Hiking for Gold

Autumn is the time when many in our region make the trek to the North Cascades to drive the Mountain Loop and North Cascade Highways in search of fall color, apple cider, and huckleberry jam.

But have you ever hiked to see a larch, a deciduous conifer? Unlike most conifers, such as cedar and fir, which are evergreen, the larch drops its needles in winter. But before that happens, they turn a vibrant gold.

Larch are at their peak for about two weeks, usually the beginning in October. It can be tricky to catch them in their full golden glory before the needles drop, or they become inaccessible due to snowfall closing the highway.

About three hours from Bellevue, the Maple Pass Loop hike starts at the Rainy Pass trailhead and provides stunning mountain and lake views. If you take the loop clockwise, you’ll get the steepest part of the hike out of the way when your legs are fresh. You can add a little over a half-mile to your trip to visit Lake Ann. There are also many other alpine lakes in the area for the seasoned cross-country hiker.

Camping is available about 15 minutes east of the Rainy Pass trailhead at the USFS Lone Fir campground on a first-come, first-served basis. At this time of year, it’s not uncommon to experience arctic blasts and subfreezing temperatures; if you are camping, be prepared for all weather conditions, or perhaps find a nice motel in Marblemount, Winthrop, or Mazama.

There are other wonderful trails in the Rainy and Washington Pass areas, such as the paved wheelchair-accessible Rainy Pass Trail, Blue Lake Trail, or longer day hikes or backpacking trips out to Lake Ann or Cutthroat Lake.

This is an area of rugged natural beauty that is awe-inspiring at any time of the year. But if you see the larches as they change color, it is pretty special.

Good to Know

How to Get There:

From Interstate 5, take State Route 20 (North Cascades Highway) through Marblemount, and drive approximately 50 miles to the Rainy Pass trailhead.

Maple Pass Loop:

7.2 miles round-trip, 2,000 feet elevation gain, and highest point 6,650 feet.

Northwest Forest Pass or America The Beautiful Pass is required for parking.


Green Trails No. 50 Washington Pass 


Okanogan National Forest 509.996.4000 (Methow Valley Information Center). For information on trails within North Cascades National Park, call the North Cascades National Park Complex at 360.856.5700. 


To determine the current status of the larches, you can contact the ranger stations in the area or search for trip reports online at sites such as the Washington Trails Association (wta.org).

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