After a refreshing stop at Ross Lake that hopefully offered a quick recovery from the long and beautiful stretch of trail through the Pasayten Wilderness, the Pacific Northwest Trail again returns to the mountains as it weaves its way through North Cascades National Park. As you would expect in a national park, this section of trail is well marked and easy to follow, including the section that follows around Baker Lake toward the resupply town of Concrete.
After leaving the banks of Ross Lake the trail follows Big Beaver Creek flanked by old-growth western redcedar and crystal clear waters. Three major passes punctuate the passage through North Cascades National Park. The first, Beaver Pass, is forested and only offers a brief glimpses of the surrounding glaciated peaks for which the North Cascades is best known. At Stillwell Campground the trail intersects with Little Beaver Creek and leads toward an impressive and imposing headwall at Whatcom Pass. This is one of the steepest of all of the mountain passes on the PNT, and the trail climbs some 2,000 feet in less than a mile. Atop Whatcom Pass the view gives way to the surrounding glaciers flanking Whatcom Peak, Red Face Mountain, and the more imposing Challenger Glacier on the north side of Mount Challenger, one of the park's taller peaks. The campsite at Whatcom Pass is especially picturesque, albeit somewhat exposed. From Whatcom Pass it's a 10-mile hike to Hannegan Pass and another 9 miles out on a trail and Forest Service road to leave the national park. From Hannegan Pass, Mount Shuksan and Mount Baker will be in and out of view for much of the next few days as the trail winds south between them on the way to Baker Lake.
As for all national parks, before traveling through North Cascades National Park, make sure you coordinate your visit ahead of time with the ranger station and get the appropriate permits for each campsite you will use for each night through the park. Although national park visitors are not permitted to book their campsites ahead of time, the park service makes an exception for PNT thru-hikers. Permits can be confirmed and pickup can be coordinated by phone at Ross Lake Resort, but the park service recommends making reservations a few days before you reach the area.
North Cascades National Park also has requirements for food storage that thru-hikers must follow when visiting the park. Black bears are a common enough sight in the park, and although there is currently a small population of resident grizzly bears in the North Cascades, the National Park Service is currently working on a study to reintroduce the species to the area in larger numbers. Ursacks, a lighter weight alternative to the hard-shell bear canister, are prized by ultra-light backpackers, but they are not approved for use in many areas and don't hold up to the tough claws and teeth of fishers and other smaller mammals.
Once outside the park where the Forest Service road meets Highway 542 at Silver Fir Campground the trail continues up the road for 9 miles past Mount Baker Ski Area and Artist Point, one of the PNT's most famous viewpoints, before picking up the Swift Creek Trail down to Baker Lake. At Silver Fir Campground many thru-hikers choose to hitchhike into the small town of Glacier. Chair 9 Woodstone Pizza & Bar is a nice stopping off point just outside of town, and the owner welcomes PNT hikers. There are many places to stay in town, and they can book up quickly on weekends. And there is a great bakery where hikers can load up on fresh baked goods before hitching back up the road to the trail.
The first main stretch of the PNT around Baker Lake follows a gravel Forest Service road, and at the lake's eastern end it returns to trail for a 15-mile hike around the lake. The lake is flanked by campgrounds with ample places to stay for the night. After reaching Baker Lake Dam and nearby Kulshan Campground the trail again becomes road, and for hikers wishing to resupply in the town of Concrete, it is a long road walk or hitchhike from here into town.
Concrete is a small town with a few good lodging options and eateries as well as a post office and large supermarket that will serve well for a resupply for the next part of the trip. From Concrete, hikers can find a ride back to Kulshan Campground and continue hiking through the Mount Baker Wilderness or pick up the alternate trail on the Forest Service road outside of town. Another route on the railway line that runs adjacent to Highway 20 to Sedro-Woolley is also frequently taken by thru-hikers.
For additional details, refer to the following PNT sections: