Hiking Cascade Pass / Sahale Arm Trail in North Cascades National Park
Cascades Pass/ Sahale Arm trail is a beautiful trail you must do if you are hiking in North Cascades in Washington. You will learn everything about Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm trail in this hiking guide.
Located in North Cascades National Park, Cascade Pass/ Sahale Arm is a very popular hike. Most people only hike up to Cascade Pass and turn back since this part of the hike is pretty easy and the view at Cascade Pass is wonderful.
You can continue the hike to Sahale Arm and even Sahale Glacier from Cascade Pass, but the hike gets very challenging after Sahale Arm (which is why we did not hike to Sahale Glacier). If you are up for the challenge, you can even bring your camping gear up to Sahale Glacier Camp and watch the sunset/ sunrise from there, an experience not many people get to have.
In this Sahale Arm hiking guide, you will find all the practical information for this hike, including when to get there, road conditions, parking situation, what the hike is like, what you should pack, etc.
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How long and how hard is Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm?
I would like to break this hike into two parts, Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm.
Cascade Pass is an easy hike through the woods that most people can do (there were a lot of old people on this trail). Sahale Arm, on the other hand, is steeper and more challenging with no shade, it requires higher fitness level but most people should still be able to do this hike, as long as they have enough water and sun protection.
Here are some general statistics on Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm in North Cascades Washington.
Hike length: 3.7 miles to Cascade Pass; 4.5 miles to Sahale Arm, 6 miles to Sahale Glacier (this is one way. For round trip just multiply by 2)
Time it takes: 3.5 hours to Cascade Pass; 4.5 hours to Sahale Arm
Elevation Gain: 1700 feet gain to Cascade Pass; 2350 feet gain to Sahale Arm (additional 650 feet from Cascade Pass to Sahale Arm)
Difficulty level: moderate to Cascade Pass; difficult to Sahale Arm and Sahale Glacier
Dogs: Not allowed in North Cascades National Park
Pass Needed: None; free to park and hike (backcountry permit is required for all overnight stays)
Bathroom: At the trailhead and at Cascade Pass
Where is Cascade Pass/ Sahale Arm Trail? How do I reach Cascade Pass trailhead?
Cascade Pass/ Sahale Arm trailhead starts at the Cascade Pass parking lot, on Cascade River Rd. The trailhead is about 2 hours drive from Burlington or 50 minute drive from Marblemount.
We visited in August and there was no road closure on Cascade River Rd, but expect unpaved road about 13 miles before the trailhead. It was really dusty with some potholes and took about 45 minutes on the unpaved part.
Before I hiked Cascade Pass, I read that there is a gate 3 miles before the trailhead and people often had to park outside of the gate and walk 3 miles to the trailhead. However when we went, the last 3 miles of the drive were newly built with some paved segments of the road! The road towards the end was pretty narrow and difficult to fit 2 cars. But we were lucky that we never ran into that problem since we went pretty early and left later during the day so there were no cars coming from the opposite direction.
We arrived at Cascade Pass trailhead around 8 in the morning and we did not see another car on the road while driving to the Cascade Pass trailhead, so it was a very uneventful and peaceful drive.
You should always check SR 20/ N Cascades Hwy and Cascade River road status before driving to Cascade Pass trailhead to avoid disappointment. Below I list the best resources to check the North Cascades park status, road status and trail conditions.
There are occasional road closures during peak summer season due to wildfire, mudslide and roadwork, so be sure to check before you attempt to hike Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm!
Is there parking at Cascade Pass/ Sahale Arm?
There are two small parking lot at Cascade Pass/ Sahale Arm trailhead. There is a small parking lot about 0.7 mile down from the trailhead that can fit 6-7 cars. The bigger parking lot next to the trailhead can fit about another 30 cars and there is a bathroom near the trailhead.
Once you part the car, take a moment to enjoy the view from the parking lot! Even the view from the parking lot is breathtaking, so you can imagine how pretty it is when you hike up there.
