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Ross Lake - Desolation Peak


  •   Stunning views of Ross Lake
  •   Amazing North Cascades high country
  •   Rejuvenating mountain Solitude
  •   Abundant wildlife habitat
  •   Breathtaking waterfalls
  •   Towering granite Peaks
  •   Ancient, old Growth Forests


Towering peaks and old growth forests surround you on this 6-day hike along the East bank of Ross Lake. We’ll start on Ruby Arm—the southeastern most inlet of Ross Lake—and hike 32 miles along the lake, over tumbling creeks and on side drainages tucked between high granite spires, until emerging just a few miles from the Canadian border. An optional layover day at Lightning Creek provides the opportunity to summit Desolation Peak and visit the famous watch tower where Jack Kerouac wrote Dharma Bums. After completing the hike, we’ll take a water taxi all the way back down the lake, and have a chance to see everything that we hiked from an entirely new perspective.

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Backpacking Trip
Seattle, WA
6 days
34+mi / 55+km
Season: 7/1-9/25
$1715 Per Person

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Trip Dates & Booking

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800-715-HIKE (4453)

Trip Itinerary

Day 1
  • Shuttle to the trailhead: 3 hours
  • Hiking Mileage: 7.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,000 feet

This multi-day North Cascades National Park hiking trip begins with a pick up at your hotel in Seattle, and then a scenic drive into the North Cascades. When we arrive at the trailhead, we’ll get our packs and gear sorted out and hike along Ruby Arm. Small inlets, glacier-fed streams, and moss-covered old growth trees will accompany us. We’ll turn away from Ross Lake for a few miles, climb moderately to cross Hidden Hand Pass, and then find our our camp for the night at May Creek, where your guide will prepare the first of many delicious backcountry dinners.

Day 2
  • Hiking Mileage: 8.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: Minimal

Day two takes us along the edge of Ross Lake for many miles—dramatic views of deep blue water and peaks across the lake will accompany us as we traverse north to Lightning Creek. The elevation change on Day 2 is minimal, as we’re hugging the lake all day long, but the views are spectacular, and we’ll watch for fish jumping and eagles flying over the lake.

Day 3
  • Hiking Mileage: 13.6 miles
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: 4,400 feet

We will spend two nights at Lightning Creek and attempt too summit Desolation Peak as a day hike. It’s a big hike, but we’ll leave our heavy gear behind and take only daypacks. After a pleasant 2 mile jaunt along the bank of the lake, we’ll start climbing quickly, and won’t stop till we reach the top of Desolation Peak at 6,102 feet. It’s a challenging hike, but the 360 degree views are stunning, and the historic fire lookout at the top—where Jack Kerouac spent 63 days in 1956—is a welcome respite. After a nice break we’ll head back to camp for a well-earned dinner and a good night’s sleep.

Day 4
  • Hiking Mileage: 6.4 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,000 feet
  • Elevation Loss: 400 feet

Leaving the sometimes busy Lightning Creek behind, we’ll switchback steeply up and get some final views of this section of Ross Lake, before dropping into beautiful Lightning Creek valley. We’ll make our way up Lightning Creek until we reach our campsite under some towering cedar tree. Our night here will feel very different from the wide open panoramas of Ross Lake—we’ll be tucked away under giant trees and get to appreciate the rugged and wild forests of the North Cascades.

Day 5
  • Hiking Mileage: 5.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: 800 feet

Day 5 will take us further up Lightning Creek, through more old growth forest, and then up over a small pass. We’ll end the day by hiking out a small spur trail to Hozemeen Lake—a beautiful blue-green lake framed by the granite tower of Hozomeen Mountain. On our last night out we’ll keep an eye out for black bear, deer, elk, wolves—and this close to the Canadian border, maybe grizzly bears! We’ll eat one last delicious dinner, enjoy the reflections in the lake, and then get a good night’s rest.

