Sahale Arm: A Colorful Journey Through North Cascades Majesty

A detailed trail report for the Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm Trail

Harshita Kasera
Globetrotters
7 min readMar 9, 2024

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Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm Trail, Washington (Photo Credit: Shot by Antriksh Saxena on Pixel 8 Pro)

Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm Trail is one of the best day hikes in North Cascades National Park. My husband and I love hiking and this was one of the bucket list PNW hikes in our list. Finally, in September of 2023, my husband and I got a chance to do this.

Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm Trail is a part of North Cascades National Park in Washington. This park is a hidden gem and boasts some of the most breathtaking landscapes in the US. The trail offers a scenic view of the North Cascades, with lush green meadows in the foreground and snow-capped peaks in the background and a chance to encounter wildlife.

Trail Overview

The Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm Trail is a challenging but rewarding hike with stunning scenery. It requires a good level of fitness so prepare yourself. My husband and I hike quite often so we were in good shape to do this hike.

You can also hike up to Cascade Pass (around 3.8 miles) and still be able to enjoy the views.

Length 11.6 mi | Elevation gain 3,963 ft | Difficulty Strenuous

You can see the complete trail details on AllTrails and Washington Trails Association.

Planning the hike

Unlike most National Parks, North Cascades has no entrance fee!

Though we just planned for a day trip, you can also camp at the Sahale Glacier Camp. Camping here requires a backcountry permit. Permits can be purchased online, 48 hours in advance, or in person at one of the park’s few issuing stations (first come, first served).

Tip : There is an early access lottery which provides an opportunity to access permit inventory early and book a reservation between May to October. The limited permit applications are being accepted now, check recreation.gov for important dates and signup instructions.

Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm Trail, Washington (Photo Credit: Shot by Antriksh Saxena on Pixel 8 Pro)

The best time to visit is between August and October. During fall, the trail is just special. The meadows turn red and yellow and are a sight to see. To adore the fall colors, we planned the visit for the end of September.

Roads in North Cascades National Park are subject to seasonal closure due to winter conditions. When we went the road was under maintenance. Please check road conditions before you plan the visit.

The trail is ~1 hr from the nearest town of Marblemount and ~3 hrs drive from Seattle.

Parking

An early start to the trail is good for two reasons. Since the trail is pretty long, it provides long daylight hours. Additionally, the parking lot is quite small and fills up quickly due to the popularity of the hike, especially on weekends.

We reached at around 8:15 am and we were lucky as the lot had a couple of open spots.

Cascade Pass Traihead Parking Lot (Photo Credit: Shot by Antriksh Saxena on Pixel 8 Pro)

Trail Report

The trailhead starts from the parking lot at the end of Cascade River Road. We started the hike at around 8:30 am.

Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm Trailhead (Photo Credit: Shot by Antriksh Saxena on Pixel 8 Pro)

During the initial few miles, the trail switchbacks through a lush forest.

Switchbacks at Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm Trail (Photo Credit: Shot by Antriksh Saxena on Pixel 8 Pro)

At around 3 miles the views open up, and are nothing short of breathtaking.

Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm Trail (Photo Credit: Shot by author on Pixel 7)

Cascade Pass

From the last switchback, roughly in about a mile we reached the Cascade Pass, a broad saddle at 5,400 feet in elevation. The views here are just spectacular.

Cascade Pass (Photo Credit: Shot by Antriksh Saxena on Pixel 8 Pro)

After reaching the pass, most people call it a day and head back down to the trailhead, but a fair number of hikers continue onward to Sahale Arm (which is what we did), and a few continue down into Pelton Basin to camp overnight at Pelton Basin Camp. The location of the campsite looked beautiful, so we decided we will come back to camp here some other time.

Depending on how you feel, you can hike up till here, enjoy the view at Cascade Pass and turn back. But if you feel good, continue further to the Sahale arm as the views are going to get even better.

We took a small break here, clicked some photos and enjoyed the fall colored meadow. We were quite pumped and continued further.

