Backpack the White Pass-Pilot Ridge Loop

North Fork Sauk River Trailhead

This trek is an amazing loop in the North Cascades off the Mountain Loop Highway. Enjoy incredible forest, river, alpine lakes, and mountain views. There are also a variety of fantastic side trips for you to tailor your trip.

This loop has it all - beautiful old growth forest, along the river, alpine lakes, giant peaks all around, and a myriad offering of side trips to truly make it your own.

Start at the trailhead for the North Fork Sauk River (#652). Your first six miles slowly meander through stunning forests with views of the river here and there along the way. At 1.9 miles in, you'll meet the junction with the Pilot Ridge trail on the right, which is where you'll be coming in at the end of your loop. You'll pass a toilet and a campsite at 4.5 miles in at Red Creek, then at 6 miles reach Mackinaw Shelter. This is the last reliable source of water before White Pass so it's good to stop and refill here. It also makes for a good lunch break, as the trail starts its exposed ascent immediately past the shelter.

Switchback steeply up for 2.9 miles, gaining 3000ft of elevation by the time you reach the junction with the PCT. Turn right (south on PCT) and hit White Pass in another 0.6 miles. White Pass has a number of campsites just down from the ridge and is a good option for setting up camp the first night, especially if you'd like to do side trips around Glacier Peak. There is no camping allowed along the ridge between White Pass and Indian Pass, five miles further downtrail. The trail along the ridge wanders through stunning meadows and will be lush with wildflowers and berries during summer with incredible views of the surrounding peaks. Pass Kid Pond and Reflection Pond on your way to Indian Pass, which is another great option for setting up camp on night one if you want to get some extra mileage in.

Leaving Indian Pass you'll climb up again and move from the Glacier Peak Wilderness to the Henry M Jackson Wilderness. At 1.3 miles past Indian Pass look for a small side trail up Kodak Peak - if it's a clear day this is a great short side trip to take. In another 0.7 miles past the Kodak Peak trail you'll hit the junction with the Little Wenatchee Trail (#1525) - head down this trail for one mile and reach Meander Meadows for another great side trip, then head back to the PCT. One mile further on you'll reach a triple trail junction at Dishpan Gap - say goodbye to the PCT here and head up and to the right for Blue Lakes.

At 0.8miles on you'll hit a junction for the high route and the low route to Blue Lake. The high route is rough and requires confidence in trail-finding skills, as well as comfort with a steep descent on rocky scree. This route is shorter and offers great views, but if you're feeling like staying lower down stick to the left and the Bald Eagle Trail, heading west for another two miles and then reaching the junction with trail #652 to Blue Lake - you'll see a small trail sign off to the right for this trail when you get to the junction signed for Curry Gap.

Descend on 652 and pass Little Blue Lake - a great option for camping if you want a little more solitude than Blue Lake. Continuing on, you'll reach the junction for Blue Lake in about 0.8 miles - head to the right for Blue Lake or continue upwards to stay on the Pilot Ridge trail. Keep in mind that there is no water between Little Blue Lake/Blue Lake and the North Fork Sauk River after your descent, so fill up before you continue on. You'll have more incredible meadows and views as you proceed and reach the trail junction with Johnson Mt. (#652.2) to your right 0.8 miles after the Blue Lake trail junction. It's worth the extra 0.5 miles to summit Johnson Mt. for the views!

The ridge trail will eventually drop you down into the forest, but your uphill hiking isn't over just yet. The trail goes up and down along the ridge line for another 5.3 miles before finally traversing the ridge and abruptly transitioning to a 2.5 mile, 2,500ft descent through the forest made of seemingly endless switchbacks. You'll come out on the south side of the North Fork Sauk River. There are a number of fallen logs that you can cross on - once you're across the river look for a small campsite (which, depending on where you cross may require some bushwhacking). Walk through the campsite and immediately meet the trail junction with the North Fork Sauk River trail that you came in on. Swing a left and enjoy the mostly flat two miles out!

On your way back stop at Mark's Country Store in Granite Falls - they make a mean milkshake and grilled cheese and have good beers on tap for $2 during happy hour (as well as a large selection of bottled microbrews).

Pack List

  • Tent
  • Sleeping bag and pad
  • 10 essentials
  • Wet weather gear, including waterproof pack cover
  • Hiking poles
  • Food and plenty of water
  • Water filtration device
  • Stove and fuel
  • Camera
  • Northwest Forest Pass
  • Rope to hang bear bags
  • Layers for cold nights
  • Trail maps
Show More
RT Distance 29.2 Miles
Elevation Gain 7500 Feet
Activities Camping, Photography, Backpacking, Hiking
Skill Level Intermediate
Season Spring, Summer, Autumn
Trail Type Loop


Leave a Review

Overall rating: 

Panoramic Views and Alpine Lakes

This loop can be done in three days but we took five and did some side trips with the extra time: 2 nights at white pass with a day hike through red pass to visit the tarn below the white chuck cinder cone, 2 nights at blue lake with a day hike up mt Johnson and time to relax by the water. The switchbacks on the way in and on the way out are no joke. Highly recommend.

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