Day 6
  • Hiking Mileage: 4 miles
  • Elevation Loss: 500 feet

Our last morning will be bittersweet—we’ll leave the solitude of Hozomeen Lake behind, and wind our way through the forest until we begin descending back towards Ross Lake. As we approach the bank, we’ll get new panoramas, looking west and south across Ross Lake. At just a few miles from the border, we’ll have reached a place that’s accessible only by foot, or by a very long and circuitous drive through Canada. It will be strange to see people again after the solitude found at Hozomeen Lake, but we won’t linger long. We’ll get picked up by a water taxi and boat all the way back to the south end of the lake. We’ll return to the vehicle, bid farewell to Ross Lake, and drive back towards Seattle, where soft beds and warm showers await you in your hotel.

Please Note: We always do everything in our power to follow the set itinerary, however it can change occasionally based on temporary access restrictions, weather, lodging/campground availability, guest ability/injury, natural events like fires and flooding, and other potential causes.

Trip Details

What's Included

  • Top-of-the-line tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, and technical backpack
  • Use of trekking poles
  • All meals are included from breakfast the first day through lunch on the last day
  • A professional, knowledgeable, certified North Cascades National Park hiking guide
  • Comprehensive, roundtrip transportation from your hotel in Seattle and back
  • All entrance fees, permits and passes
  • Emergency equipment including a company-issued first-aid kit and satellite phone
  • You will receive a Lifetime Hiking Membership entitling you, your spouse and kids to a lifetime discount of 10% off any Wildland Trekking hiking trip after your first one!

What's Not Included

  • Clothes, raingear, and footwear (Oboz hiking shoes and boots recommended)
  • Sunscreen, toiletries and personal items
  • Water bottles and a headlamp or flashlight
  • Guide gratuity (industry recommendation is 10-20% of trip cost)
See the Packing Lists page for more information.

Meals: What To Expect

All of our hiking and backpacking tours include a diversity of tasty meals packed full of critical carbohydrates, proteins and fats. We carry foods that travel well in the backcountry – rice, pastas, lentils, beans, couscous, packaged meats, nuts, breads, oatmeal, granola, and more.

For optimal taste and energy, we supplement all our meals with spices, herbs, oils, cheeses, butter, sugar, and fruits and vegetables (fresh and dried). In addition, we provide you with with an assortment of trail mix, snacks, and dried fruits to eat at your own discretion.

We regularly accommodate vegan, vegetarian, kosher and non-gluten diets and will make adjustments for food allergies. These and other special dietary requests may require an additional fee.

Gear We Provide

We provide all group gear which includes the following:
  • Deuter or Osprey backpacks
  • Sierra Designs, Kelty or Big Agnes tents
  • Sierra Designs, Kelty, Big Agnes and Mountain Hardware sleeping bags
  • Thermarest or Big Agnes sleeping pads
  • Leki or Black Diamond trekking poles
  • Cooking stoves and cookware
  • Company-issued first-aid kit
  • Emergency communication device(s)

What Gear To Bring

We ask that you supply a couple of gear items on your hiking tour. These items are two 1-liter water bottles per person and either a headlamp or flashlight per person. Basic items like sunscreen, bug repellent (where and when applicable), lip balm, and toiletries are also important. All of these items are available online at Wildland Trekking Outfitters.

What Clothes to Bring

Please refer to the trip packet for a recommended clothing list (we email you a detailed trip packet when you inquire and when you register). All trips require a sturdy pair of hiking shoes or hiking boots, rain gear, and non-cotton and cotton clothing layers. A minimum of three pairs of wool or synthetic hiking socks are also required. All of these items are available online at Wildland Trekking Outfitters.

NOTE: See the Packing Lists page for more detailed information on what clothes and gear to bring on your hiking tour. The trip packet you receive when you contact us will have the most accurate clothing and gear list for the tour you're interested in.

Trip Logistics

How do I Register?