You do not need any type of Pass to hike Cascade Pass/ Sahale Arm since it is located inside North Cascades National Park, which is free to visit.
When is the best time to hike Cascade Pass/ Sahale Arm?
Cascade Pass sits in the subalpine life zone, with a lot of snow and a very short summer. August and September are the best time to hike Cascade Pass/ Sahale Arm because the trail will be snow free. There is still snow on the trail in July.
In August the temperature is pretty comfortable on the trail with clear sky and in September (especially towards the end of September) you can see the gorgeous fall color on the trail.
We hiked Cascade Pass/ Sahale Arm towards the end of August and it was really nice. The temperature in Marblemount was about 90-100 degrees but it was not that hot on the trail, especially since most of the trail was in the shaded forest. It did get quite hot and sunny from Cascade Pass to Sahale Arm since there was no shade.
Early October might still be okay to hike Cascade Pass as long as it’s before the first snowfall.
If you must hike Cascade Pass/ Sahale Arm in July, definitely go towards the end of July. There can still be a lot of snow on the trail early July and depending on how far up you want to hike, you may need special shoes and tools to get there.
During the winter months North Cascades has snow and avalanche danger and SR 20 North Cascades Highway has a seasonal closure that usually starts mid November.
Detail of Cascade Pass/ Sahale Arm hike
Switchbacks to Cascade Pass
The Cascade Pass trail starts immediately next to the parking lot (you can’t miss it). There is clear signage showing the distance to all the different landmarks like Cascade Pass, Sahale Glacier, Stehekin, etc.
The trail goes into the shaded forest immediately, with a pretty gentle incline that would be suitable for people of all fitness levels. The trails turns into switchbacks in order to gain altitude and there were 35 switchbacks when I counted.
Although when we were hiking we ran into someone who’s done the Sahale Arm hike before and said there were 33 switchbacks total. Either way, you know there are over 30 switchbacks to Cascade Pass.
It is about 3.7 miles from the trailhead to Cascade Pass, and I would say you spend the first 2.5-2.8 miles going up these gentle (but sometimes long) switchbacks in the woods. You should definitely enjoy the shady and coolness of the hike. The only thing is that there are a lot of flies on the Cascade Pass hike, so be sure to have bug spray with you.
When we hiked early morning around 8am, there were not that many flies. But later during the day, especially in the sun, these flies become more aggressive and vicious and we actually got bitten quite a few times by these flies!
Just when you are wondering when these endless switchbacks were going to end, you will suddenly step outside of the woods and be greeted with an incredible view of the peaks and glaciers. You have officially finished the switchbacks and now you will traverse through meadows.
The trail now becomes a narrow and sometimes rocky path along the ledge of the mountain with the incredible view of hanging glaciers on Johannesburg Mountain in front of you the entire time. This is the most beautiful part of the hike to Cascade Pass so definitely take it slow, take some photos and enjoy it.
As you slowly walk towards Cascade Pass, you may run across some mountain goats. Apparently mountain goat sighting is quite common on the Cascade Pass/ Sahale Arm hike. We ran across a mother goat with a baby goat and they did not seem to even care that we were there.
Before you know it you arrived at the official Cascade Pass. There are a number of large rocks to sit on so you can relax, have a snack or lunch or use the bathroom there. It took us about 2.5 hours from the start of the trail to get to Cascade Pass.
The “bathroom” at Cascade Pass is a composting toilet a few steps up from the Cascade Pass. There is a sign pointing towards the toilet and the hill looks super steep but you only need to go up a few steps to reach the toilet.
Since it is a composting toilet, you are only supposed to poop there. There is actually a sign saying do not pee or put water in it as they want to keep the mix dry. So if you need to pee you will need to do so in the bushes.
When I was trying to use the toilet, there were actually two mountain goats there guarding the toilet and one almost jumped out at me. So be sure to look around for mountain goats before trying to do your thing in the wild (and hopefully nobody else comes since it’s entirely outdoors)!
