If ever there was a hike to satisfy all a hiker’s desires, this one comes as close as any. A loop hike with many fabulous changing faces throughout the seasons, Heather-Maple Pass features ridgelines blanketed in wildflowers in summer, lakes ringed with golden larches in fall, and before the highway closes for the season, a dramatic place to experience early winter’s snows.
The trail heading counter-clockwise leaves immediately from the parking lot, heading uphill moderately through second-growth forest and dappled sunlight. After about 1.25 miles, a trail branches left to Lake Ann, a jewel cradled in a talus bowl, a glacial cirque created in eons past. The detour is a relatively flat 0.6 miles round trip and well-worth it. Stopping by the shore of Lake Ann affords you a view of the pass that you’re headed to. Be sure to note the forces of glaciation and landslides which have created it and the large island within it.
Back on the main trail, you’ll traverse above Lake Ann, traversing through swathes of wildflowers before reaching Heather Pass, about three-quarters of a mile past the Lake Ann turnoff. From Heather Pass there are social trails which meander through meadows to the north. These are routes that cross-country hikers and climbers use to visit Lewis and Wing Lakes, Black Peak, and beyond. But views from the trail itself are stunning enough.
Now redirect yourself, following the trail as it heads left on the ridgeline and continue upward towards Maple Pass. Note that this section of the trail crosses a steep hillside that can retain snow until late in the season.
Gaining the ridge, the edge of the North Cascades National Park is evident by prominent park signs. Wander, gaze, luxuriate, and thrill at the views, both at your feet and off to the horizon. Watch for ptarmigans and their young roosts. Nearby mountains include Corteo, Frisco, Goode, Stiletto, Black Peak and many more. A bit more distant is the stately Liberty Bell group beckoning. And then past that, a sea of peaks stretches out in every direction as far as your imagination can hike.
All too soon this glorious loop starts switch-backing downwards. Luckily, the views continue unabated. The trail picks up speed through the forest. The last 2.5 miles drops about 1700 feet on pretty sound tread. When the trail finally pops out onto a paved ADA-accessible path, turn left and you’ve got just one half mile to your car.
If you decide to hike the trail heading clockwise, set out from the southern end of the parking lot, along a paved trail which travels the trail that also leads to Rainy Lake, a nice detour or alternate destination for those with a group of varying hiking abilities. One-half mile along this trail, arrive at a fork and take the right branch, turning uphill. Continuing straight would take you another 0.6 miles to Rainy Lake.
From the fork, hike uphill along your first switchback. The way is quite gradual, but gains elevation steadily through avalanche paths and mature woods. Continue climbing as you switchback a few times through hillsides awash in penstemon, Indian paintbrush, monkeyflower, sitka valerian and more, until you arrive in Maple Pass, with its stunning views of Black Peak and North Cascades National Park. Your descent is more gradual, sweeping along the loop as it arcs east, down to the junction with Lake Ann.
If you’ve got time, take the detour for Lake Ann. If not, the parking lot is a little more than a mile further on.
NLM Pro Tip: One can debate the merits of hiking this loop either clockwise or counter-clockwise. Going clockwise, one reaps the benefit of getting the steep part of the trail out of the way early in the day and a more gradual descent at day’s end, while a counter-clockwise hike offers ever more dramatic views of Black Peak and the North Cascades National Park as you climb to the pass. But at the end of the day, you will be in awe of the area no matter which way you elect to go.