Jack Nichols Photography
Night sky and landscape photographer in Seattle, Washington


Early Winter in the North Cascades

Late September and October is my favorite time to hike in the Pacific Northwest. The weather has cooled, the colors are changing, and most importantly, the mosquitoes are gone! Some years, winter even shows up a little early, and when that coincides with the changing fall colors, it can make for some magical conditions.

This year, the stars aligned and I got up to the North Cascades on one of my favorite hikes, the Maple Pass Loop. The day I picked was a bluebird day, but the day prior the area received around 6 or 8 inches of new snow. The new snow on top of the fall colors and colorful larches (tamaracks) was unbelievable! I set out not intending to do the full loop, but wound up doing it anyway because the conditions were so good! This hike really is a must-do if you are from or visiting the Pacific Northwest.

If you go, some tips:

  • This hike can be done in either direction. It’s around 7 miles around the whole loop, and 2500 feet of elevation gain or so. Going clockwise gets the steep part out of the way up front, and then it is all a gradual downhill from there. Going counter-clockwise offers a less steep elevation gain with a steeper descent at the end. I ended up opting to go counter-clockwise, mainly because I didn’t want to deal with ice on the steep part, and figured it would melt out by the time I reached it later in the day (it did).

  • The road to the trailhead closes for the winter, so keep an eye on the forecast and the road report.

  • Watch for bears! In the fall, there are always a few black bears at the head end of the lake, munching away on the blueberries that cover the hillside. I saw two when I was out, but they were quite far away. Years ago I saw one right above the trail though which was pretty awesome!

Rainy Pass. Maple Pass - Lake Ann in a snow-covered valley with
Rainy Pass. Maple Pass - Arc of larch on a ridge lit by the sett
Rainy Pass. Maple Pass - Liberty Bell group in the snow above a
Rainy Pass. Maple Pass - Man in red jacket walking along snowy r
Rainy Pass. Maple Pass - Looking up at tall snow covered trees i
Rainy Pass. Maple Pass - Island in center of Lake Ann covered in
Rainy Pass. Maple Pass - Tall snow-covered larch tree with sun s
Rainy Pass. Maple Pass - Cutthroat Peak in snow and clouds
Rainy Pass. Maple Pass - Larch and evergreen forest at Heather P
Rainy Pass. Maple Pass - Stand of larch on a ridge below a fog a
Jack Nichols