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A Basic Guide to Glacier Peak Wilderness

Adventure is still possible in the wilds of the North Cascades.

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The Glacier Peak Wilderness is hard to believe. Hard to believe because it’s so big and encompasses the western and eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountains.

In between these two extremities explorers can enjoy the Pacific Crest Trail, hot springs, plenty of old growth forest, glaciers, cliffs for climbing, and, of course, Glacier Peak itself— a 10,541-foot behemoth, the fourth largest peak in Washington State.

Though remote and pristine in many ways, it’s a popular destination for outdoorsy types. Recreational activities include: hiking, horse riding, camping, bouldering, climbing, and traversing glaciers.

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Here’s what you need to know:

The Glacier Peak Wilderness encompasses 566,057 acres in the North Cascades, and is comprised of 140 peaks and faces. Glacier Peak has more active glaciers than any other place in the lower 48 states. This makes this mountainous region a prime destination for mountaineers, boulderers, and climbers.

There are 200 lakes in the wilderness area. Many of them are hard to access, some aren’t even named because they’re so remote. This is a truly wild area. In the winter, snows can accumulate to depths of 45 feet, so snowy peaks persist late into the season.

You can access the wilderness area via the scenic Mountain Loop Highway, a rustic route that is a destination unto itself.

Expect to glimpse wildlife, including deer, elk, bear, mountain goat, cougars, martens, and lynx. Wolverines and grey wolves have also been seen in this region of the North Cascades.

The Glacier Peak Wilderness is a popular way to access Section K and other northern sections of the Pacific Crest Trail, which goes all the way from Mexico to Canada.

The Ptarmigan Traverse (tar-muh-gn, you're welcome) is a popular hike along a glaciated ridge, an un-trailed route that goes over glaciers and rocks. The route covers 15 miles of the northern part of the wilderness.

At 10,000 feet, Glacier Peak measures up as the fourth largest peak in Washington State.

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Safety 101

  • Before heading out, sign in at the trailhead register for safety.
  • Fires basically aren’t allowed. There are some rare exceptions, so if you’re just dying to sit around the ol’ campfire, check the USFS website before you go.
  • There are ADA-accessible hikes available in the Glacier Peak Wilderness.
  • Get a recreation pass.
  • Leave hiking party info (who’s in your group, when you headed out, where you’re going and when you expect to be back), in the car for safety reasons.
  • Don’t leave valuables locked in your car— even in the trunk of the car. Trailheads are notorious for theft because thieves know that vehicles will be unattended for a long period of time.
  • Pack a map. Maps available on the USFS store.
  • Check for live updates on trail info on this USFS website.
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