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Backpacking the Pasayten Wilderness

From 3-day weekend trips to week-long loops, our guide will get you inspired to grab a map, and begin charting a trip through Washington's remote and rugged Pasayten Wilderness.

For most people in Washington, the Pasayten Wilderness, nestled between North Cascades National Park on the west and Canada on the north, is just out of reach for a day hike.

But with more than 600 miles of trails crisscrossing this remote and rugged wilderness, it makes the perfect place to plan a big backpacking trip.

From 3-day weekend out-and-backs to challenging week-long loops, the trips below will get you inspired to grab a map, and begin charting your own Pasayten adventures.

Note on water: Parts of the Pasayten can lack abundant water sources, so check conditions before you go, plan your sources carefully and file a trip report when you return.

    Tips for backpacking in a Wilderness area

    • People. In general, no more than 12 heartbeats (people, dogs, horses etc.) should hike together as a group in wilderness.
    • Permits. If you are staying overnight, you will need to fill out a self-issued wilderness permit at the trailhead.
    • Pack It In, Pack It Out. When you are in wilderness areas, practice Leave No Trace ethics.

    Horseshoe Basin

    Length: 12 miles
    Elevation Gain: 1550 feet
    Highest Point: 7200 feet

    Horseshoe Basin. Photo by Wild Side.jpeg
    Looking toward Windy Peak from Horseshoe Basin. Photo by trip reporter Wild Side.

    A long weekend is the perfect chance to make the drive from either the west or east sides of the state up to Horseshoe Basin. It’s a backpacking favorite and a terrific introduction to the Pasayten. Spend a day — or a week — exploring the wonders of this alpine landscape. Climb the local peaks, check out the Canadian border monuments, or kick back and watch the marmots. At night, listen for the coyotes and count stars.

    > Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide

    Buckskin Ridge - West Fork Pasayten River Loop

    Length: 32 miles
    Highest Point: 7300 feet

    Buckskin Ridge. Photo by D. Baxter.jpeg
    Buckskin Lake. Photo by trip reporter D.Baxter.

    Pair Buckskin Ridge with the West Fork Pasayten River for a superb 32-mile loop through the Pasayaten Wilderness that starts and ends at Slate Pass. As you head north on the high and wild Buckskin Ridge Trail, the vista filled with copper, gold and gunmetal peaks will pull you forward step by step. After 16 miles, you'll be close to the confluence of the West and Middle Forks of the Pasayaten River. From here, you will travel 15.5 miles through lodgepole pine and lupine meadows as the West Fork of the Pasayten River Trail carries you back to Slate Pass. You'll find dispersed campsites along the trail, as you enjoy both scenery and solitude.

    > Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide

    Cathedral Pass Loop

    Length: 44.7 miles
    Elevation Gain: 4000 feet
    Highest Point: 7800 ft.

    Cathedral Lakes. Photo by MazamaMike.jpeg
    A tarn above upper Cathedral Lake. Photo by trip reporter MazamaMike.

    The 44-mile loop through Cathedral Pass offers some of the best scenery that the Boundary Trail has to offer. Start at the 30-Mile trailhead on the Chewuch River out of Winthrop. Hike 10 easy miles along the river, then make the climb to 6,870-ft Remmel Lake and many camps. Views of surrounding peaks will keep you entranced. Continue six more miles to circle Amphitheater Mountain, passing upper Cathedral Lake to 7,600-ft Cathedral Pass. Hike five miles east in mostly open terrain to Tungsten Mine, then close the loop by hiking six miles down the Tungsten Trail, then finish back down the Chewuch River.

    > Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide

    Billy Goat Loop

    Length: 50 miles
    Elevation Gain: 5000 feet
    Highest Point: 7500 feet

    Billy Goat Loop. Photo by Wilderness lvr..jpeg
    A previously burned area along the Billy Goat Trail. Photo by trip reporter Wilderness Lvr.

    Explore multiple alpine lakes and mountain passes on a great backpacking loop for solitude seekers. Start your trip at the Billy Goat Trailhead and hike 7.3 miles to a campsite along Larch Creek, crossing through Billy Goat Pass, Three Fools Pass, and over Diamond Creek. Hike four miles among wildflowers to 7,500-foot McCall Gulch, the highpoint of the trail. Continue 3.7 miles to Peeve Pass and allow yourself two nights to camp here, as there are many excellent day hike options nearby.

    After you've taken a swim in Quartz Lake or scrambled up 8,274-foot Sheep Mountain, return to Larch Creek for your final night in the Pasayten and hike out the next day.

    > Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide

    Harts Pass to Holman Pass

    Length: 28 miles
    Highest Point: 6900 feet

    PCT. Photo by LghtChsr_MtnLvr.jpeg
    A few colorful wildflowers popping up along the PCT. Photo by LghtChsr_MtnLvr.

    Start high and stay high on this stunning section of the Pacific Crest Trail, crossing through Harts Pass, Windy Pass, and Holman Pass. Take in views of the Pasayten River Valley and the surrounding North Cascades as you traverse through alpine meadows.

    > Plan your trip using WTA's online Hiking Guide

    Silver Lake

    Length: 9.2 miles
    Elevation Gain: 2800 feet
    Highest Point: 6950 feet

    Silver Lake. Photo by Rolan..jpeg
    Silver Lake. Photo by trip reporter Nolan.

    Starting at a little under 7,000 feet in elevation and never dropping below 6,200 feet, your hike on Buckskin Ridge will provide miles of dramatic views. Wander through meadows full of lupine, Indian paintbrush, yellow aster, and many other wildflowers, or visit in autumn to hike among golden larches.

    > Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide