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Guide to family-friendly hikes in the North Cascades

Don't miss the golden larches

My favorite place to take my little explorers outdoors is on a trail to one of these family-friendly hikes in the North Cascades. Right now, you can see the larches – a deciduous coniferous tree that changes from green to an amazing golden color as the fall season progresses. And it’s a short season, so make your way kid-friendly trails – it’s well worth the effort. 

Getting there

These family-friendly hikes in the North Cascades are located about 3-hours from Seattle. The Cascades are a wild landscape so spectacular it feels truly out of this world. Among the towering, craggy peaks, you’ll find pristine alpine lakes, waterfalls, expansive meadows, meandering blueberry brambles and hillsides blanketed in wildflowers in the spring and bright fall colors of dazzling golds, oranges, and reds in the fall.

These five beautiful hikes are only accessible in the warmer months when the road is open.  The North Cascades Highway (Hwy 20) closes for the winter typically in late fall and opens again in late spring. Check the National Park Service website for the most up-to-date information about road closures and weather.

No matter the season and for extra safety, let someone know where you are hiking and when you are expected to be back.

Look out for the larches!

Make way for larches on your Instagram feeds in September and October– they are one of the main attractions in North Cascades (peaking mid-to-late October). The gorgeous tree hides in plain sight, disguised as evergreens, until the first few weeks of October when they transform, dotting the high alpine and illuminating it in vibrant gold.

Fall is also a great time to camp as long as you pack plenty of warm clothes for the cold nights.

Family Fall Camping in the Methow Valley

5 family-friendly hikes in the North Cascade

These five beautiful hikes are only accessible in the warmer months when the road is open.  The North Cascades Highway (Hwy 20) closes for the winter typically in late fall and opens again in late spring. Check the National Park Service website for the most up-to-date information about road closures and weather.

No matter the season and for extra safety, let someone know where you are hiking and when you are expected to be back.

Blue Lake

Blue lake is a beautiful hike with transitioning landscapes around every curve and switchback. You start the hike meandering among thick forests before spilling out in a vast meadow with views of granite mountains looming high above. Once you’re through the valley, you’ll head back into the trees and swiftly gain some elevation. As you make your way up the trail, you’ll be delighted by ridge lines on all sides. When you reach the alpine lake, you’ll immediately see why the hike is aptly named in its honor. 

Enjoy a lakeside picnic and don’t forget to snap a few photos from the large rocks encircling the lake’s banks. Larches make the already grand views even more spectacular. You’ll want to stay awhile. 

Distance: 4.4 miles roundtrip

Elevation gain: Just over 1,000 feet

Difficulty: Moderate

Parking is available in a parking area located just off Highway 20. A small restroom is accessible at the trail head.

The North Cascades Highway leads to one of the most beautiful places in the state – the Methow Valley. The Blue Lake hike is just 30 miles from the charming town of Winthrop at the north end of the valley.  Consider heading east after your hike for a few days of hiking and more outdoor fun in the Methow.

Kids will love Winthrop for the Wild West – and the water

Cutthroat Lake 

Cutthroat Lake is one of the best hikes for little hikers in the North Cascades. You get the most bang for your buck because it combines just the right amount of elevation gain (perfect for little legs) with extraordinary views, considering the short mileage. There are few hikes I’ve found that compare. The elevation gain is significantly less than other easy to moderate hikes in the North Cascades and the lake payoff makes this hike a winner. In the fall, golden larch line the trail and mountains surround you on both sides. You won’t find strenuous switchbacks on this trail (another added bonus). The trail takes hikers across bridges, through sparse forests, and leads to a lake nestled in a basin among towering mountains. Tall grasses sway in the wind along the shore. 

My kiddos loved exploring hidden trails around the lake and climbing monstrous boulders peppering its edges. 

If you’re hoping to add on some mileage and elevation, you can continue along the trail to Cutthroat Pass. The trail will take you to more sweeping views and a better vantage of beautiful craggy peaks.

Distance: 3.8 miles roundtrip

Elevation gain: less than 500 feet

Rainy Lake

The trail leading to Rainy Lake is wheelchair-accessible and great for strollers. It is paved the entire way to the lake. Just a short jaunt from the trailhead for Heather-Maple Pass, the trail leads to a glistening blue lake with lofty mountain views. Along the trail are benches perfect for relaxing breaks for your littlest adventurers. A small, wooden platform is erected at the end of the trail – a beautiful place to take in the serene landscape. The larches can’t be seen up close, but when you look up there are a beautiful site to see in the alpine.

Distance: 2 miles roundtrip

Difficulty: easy

If you are making the long trip out to the North Cascades for outdoor fun, consider doing this one in addition to another hike on the list. 

Lake Ann

Lake Ann, like many other hikes on this list, is accessed at Rainy Pass. To get to the lake, start at the trailhead for Heather – Maple Pass Loop. Make sure to go counterclockwise, or you’ll be hiking a very long time until you get to the junction for Lake Ann. The trail begins with switchbacks through dense forests before opening into a beautiful valley surrounded by a kaleidoscope of fall foliage. Continue a little farther and you’ll see the turn off for Lake Ann. The trail runs parallel to the Heather – Maple Pass Loop trail, which continues up toward the ridgeline. The Lake Ann trail heads straight toward a gorgeous glacial lake where driftwood converges on the shore and golden larches encircle the calm water. Above the lake is the expansive ridgeline of Heather – Maple Pass. In fall, colors of autumn blanket the steep mountainside. 

Distance: 3.4 miles

Elevation gain: less than 1,000 feet

Difficulty: easy

If you want a more difficult hike, you can continue up the steep ridgeline to Heather – Maple Pass. The views from the top are unbelievable. It is one of the best larch hikes in the North Cascades but is also known for the crowds it draws, so don’t be surprised if you don’t have the trail all to yourself.

Not a hike, but a beautiful walk

Gorge Creek Falls Loop

The Gorge Creek Overlook Trail may not be long enough to be considered a hike, but it’s a great place to stretch your legs and ignite wanderlust. One of the more popular outlooks along the scenic road through the North Cascades is of Gorge Creek Falls. You won’t miss the impressive falls from the road. A short interpretive trail will take you on a short walk to expansive views of Gorge Lake and Gorge Dam. The first half of the trail is paved. Continue another .5 miles on the unpaved portion of the trail, meandering a bit through forests before looping back to the parking area. This loop is a great pit stop if you plan to tackle a couple easy hikes while visiting the North Cascades. It is a lovely place to stop and snap a quick photo. 

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About the Author

Kathryn Mueller

Kathryn Mueller is a mama of three toddlers and calls Shoreline home. When she's not wrangling her little ones, she's a writer, winery owner and outdoor enthusiast. She enjoys exploring the Pacific Northwest with her little ones in tow and can usually be found with a coffee in hand.