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Windy Pass

North Cascades


North Cascades -- Pasayten
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7.0 miles, roundtrip


Gain: 1300 ft.
Highest Point: 6900 ft.


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WTA worked here: 2013

Parking Pass/Entry Fee

Northwest Forest Pass

If you've got aching knees but still crave some mountain air, this is the hike for you. According to many, this is the most scenic and easily-accessible stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail in Washington State. The views of the North Cascades and Pasayten are magnificent almost every step of the way, and you don’t have to work terribly hard to reach them.

The road up to Windy Pass is, well, memorable. It’s full of potholes and boulders with some sizable drop offs that might make your stomach churn. Make sure to bring a sturdy car with a relatively high clearance and make your way up slowly. Once you reach the top of the road, however, you’ll be rewarded with an entirely unobstructed view of the North Cascades. This is the where the hike begins.

From the trailhead, simply follow the well-maintained Pacific Crest Trail north 3.5 miles until you reach Windy Pass. You will first meander under the slopes of Slate Peak and then drop into Benson Basin where you will find more possibilities for exploring and flowers. Then head up to a spur ridge and contour to Buffalo Pass-- a nice spot for a snack and more photos--before descending to Windy Pass.

As you hike along the relatively flat trail, you’ll encounter breathtaking views at every turn: Gardner Mountain, the Needles, Silver Star, Golden Horn and nearby Ballard and Azurite are to the south. Look west to Jack and Crater and look east to the Pasayten Wilderness. Time your trip right and you’ll find wildflowers decorating the sides of the trails. If your knees start to flare up, search for a ski yurt tucked into the mountainside about 2.5 miles in and make that your turn around point.

Want to keep exploring? Windy Pass provides an ideal turn-around for a day hike, allowing you to return on the same trail and to view your surroundings from the opposite direction and slightly more elevation gain.

Or you can spend the night in Windy Basin and enjoy plentiful opportunities for exploration. Tamarack Peak 7290 feet is an easy scramble and you can also meander over to Foggy Pass.

WTA Pro Tip: Whether you do this at the beginning of your trip or at the end, make sure you leave time for short side-trip to the fire lookout on the summit of Slate Peak.


Windy Pass

Map & Directions

Co-ordinates: 48.7321, -120.6751 Open map in new window


North Cascades -- Pasayten

Pacific Crest Trail (#2000)

Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, Methow Valley Ranger District

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Guidebooks & Maps

Day Hiking: North Cascades (Romano - Mountaineers Books)

Green Trails Washington Pass No. 50

Green Trails Pasayten Peak No. 18

Getting There

Drive the North Cascades Highway (SR 20) 1.5 miles east of Early Winters Campground, turn left, following the signs to the tiny town of Mazama. From Mazama continue 20 miles up valley, Lost River Road becomes Forest Road 54 to Harts Pass. From Harts Pass, turn right on the Slate Peak road and drive about 1.5 miles to the first switchback. Park at a small parking area at the trailhead, elevation 6800 feet.

Parking Pass/Entry Fee

Northwest Forest Pass

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Windy Pass

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