Views of Lake Ann below Maple Pass.

Maple Pass Loop: Guide to an epic North Cascades hike

The Maple Pass hike is one of the most popular trails in all of Washington, but for good reason. The views are immaculate and difficultly moderate, and it packs an amazing punch for the overall hiking experience.

I’ve now enjoyed hiking Maple Pass twice – summer and fall – and cannot recommend it enough. Make sure to take your time and enjoy the views because you’ve got almost 360-degree views at the top.

Below, we’ll dive into everything you need to hike Maple Pass Loop and have a wonderful trip to the North Cascades.

Lake Ann just after sunset in the North Cascades.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Your Guide to Hiking Maple Pass in the North Cascades

What to know before you start hiking

This is one of the most popular hikes in Washington. For fall colors, it reaches an entirely new level. In 2023, about 2.5 miles of vehicles were parked alongside the road before and after the trail.

So, if you do this hike on a weekend, be prepared for mass crowds. The only saving grace is that many people do this as a loop, removing some of the traffic as people go one way.

It’s a three-hour drive from Seattle.

This isn’t a short jaunt from the city. You have to plan this as a full-day trip out to do the Maple Pass hike. It’s worth it; just be prepared for a long day. Or, plan out where you are staying.

Unfortunately, there are not a lot of places to stay in the North Cascades. You have a few campgrounds alongside Highway 20, but outside of that, it’s scarce.

You could plan to stay in Mazama or Winthrop, though they are about 20 and 30 minutes east of Maple Pass trailhead.

Lake Ann below Maple Pass with a small island in the center.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

How difficult is the Maple Pass hike?

Maple Pass is a moderate hike with some harder segments. But overall, it’s doable for the average hiker and provides incredible views of the North Cascades. I would estimate most hikers can complete this in 4-5 hours, depending on breaks and stopping to enjoy the views.

In all, you’ll gain about 2,000 feet.

Other Top Washington Hikes
Summit Lake
Barclay Lake
High Rock Lookout
Park Butte Lookout

Maple Pass Length

So, this one depends on whether you will do the full loop or stop at the first ridge area (just to the left of the “4” below) at the back of the lake. Here, it saves you from a final 300-foot ascent and is a shorter route down.

Furthermore, you get to enjoy the views of Lake Ann for longer versus going hiker up and descending a steeper trail with fewer views. This top part, though, is the official Maple Pass location.

In the end, it’s all up to you. But if you do the full loop, it’s about seven miles. (My Garmin watch distance was around eight miles as we took a slight detour to the boulder field that brings you to Wing Lake.

What you should bring for hiking Maple Pass

  • 2-3L of water
  • Mid-sized hiking pack
  • Hiking Shoes/Trail Runners
  • Light jacket if going early/late
  • Sunglasses and a hat
  • Sunblock
  • Snacks (salty) and electrolytes
  • Hiking Poles

Get all the gear you need at REI.

A hiker on the trail near Maple Pass.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Let’s hit the Trail: Breaking down the Maple Pass Hike

As I’ve alluded to above, Maple Pass is not a strenuous hike.

First off, go counterclockwise. This provides a more gradual ascent and better views.

The beginning involves a few switchbacks, but afterward, it is a nice gradual uphill hike for the next mile or so. You’ll pass a rocky section with views of Lake Ann below before starting another short series of switchbacks.

You’ll keep gaining elevation from here but at a mild rate.

At the 2.2-mile mark, you’ll pass the junction towards Heather Pass. Continue onward.

Stunning fall colors in Washington.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch
View of the mountains and lake from the ridgeline.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch
A hiker descending the Maple Pass trail.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

From here, you’ll start toward the ridgeline above. But don’t worry, the hike to Maple Pass never gets overly tiring.

At the three-and-a-half mile point, you’ll be on the ridge and see the entirety of the lake below, Mpale Pass to your right, and Glacier and Black Peak behind you.

If you want to continue going up to complete the loop, do it. If not, retreat back to where you came from and head down to the Maple Pass parking lot.

Fall Colors at Maple Pass

During Washington’s fall, which is the end of September through the first half of October, Maple Pass will see gorgeous larch trees turn gold and the bushes on the ground a deep red. Combined, it’s some of the most magical views in all of the land.

But everyone wants to see it. Due to this, it makes the Maple Pss hike one of the most popular in the PNW. If you plan to hike it, come early or arrive around 3-4 pm to beat the crowds.

Golden larches in the Washington mountains.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch
Mountain views while hiking Maple Pass in Washington.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch
A view of the Washington Cascades from the Maple Pass trail.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch
Views of Lake Ann below Maple Pass.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

FAQ: Hiking Maple Pass

How long does it take to hike the Maple Pass?

I would budget 4-6 hours to hike Maple Pass, depending on your hiking speed, how fast you want to hike it, if you plan to eat food, or if you’re doing photography. If you wish to hike it without doddling, I think most people can do it in 3-4 hours.

Are there bathrooms at the trailhead?

Yes, there are bathrooms at the Maple Pass Loop trailhead. There are no other toilets on the trail.

How bad does parking get?

This is one of the top hiking destinations during the summer and fall months. On the weekends, expect the parking lot to be full by 7:30am and to have a half mile of cars parked on the side of Highway 20 by mid-morning.

In 2022, I drove this route during peak fall colors, and I’d estimate there were about 4 miles of cars parked along the road.

Can you backpack to Maple Pass?

No, you cannot. No camping is allowed on the Maple Pass Loop Trail. You can backpack to Lewis Lake or Wing Lake.

What pass do you need for Maple Pass Loop?

Hikers must have the America the Beautiful Pass or the Northwest Forest Pass. This hike is on federal lands, so you need a federally accepted pass. The Discover Pass does not work here.

Larches plus a lake in the North Cascades while hiking Maple Pass.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch
A hiker on the trail in the North Cascades.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Is Maple Pass dog-friendly?

Yes, the Maple Pass loop trail is dog-friendly. Please be respectful on the trail and clean up after your dogs. There are no water crossings on the trail, so ensure you and they have adequate water.

What town is near the Maple Pass Loop?

The closest towns are Mazama and Winthrop. Both have cell service and services, though Winthrop has more lodging options. If you go to Mazama, check out the Mazama store and get a baguette. They’re so yummy!

What are some other good hikes near Maple Pass?

Other great hikes near Maple Pass are:

  • Cutthroat Pass
  • Blue Lake
  • Easy Pass
  • Washington Pass Overlook (not much of a hike, but ADA accessible)
  • Copper Pass
  • Bridge Creek Trail
  • Rainey Lake, which starts at the same trailhead as the Maple Pass hike
Looking down at Lake Ann from near Maple Pass.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Wrapping Up the Maple Pass Loop Hike

This is truly one of the best bang-for-your-buck hikes in Washington. For only moderate effort, you’re rewarded with majestic views that go for miles and miles. Plus, you have more mountain peaks than you know what to do with.

To sum up, if you’re looking for a fantastic hike in the North Cascades, the Maple Pass Loop hike is it!

Until next time, adventurers, take care and be safe.

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