Ready to hike? In the Dates section of this trip page, the green dates are bookable online by simply clicking on the date, and blue dates must be booked through our customer service team for a variety of possible reasons. To email our customer service team, you can click here to get the ball rolling. Our adventure consultants will confirm availability, and if you're ready to register we'll email you a link to a registration profile. You'll have 72 hours to complete your profile (and that of any dependents) and pay the deposit ($100).

Feel free to call us for more info - we're here 7 days a week!

Where Do We Meet?

This trip originates in Seattle, Washington, where you'll meet your guide and group for an orientation meeting the evening before your trip begins at 5:00 PM. Your guide will be in contact approximately 10 days before the trip start date to answer any questions you have and coordinate the orientation meeting.

Check out our Travel Resources page for information on flights, shuttles, lodging and more.

Start/End Times

Your guide will inform you of the first day's pick-up time. Generally, you can expect it to be between 5 and 8 am, although the exact time will depend on current weather and road conditions. We will drop you off at your hotel on the final day normally before 5 PM (this time is not guaranteed, as a variety of circumstances can influence our exact return time).

Safety Considerations

Your safety is our top priority. Our hiking tours are led by professional hiking guides, all of whom are wilderness-certified first responders or EMT's, each with years of guiding and wilderness experience. We've developed comprehensive risk management protocols that our guides adhere to in case of an emergency, and most tours carry a satellite phone. If you have any further questions about safety, please contact us at 1-800-715-HIKE (4453) for more information.


Your tour will be led by a trained, experienced professional with a solid guiding background, years of personal wilderness and hiking experience, medical certifications, and a passion for leading people into breathtaking landscapes. Check out our Meet Our Team page for staff bios.

Guide Working Parameters

Guides are required to take 8 hours off each 24-hour period to sleep, recuperate, take personal/down time...etc. In addition, as part of the 8 hours off they must sleep/rest or be in their tents/rooms uninterrupted for a minimum of 5 hours each night. We ask guests to respect these requirements and to not interrupt guides' off time and sleep time unless there is a true emergency.

Group Size and Age Restrictions

The standard group size on North Cascades backpacking trips is 6 guests and 1 guide, with a maximum of 10 guests and 2 guides. If you have more questions about group size, please give us a call at 1-800-715-HIKE (4453) and we'll answer all your questions.

Age restrictions are as follows:
  • 12 and older to join scheduled tours (mixed groups)
  • 5 and older to join private tours, with final approval and specific logistical requirements (such as porter or stock assist) determined on a case by case basis

Weather in North Cascades National Park

The best hiking weather in the North Cascades is from mid June to late September, when the vast majority of trails (except ones up very high) are snow free. The west side of the Park catches the brunt of storm systems coming in from the Pacific Ocean, making the west side much wetter and more lush. The lower east side tends to be much warmer and drier throughout the summer. The west side receives on average 70+ inches more of precipitation and 400+ more inches of snowfall than the west side. Even with these discrpencies however, summer is a stunning time of year to be in the Cascades, on either side. See below for average temperatures and precipitation in North Cascades National Park:

Average Temperatures (Fahrenheit)
2.2 in
1.7 in
1.7 in
2.5 in

Camping on Backpacking Trips

backpacking tent

Backcountry Sleeping

Tent Camping

Sleeping on backpacking trips is in premier 1-person, 2-person or 4-person backcountry tents. Solo travelers, and anyone else who requests it, are issued single tents. Top-of-the-line self-inflating sleeping pads and sleeping bags (professionally laundered after every trip) are also provided.

backpacking meals

Backcountry Cuisine

Fresh & Delicious

Meals from breakfast Day 1 through lunch the last day are fully included and prepared by your guide. We never use dehydrated backpacking meals, instead serving freshly prepared, delicious backcountry cuisine made with a variety of common and specialty ingredients that travel well in the wilderness.

backpacking campsites

Amazing Campsites

In the Action

Of course campsites vary tremendously by destination, trip and even by the individual day of a trip. However, you can expect to camp in beautiful areas that put you right in the action to make the most of your backpacking adventure. We carefully design our itineraries with campsites in mind.

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