Sahale Glacier Camp is a high-altitude backcountry camp that sits below the Sahale Glacier in North Cascades National Park. Because of its jaw-dropping views of jagged glaciated peaks and deep forested canyons, it is one of the most popular backcountry campsites in the park.
During our visit in September 2019, visibility was good, so we could see all the way to Puget Sound, nearly 100 miles to the west.
There are a limited number of designated campsites at Sahale Glacier Camp and backcountry permits are required for all overnight stays.
The North Cascades backcountry office accepts reservation submissions from Mar 15 – Apr 15 for camping dates that fall between May 15 – Sep 30.
Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit Sahale Glacier Camp is during late summer, in August or September when most or all of the previous winter’s snowfall has melted.
Snowmelt is highly variable and depends on a lot of factors, so make sure to discuss current conditions with the rangers. Some years, you may need an ice axe even in late summer.
Do not rely on generic weather forecasts for North Cascades National Park or nearby towns to plan your trip. Sahale Glacier Camp sits at 7,500 feet elevation and has a colder climate than these forecasts will account for.
Wind gusts can reach 60 mph at the glacier campsites. Despite rock walls that protect the tent pads from wind, the sites are still quite exposed.
It’s best to use a point forecast from NOAA.gov to get a more accurate projection just prior to your trip. Click the button below for a link to this resource.
Hiking to Sahale Glacier Camp
- Distance: 12 miles
- Hike Time: 2 days
- Elevation Gain: 4,000 feet
- Fee: $20
- Dogs: No
- Difficulty: Hard
The trailhead for Sahale Glacier Camp is located at the end of Cascade Pass Road and is called Cascade Pass Trailhead, elevation 3,600 feet. There is a parking lot here and restrooms.
You must pass through the town of Marblemount to reach the trailhead. This small community has a gas station and a few restaurants, and is your last stop for supplies.
Be prepared for stunning views as you drive out of Marblemount and ascend the Cascade Pass Road toward the trailhead. When you step out of your vehicle, you will find yourself at the bottom of a jagged range of peaks, including Johannesburg Mountain to the south.
From the trailhead, head north to begin hiking up Cascade Pass Trail. The first 2.6 miles are a series of switchbacks, but the grade isn’t terribly steep. After the switchbacks, the trail traverses southeastward across the mountain with a gradual incline before reaching Cascade Pass, elevation 5,392 feet.
Cascade Pass is a great place to stop, take in the view, and power up on snacks before the next, more strenuous ascent of the Sahale Arm. The views here are spectacular and many day hikers turn around at this point.
From the pass, bear left onto the Sahale Arm Trail. After 0.8 miles of steeper hiking, you’ll reach a junction with a spur trail that goes down to Doubtful Lake. Continue straight here.
At about 6,000 feet elevation, you’ll get above tree line and stay above it for the rest of the climb. Things get progressively steeper from this point on, with the last mile being the steepest. Pace yourself, take breaks, drink lots of water, and bask in the panoramic views that surround you.
Campsites: Once you reach Sahale Glacier Camp, you will begin to see flat tent pads built onto rock mounds at the foot of the glacier. Almost all of the sites have fantastic views of the surrounding peaks.
Most of the sites descend into steep slopes on all sides and are only big enough for one or two tents, but there are a few that are large enough to accommodate three or four tents.
There are several camp areas with rock walls built up to protect from wind. To help reduce impact, please do not build new ones! Make sure to use the ones that already exist.
Storms: We were fortunate to have great weather on our trip, but storms can be extremely harsh at Sahale Glacier Camp. For this reason, a lot of Sahale backpackers pitch mountaineering tents, which are able to withstand brutal conditions.
Water: In warmer months, water is readily available from streams that trickle down from the glacier.
Toilet: There is one clearly marked composting toilet near the start of the tent pads. All hikers are encouraged to use the toilet only for stool and small amounts of toilet paper, as urine stops the composting process. Digging cat holes is not allowed.
Sahale Glacier Camp is known for its unparalleled views, but many people don’t realize it also has the world’s most scenic bathroom.
In September 2019, we saw a black bear on the ridge line above Cascade Pass before setting out after lunch. We saw another black bear about 5 miles into the hike.
Note: 2019 was the year of bears for us. Earlier in the year, we saw 13 bears in Yellowstone!
Because of the presence of bears and absence of trees to hang food on, the park mandates that backcountry campers store all food in bear canisters.
If you don’t have one, the park will loan you one for free (with a credit card deposit) at Marblemount Ranger Station. Otherwise, I recommend purchasing a BearVault canister.
