Backpacking in the North Cascades Overview
You don't need much outdoor experience to enjoy some of the most remote and inspiring alpine scenery in North America. From lush valley floors covered with old growth fir forests to the expansive views of the high passes and dramatic glaciers, the variety encompassed by this trip is immense and the beauty of the scenery is unsurpassed. Join us for a backpacking adventure of a lifetime.
The North Cascades is a vast and rugged wilderness area in northwest Washington State. Sometimes referred to as the American Alps, the area is far more remote than the European Alps and is one of the most pristine wilderness areas in the United States. Jagged spires and sheer cliffs rise from deep glacial valleys covered with fragrant evergreens. With over 300 active glaciers within the Park, many peaks have summits and faces permanently sheathed in ice.
A spectacular campsite during another program in Washington's Mt. Baker Wilderness. Mt. Baker is in the distance. Jeff Ries
During the course of this trip, you will learn all the fundamentals of wilderness living, including travel and camping skills that will keep your body happy and your mind free to enjoy the sights.
If your goal is to gain a bare minimum of
backpacking skills to enable you to begin venturing out alone or to take one of our mountaineering courses, see our Introduction to Backpacking course.
You'll also learn Leave No Trace ethics and techniques so that you will be skilled at limiting or eliminating your potential impacts on the wilderness. Along the way you enjoy gourmet meals and the great camaraderie that is unique in the mountain
Backpacking in the North Cascades 3 or 4 Day Itinerary
Come into the wilderness high on a ridge north of Mt Baker for learning, spiritual renewal, and refreshment! A great escape from the noise and bustle of city life.
Bright fall colors and blueberries along the trail reward september hikers. Jeff Ries
This trip is 17-21 miles in length as is completed over 3 days. The route follows a high ridge with outstanding views of rugged, majestic peaks and snow covered glaciers. All camp sites have glacier views of Mt Baker and Mt Shuksan. All meals are provided. Join us to learn about backpacking fundamentals, wilderness survival, leave no trace experiences and first aid. An optional fourth day can be arranged to hike up to a glacier on Mt Baker.
We meet in Fairhaven for a gear check by your guide. You will have an opportunity to rent or buy any needed gear. Then we drive up into the mountains to a pair of high alpine lakes for an optional 4 mile hike to a retired fire lookout with a spectacular panorama of the surrounding Cascade Mountains, including Mt Baker, Mt Shuksan, and the Border Peaks along the US Canada border. At our nearby trailhead, we climb 1.5 miles to a small pass at timberline. We traverse fields of anemone, aster, paintbrush and fireweed while enjoying glacier carved rock formations. Expect to cross small snowfields if the trip is before mid-August and be amazed at vibrant fall colors in September, when the blueberries are delicious. Gaining the ridge, we can check out the high point of the mountain or go for a swim in one of the many ponds.
We awake to the fresh smell of pines and the quiet peace of the mountains. Enjoy a nutritious mountain breakfast of scrambled eggs with fresh tomatoes and sour cream or oatmeal and blueberries. We get a leisurely start exploring the alpine plateau before starting our ridge walk. You will feel like you are in the Sound of Music on the open ridge surrounded by beautiful peaks and lakes. There will be plenty of time for singing, reflecting and taking in the scenery. We follow the ridge for several miles, stopping for lunch whenever we get hungry. There are many options for scenic campsites along the ridge today and we can stop early to enjoy the views.
Continuing along the ridge, the views of Mt Baker change from the northeast face to the north and northeast flanks. Other mountains come into view as we follow a well maintained National Forest trail. We will have a chance to have lunch on top of Mt Excelsior before heading down into the forest and our ride back.
Backpacking in the North Cascades 6 or 7 Day Itinerary
Your North Cascades backpacking adventure starts at 8:00am in the Fairhaven area of Bellingham, Washington, where the group assembles for introductions and an equipment check. We take whatever time is needed to make sure you have just the right gear before making the 90-minute drive to the trailhead. After a delicious lunch, we hike over Hannegan Pass (where there will be an optional side trip to the summit of Hannegan Peak for panoramic views of the area peaks) and into North Cascades National Park. Once inside the park, camp will be established and a gourmet dinner provided. The evening presentation will be on fundamentals of wilderness living.
Boundary Camp, 5 miles
The Copper Ridge Fire Lookout, with Mt. Shuksan in the distance. Tore Oftness
Wake up to a hearty breakfast and the sounds of the remote wilderness. After breaking camp, we hike a short 4 miles, crossing Hell's Canyon, and arrive early at Silesia Camp. We can spend the afternoon lounging or doing a side trip to Egg Lake or the Copper Ridge Lookout. The evening's presentation is on wilderness survival and we will hope for an amazing sunset.
