North Cascades National Park – Cascade Pass & Sahale Arm

Cascade Pass has magnificent views and unmatched beauty, and this North Cascades National Park hike is a must do, bucket list item.

Chris & Mac of Grey Otter Outventures

Chris & Mac
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Length:  11.6 Miles Round Trip
Trailhead(s):  Cascade Pass Trailhead
Elevation Gain:  3,937’
Trail Type:  Out and Back
Dogs:  Not Allowed
Difficulty:  Easy/Moderate to Cascade Pass;  Strenuous to Sahale
Permit Required?  No
Considerations:  Road to Trailhead Parking Often Closed Until Late June; Black Bears, Fragile Vegetation, Snow
Season:  Summer


Overflowing with magnificent views and unmatched beauty, North Cascades National Park’s Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm are incredible, and hiking here is a must do.  The trail stuns with views as far as the eye can see, abundant wildflowers, and wildlife.


Cascade Pass

Hiking trails in North Cascade National Park generally go up.  The hike to Cascade Pass is no exception.  Ascending nearly 4 miles via a series of switchbacks, trees keep the views mostly hidden.  The few which are allowed by the branches are enticing.  Leveling out once it emerges from the forest at elevation, the trail places hikers at eye level with beautiful snowy peaks.  The transition is huge, and now the trail is entirely above the tree line.

Splendid scenery surrounds hikers as they travel below meadows on the mountainside above.  A final, short ascent of the trail as it approaches the pass takes hikers through a gorgeous area adorned with a jumble of rocks and seasonal wildflowers.  At Cascade Pass the show is one of seemingly endless snow packed peaks surrounding a gorgeously picturesque valley.  It is dramatic and majestic.

Although this is a destination for many, more and better await those who allot the time for the hike up Sahale Arm.

Sahale Arm

We cannot stress enough that even though the trail gets steeper, rockier, and definitely more strenuous, it is 1000% worth the effort to hike the Sahale Arm.  Although it adds 2+ miles to the hike, the miles are absolutely glorious.  Yes, the additional miles are a relentless climb.  Indeed, the trail is rockier and more technical.  Without a doubt, it is strenuous.

Forget about it all as soon as you see the views!  Although hard to imagine, the views just keep getting bigger and better as the trail ascends.  The grand scenery above Cascade Pass is beyond amazing.  It is singularly spectacular and mind blowing.  Seeing this is worth every bit of the effort expended to add Sahale Arm to the Cascade Pass hike.  In fact, we highly, highly, highly recommend making the effort to hike the additional miles to witness something extraordinarily special.

The Wildlife – Goats, Marmots, and Bears, Oh My!

While ogling the amazing in your face scenery on this hike, also watch for wildlife up above Cascade Pass.  Marmots are prevalent on the rocks, mountain goats are on the hillsides, and bears live here too.  As always, give them their space, don’t interfere with their activity, and hopefully you will have a wonderful experience seeing them in their natural habitat.

Grazing Goats

On our way back down to Cascade Pass we came across a herd of goats.  There were both male and female adults as well as babies.  The males closely watched the hikers, and kept themselves between the trail and the rest of the herd.  Thankfully, everyone on the trail was quiet and stayed well back from the herd since they were grazing right next to us.  Because of the excellent wildlife etiquette shown by everyone near the goats, we were all able to watch them from a very close distance.  It was a special encounter on our way back down.

We thought we had seen the last of them as we passed by.  However, minutes after we arrived back down at Cascade Pass they all did as well!  As they did further up, they walked right by the people hanging out at the pass.  WOW!

Whistling Marmots and Stealthy Bears

If the marmots whistle, then be on alert because they are issuing a warning.  We experienced this first hand while sitting on a lovely rock outcropping for a snack break.  The marmots all around us suddenly stood up on the rocks and began whistling.  Unfamiliar with what was happening, we were amused at this behavior.  Happily snacking and watching them, we were completely unaware that danger was lurking.

Suddenly, a large marmot climbed up on the rock next to me, stood up, and whistled very loudly.  Not only was this thrilling, it was a great photo opportunity!  Fortunately for us, as Chris grabbed his camera he also spotted a black bear below us.  This was the reason the marmots were whistling.  The bear.  It must have smelled our snacks because it was heading steadily in our direction.  Now we were as alarmed as the marmots, and hastily packed up to make a quick retreat down the trail.


Even if not planning to continue past Cascade Pass, an early start is advised.  Not only is this a popular trailhead which fills up quickly with both day hikers and backpackers, simply getting to the trailhead is a slow, rough drive down 23 miles of unpaved road.  Trust us, you will want to leave enough time to look around, take pictures, and just “ooh and ah” as you try to take it all in, so plan accordingly.  We were so in awe on this hike we were left wondering how the time had passed so quickly.

Scroll down to learn about the GEAR WE USE and OTHER OUTVENTURES in this area.

Additional Information

Cascade Pass & Sahale Arm Slideshow

(Click image to expand.)

Gear We Use for Day Hiking

To see descriptions of the gear Chris & Mac use for day hiking, as well as links to manufacturers and retailers offering the gear for sale, please CLICK HERE.

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Articles About Other Regional Outventures

Click below to learn about other regional outventures in this area.

SAFETY DISCLAIMER:  The activities discussed in this website are outdoor activities and, as such, have inherent risks to which participants are exposed.  It is not the intent of this website, nor is it possible due to the variability of weather, terrain, equipment, and experience, to detail all of those risks.  The information contained in this site is informational, but not instructive nor exhaustive.  It is the sole responsibility of the user to ensure he/she is in good health, fully prepared, and fully informed as to dangers before undertaking any of the activities discussed in this website and the user does so at his/her own risk.  The user understands that by using this website he/she acknowledges and accepts all risks associated with use of information from this website and participation in any particular activity addressed herein.  Please see “Terms of Use” for additional information.

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