Doubtful Lake

This next section of the hike was even more beautiful. There were more switchbacks and the elevation started increasing but the views were just amazing.

Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm Trail, Washington (Photo Credit: Shot by Antriksh Saxena on Pixel 8 Pro)

As we reached this section of the trail, we could hear high-pitched whistles. We looked around and saw a hoary marmot. It was standing on its hind legs as if to get a better view of the surroundings. It was quite amusing to watch it.

Did you know? These friendly, playful and curious creatures are aptly called the unofficial mascots of Sahale Arm trail.

Hoary Marmot on Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm Trail (Photo Credit: Shot by Antriksh Saxena on Pixel 8 Pro)

After watching this cute little creature for a bit, we continued on further. The trail continues to climb moderately for another two miles and the majestic Sahale Glacier comes into view. The colorful meadow surrounded by the mountains was just incredible!

Views on the Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm Trail (Photo Credit: Shot by Antriksh Saxena on Pixel 8 Pro)

We also caught a glimpse of Doubtful Lake nestled in the valley. It is an incredibly beautiful alpine lake.

Doubtful Lake, Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm Trail (Photo Credit: Shot by author on Pixel 7)

You can take a side trail that branches off from the Sahale Arm Trail to reach the lake. We decided to just admire it from a distance and continue onto the main trail.

Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm Trail, Washington (Photo Credit: Shot by author on Pixel 7)

As we continued further up, we enjoyed the gradual climb for a while till we reached the final ascent to the Sahale Arm.

Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm Trail (Photo Credit: Shot by Antriksh Saxena on Pixel 8 Pro)

As we were climbing up, my husband spotted a Rock Ptarmigan — Washington’s most elusive bird. This little fella was super cute and was emitting some sort of cooing sound. It stood still as if it was posing for us.

Rock Ptarmigan at Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm Trail (Photo Credit: Shot by Antriksh Saxena on Pixel 8 Pro)

Did you know? Rock Ptarmigan’s plumage changes color with the seasons. It’s nearly all-white in the snowy winter to blend in with the snow and mottled brown in the summer for camouflage amongst the rocks.

We took a lot of photos of the Ptarmigan and then continued further up.

Sahale Arm

The final ascent was tough but the views were unbelievable. We couldn’t believe that we were standing at 7,600 feet and having panoramic views of the North Cascades.

Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm Trail (Photo Credit: Shot by Antriksh Saxena on Pixel 8 Pro)

I had read that this part of the trail is a fantastic place to spot mountain goats and was hoping we could spot one. They have innocent and curious faces and look like cuddly squishy stuffed animals because of their thick white coats of fur.

Keep your distance: These adorable creatures are still wild animals. Give them plenty of space (at least 100 yards) and avoid approaching them too closely.

As we reached the final end of the trail near the campsites, we finally spotted one. They love to perch on rocky ridges where they can survey their surroundings and keep an eye out for predators. Seeing these fluffy adorable creatures against the backdrop of the dramatic North Cascades mountains was the highlight of the trip!

Mountain Goat, Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm Trail (Photo Credit: Shot by Antriksh Saxena on Pixel 8 Pro)

Did you know? Those impressive beards act like a built-in snow shovel, helping them dig through snow to reach food buried underneath. Also, their horns grow throughout their life, adding a growth ring each year. By counting the rings on a horn, you can estimate the age of a mountain goat (similar to how you would with a tree!).

Return Journey

The return journey was a breeze as it was mostly downhill plus we were in awe of the views.

Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm Trail (Photo Credit: Shot by Antriksh Saxena on Pixel 8 Pro)

Photos

My husband Antriksh Saxena captures amazing photos from his DSLR. Checkout some of his photos of our trip on

Happy Hiking !

I hope this trail report inspires you to go out in nature and enjoy the amazing views of the North Cascades.

Enjoying my travel stories? Leave me a clap (👏) or a comment on this post, to let me know. I would love to hear from you!

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