The journey from Harts to Rainy pass takes you through the North Cascades, west of Mazama, in an area known as the "American Alps." It is a 32-mile stretch of the famous Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), and follows a ridge that crests dry valleys of larch and pine to the east, and wet mossy forests to the west.
What Makes It Great
This is often thought of as Washington State’s most dramatic stretch of the PCT. The five mountain passes you'll cross along the way each offer astounding views. And keep your eyes peeled for wildlife: goats, grouse, and deer are all commonly seen. If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll even spot a bear or a cougar.
We recommend traveling from Harts Pass to Rainy Pass, rather than the other way around, because this way much of the elevation change is downhill. The first leg of the trip goes between two mountain saddles, around the 7,360-foot Tatie Peak, then back down switchbacks to a meadow. This is a good spot to camp, and has a reliable water source.
The trail then works back up to Grasshopper Pass, at an elevation of 6,700 feet, which wow you with its views of flower filled valleys and peaks. In the early summer, this is also a good place to load up on water from snowmelt (but don’t depend on this source other times of the year). Once you’ve had your fill, continue along to Glacier Pass, 9.9 miles from the trailhead. At mile 12.7, you’ll hit the junction: stay right, continuing up the Methow River’s west fork. The next camping options are along the river, about 16.4 miles from the trailhead, or Willis Camp, 18.4 miles from the trailhead.
Next up comes another hill climb, up to Methow Pass at 6,600 feet. More camping options are found another mile beyond Methow Pass, from which you can also jaunt up the trail to the glorious Snowy Lakes.
After descend to Granite Pass, 23.7 miles from the trailhead, the trail then brings you to snowfield, for which you may need an ice axe to pass (check conditions before you go). Finally, you’ll reach Cutthroat Pass, at 6,800 feet the high point of the journey.
Overall, this is a fairly moderate trip with mostly level hiking and a few uphill climbs, ridges, and switchbacks. Drop into the Mazama Store for pre-hike supplies or for a post-hike bowl of homemade soup. Snow can linger even in the summer, so check weather reports before heading out and plan accordingly.
Who is Going to Love It
Because it travels over relatively gentle terrain (without making sacrifices on the scenery) this is a great option for newer backpackers.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
It works best to take two cars. Park one car at Rainy Pass, and the other at Harts Pass, and begin hiking from the Harts Pass trailhead. But do note that the drive between the passes is 41 miles on windy roads that are not in the best condition, so it can take awhile (map here). Also keep in mind that the roads close in winter.