens, and they only hand out a few permits each day.
Cascade Pass to the Arm
Some of the most mundane views you can imagine are from the Cascade Pass Trailhead to the Cascade Pass viewpoint. For three of the 3.7 miles, you’re hiking in a forest with minimal views of anything. The trail conditions are stable and nice, allowing you to hike at a reasonable speed, both up and down. Once you’re out of the trees, the views open up, and it’s beautiful.
I think many people stop at Cascade Pass, but the views are otherworldly once you get a chance to view Doubtful Lake with Sahale Glacier Camp towering above it.
As you hike along the beginning of the arm, you’ll pass an entire field of wild blueberries. Take a moment to enjoy them but also keep an eye out for black bears who will surely love them too.
From here, you’ll wind your way up Sahale Arm with the humps of Sahale Glacier Camp staring down at you. It’ll seem daunting, but with stunning views around you, breaks seem to happen more frequently, making it an easier ascent.
As you near the section where the trail steepens, you’ll find a stream with fresh glacier melt. We filled up as we didn’t know how the water situation would be on top. However, water was plentiful in late September, just 100 yards to the right of the first camp spot.
Overall, the hike is challenging but not overbearing. Having heavier packs makes it more grueling, but it’s nothing insane or treacherous. The worst part is the final half mile, but that isn’t bad. If you’re from Seattle, the biggest obstacle is the altitude at 7,500 feet.
Sahale Glacier Camp
The camp sits just below Sahale Glacier in one of the most majestic areas I’ve ever experienced.
There are four sites right after the trail crests into the camp zone. If you keep hiking through, you’ll find more spread out, including a few sitting on a hill with the most epic views imaginable. I didn’t count precisely, but I’d estimate there were at least seven apparent spots and likely a couple more that I didn’t get to see.
From here, the world is your oyster. The photography opportunities are enormous, and if you feel like peak bagging, Sahale Peak is just 1,000 feet above, with Boston and Buckner Peak also close by.
Gear to bring with you while backpacking Sahale Glacier Camp
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- Light backpacking tent
- 15-30 degree sleeping bag
- Light, yet comfy sleeping pad
- 55L-65L backpacking bag
- Jet Boil Stove
- Water filter
- Hiking Poles
- Backpacking Chair
- Backpacking Meals
- 1x Hiking Pants, 1x Sunshirt, 1x Down Jacket, 1x Rain Jacket, 1x sleeping shirt, 1x leggings, 1x beanie and hat
Final Thoughts for Backpacking Sahale Glacier Camp
- This trail can be done by any moderate to experienced backpacker.
- The biggest hurdle is getting a permit, but once you get one, don’t miss backpacking Sahale Glacier Camp.
- I’d give you a couple more hours than you expect while backpacking Sahale Glacier Camp because of how beautiful it is and all the dilly-dallying you’ll do.
- Please remember LNT principles and pack out what you packed in. Also, do your best to stay on the trail and not trample the vegetation.
- There’s not much water after the top of the arm, so fill up for your final six miles downhill.
- Bear spray isn’t needed if you’re hiking in a group, but it could be wise if going alone. I didn’t feel nervous about the bears we saw as they were healthy and distracted by the berries.
Until next time adventurers, take care and be safe.
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