Cascade Pass to Sahale Arm
Many people turn back at this point but the adventurous few do continue on to Sahale Arm and even Sahale Glacier Camp.
Continue left on Cascade Pass to follow the trail to Sahale Arm. At the base of the mountain you will see a sign for Sahale Arm and Stehekin. Sahale Arm is to the left and Stehekin is to the right. So you want to follow the sign for Sahale Arm and start your steep incline.
The Sahale Arm Trail now veers steeply north towards Sahale Peak with no shade. The trail becomes steep and rocky as you climb up but the view is equally as incredible. You now can see more of the valley and glaciers.
Part of the steep uphill is quite rocky so take your time there, but to be honest I did not find this part of the hike as difficult as people make it out to be. Yes it was steep but I think the biggest challenge for me was the heat. There is no more forest or shade, and if you are hiking on a clear day the sun will be beaming down on you.
After about an hour uphill, the trail flattens out a bit now that you are on the top of the plateau. As you continue to walk you will now be on the other side of the hill you just climbed with a completely different view. You will also see a sign for Doubtful Lake.
If you just want to see the lake, DO NOT follow the sign for Doubtful Lake as that trail will lead you down to Doubtful Lake and you do not want to do that. If you want the view of Doubtful Lake, continue to go up the original trail towards Sahale Arm and Sahale Glacier.
The hike now is a lot more flat and you are essentially walking on the ledge circling Doubtful Lake.
To reach Sahale Arm you will continue to follow the trail and you will see Doubtful Lake the entire time. We actually stopped right here after exploring the area a little. We didn’t want to continue all the way to Sahale Arm since the view was similar to what we had now. But if you have the energy you can continue to the end of Sahale Arm and onto the glacier.
Remember to look back on this trail because even the view behind you is super incredible. This part of the Sahale Arm hike really reminded me of Switzerland, with view of peaks, glaciers and the valley and there was nobody else on the trail with us.
Is Sahale Arm hike worth it or should I turn back at Cascade Pass?
Cascade Pass is beautiful already but if you are somewhat fit you should definitely attempt Sahale Arm since it only took one more hour.
I think it is absolutely worth it to continue the hike to Sahale Arm from Cascade Pass just to see Doubtful Lake. You do not have to hike to the end of Sahale Arm to make the hike worthwhile. You can turn back once you see Doubtful Lake and it really is not THAT difficult.
What to pack for Cascade Pass/ Sahale Arm Hike
Since Cascade Pass/ Sahale Arm hike is a pretty long hike, you definitely want to be prepared with water and food for this hike.
Hiking Poles: The poles helped a lot with the switchbacks as well as the steep downhill from Sahale Arm, but you can survive without a pole unless you are going up to Sahale Glacier (then you definitely should get a pole).
Bear Mace: We bought bear mace from REI before coming to North Cascades even though we did not see a bear on this hike. You should have it just in case since there are a lot of bears in North Cascades.
Where to stay near Cascade Pass / Sahale Arm trailhead?
Camping or staying at a town nearby are the best lodging option for Cascade Pass/ Sahale Arm. Keep in mind that there really is no hotels inside North Cascades National Park except Ross Lake Resort, which is not accessible by car.
North Cascades Camping
If you want to be close to Cascade Pass trailhead and also save money, then your best option is to camp in North Cascades.
Mineral Park Campground is the closest camp ground to Cascade Pass, followed by Marble Creek Campground. Mineral Park Campground is only a 20 minute drive to Cascade Pass trailhead and Marble Creek Campground is about a 40 minute drive to Cascade Pass.
Best town to stay near Sahale Arm trail
Marblemount is the closest town to Cascade Pass Trailhead; it is a 51 minute drive to the trailhead.
Other North Cascades Blogs
If you are planning to explore more of North Cascades or do more hikes there, be sure to check out my other North Cascades blog articles!
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