Today is our longest. We will wake up early and look for bald eagles and mountain goats as a mountain breakfast is prepared. Today we hike the length of stunning Copper Ridge, along the way visiting the Copper Ridge Fire Lookout, usually staffed by a park ranger, and enjoying panoramic views of a dozen remote glaciers before descending the other side of the ridge into the Chilliwack River Valley and setting up camp at Indian Creek.
Awake to the pleasant sounds of the Chilliwack River rushing north into nearby Canada. Enjoy a backpacker's breakfast, pack up camp and head south along the river. Watch for salmon in the river and bears in the forest. We then turn east, following the Brush Creek Trail to Whatcom Pass, where we will set up our next camp. Whatcom Pass and provides close-up views of many amazing crevasses on the Challenger Glacier. You have an option for a hike to Tapto Lakes, which reflect breathtaking views of the beautiful mountain scenery across the valley. Bring plenty of film or memory cards and batteries. This is a place you will want to revisit again and again. After a delicious dinner, a presentation on local geology and history will be given. You may prefer to sleep outside your tent tonight to catch glimpses of shooting stars.
A trail winds by a calm alpine lake in autumn. Aeron Horath
Before breaking camp this morning we enjoy a short hike up to Tapto Lakes, which reflect breathtaking views of the beautiful mountain scenery across the valley. Bring plenty of film or memory cards and batteries. This is a place you will want to revisit again and again. Returning to camp, we pack up and head down the canyon to a sunny river side campground. After a delicious dinner, a presentation on local geology and history will be given. You may prefer to sleep outside your tent tonight to catch glimpses of shooting stars.
Today we are in for yet another treat. After breaking camp, we return to the Chilliwack River via Brush creek and head south again to where a cable car takes us over the river to the west bank. Heading southwest toward Hannegan Pass, we stop short of the pass, camping at Copper Creek. Wilderness first aid is discussed after a nutritious dinner.
We wake slowly and after breakfast, we will pack up camp and hike back out of the park before going over Hannegan Pass. Another picnic lunch will be provided when needed along the trail. After a great hike out on gentle terrain, a short drive takes us back to the comforts of Fairhaven and Bellingham.
*The 6-day itinerary cuts out the day to Whatcom Pass.
This itinerary encompasses some of America's most beautiful alpine terrain. Join us for views you'll never forget, learning in a variety of subject areas, and a taste of adventure that will surely lead to more trips into the world's most inspiring mountain ranges.
You can extend your stay in the area and broaden your Pacific Northwest experience with a whale watching trip, sea kayaking adventure, or tour of the San Juan Islands (not included).
Backpacking in the North Cascades Dates & Prices
The prices below reflect the following inclusions: guide fee, food, and transportation from Bellingham to the trailhead and back. The prices do not include personal gear, tents, sleeping bags, or backpacks.
North Cascades National Park Group Size Limits:
Please note that North Cascades National Park restricts the group size to a maximum of 6 people (1 guide and 5 hikers). Many campsites – including those on Copper Ridge – have a group size limit of 4, so a group size of 4 (1 guide and 3 hikers) is optimal for planning flexibility.
We can accommodate groups of more than 5 hikers, however those groups will not be able to enter the actual Park. Don't worry - there is still plenty of amazing terrain available outside the Park boundaries.
1 climber to 1 guide: $495 per day
2 climbers to 1 guide: $325 per person per day
3 climbers to 1 guide: $300 per person per day
4 climbers to 1 guide: $275 per person per day
5 climbers to 1 guide: $250 per person per day
6 climbers to 1 guide: $200 per person per day
Food and transportation is
not included in private programming. If you would like AAI to provide food for a private trip the additional cost is $25 per person per day.
Notes on Program Dates
July: expect some snow at higher elevations, best star viewing.
August: expect beautiful mountain flowers
September: expect delicious blueberries
Other trip dates may be available on a private or private group basis. Please contact us for availability.
Good physical condition
Backpacking in the North Cascades Related Courses
United States - Alaska
United States - Washington
United States - California
United States - Nevada
United States - Colorado
United States - Utah
Canada - British Columbia
South America - Argentina
South America - Bolivia
South America - Ecuador
South America - Patagonia
South America - Peru
Europe - Alps and Caucasus
Asia - Nepal and Tibet
Asia - China
Asia - Japan
Africa - Tanzania
Pacific and Antarctica
By Program Type
Group Summit Climbs
Private Guided Programs
Treks, Tours, & Backpacking
Corporate Outings & Services
Government & Military
Trekking and Backpacking
Skiing & Snowboarding
Guide Training & Rescue