What to Bring
The biggest mistake beginner backpackers make is bringing too much stuff and hauling too heavy of a pack.
I guarantee your trip will be much more enjoyable if you pack light. Identify what you need to bring and leave behind what you don’t.
The only caveat I give is to not fixate on being so lightweight and minimalist that you sacrifice preparedness, safety, and sensible comfort on your trip. Like many things in life, it’s all about a balanced approach.
Tip: Not sure which lightweight backpacking gear to buy? We’ve done the “heavy lifting” for you. See our top picks.
Tent: Kim and I slept in an MSR Carbon Reflex 2. Our friends brought tarps, but some of them slept under the stars because the weather was good.
Backpack: Kim and I both used our Zpacks Arc Haul-Zips on this trip. If your base weight is under 20 lb, this is a comfortable, lightweight option. It’s included in my best lightweight backpacking packs list.
Sleeping Bag: I stayed warm and cozy under my EE Revelation 20 quilt and Kim slept in her Montbell sleeping bag. Both are included in my best lightweight sleeping bags list.
Sleeping Pad: I used the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite, a lightweight air mattress. Kim used the ProLite Plus, which weighs a few more ounces but self inflates and is more comfortable. See my best lightweight sleeping pads list for more info.
Cooking System: We shared a trusty MSR Pocket Rocket (included in my best backpacking stoves list), TOAKS Titanium 1000ml Pot, and a couple titanium long handle spoons on this trip.
Water: I treated water from glacial runoff with Aquatabs and carried it using two 1L Smart Water Bottles. Start the hike with at least 2 liters.
Footwear: I hiked in Salomon Quest 4D II GTX boots. Kim hiked in Ahnu Montara Waterproof boots.
Headlamp: Kim and I both used Black Diamond Spot Headlamps.
Food: We brought homemade meals with ingredients that we dehydrated at home. If you’re feeling lazy, here are my favorite freeze dried and dehydrated food options.
- Down jacket – Patagonia UL
- Fleece – Patagonia R1
- Long johns – Patagonia Capilene
- Rain jacket – OR Helium II (read my review)
- Hiking pants – Prana Stretch Zion (one of my favorite hiking pants)
- T-shirt – Patagonia Bandito
- Tank top – Icebreaker Sphere
- Underwear – ExOfficio Give-N-Go
- Socks – Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew (one of my favorite hiking socks)
- Hat – Quick dry baseball cap and wool Buff
- Down jacket – The North Face ThermoBall
- Fleece – Columbia Women’s Warm Up Hooded Fleece
- Leggings – Under Armour Women’s ColdGear Authentic Leggings
- Pants – Columbia Just Right Straight Leg Pants
- Sports Bra – Patagonia Active Mesh Bra
- Socks – Darn Tough Vertex Ultra-Light
Map: We used the Gaia GPS app. For a paper topographic map, get North Cascades National Park by Nat Geo.
First Aid Kit: Before every trip, Kim (my ICU nurse wife) assembles a kit for me. If you don’t have the time or knowledge to make your own, I recommend buying this one.
Sunscreen: Bring high SPF sunscreen and wear it. Despite its reputation for cloud cover, the Washington sun can be powerful, especially at higher elevations.
- Camera – I recommend the Sony a6000 or RX100 with a Pedco UltraPod II tripod.
- Pocket knife
Tip: Accidents happen. Learn how to treat cuts and wounds in the backcountry.
From Seattle, head north on I-5 for approximately 50 miles, then take exit 208 and follow Washington State Route 530 east.
Continue for 50.5 miles, then turn right onto Washington State Route 20 in Rockport.
Continue for 8.4 miles, then turn right onto Cascade River Road in Marblemount.
Continue for 16.6 miles, then turn left onto Cascade Pass Road.
Continue for 6.3 miles and you will arrive at Cascade Pass Trailhead.
In September 2019, Kim and I flew from Phoenix to Seattle and met up with six friends that flew in from other cities. The trip was a loose celebration of my 30th birthday.
We rented a Suburban and drove to Clear Creek Campground near Darrington, where we car camped for a night.
The next day, we converted our advanced reservation for Sahale Glacier Camp to a permit at Marblemount Ranger Station. I had made reservations the day they were made available on March 15, 2019.
- Distance: 6 miles
Made it to the trailhead and started hiking at 12:30 p.m. After 2 hours of hiking, we reached Cascade Pass and stopped for lunch. Some other hikers pointed out a huge black bear as we were leaving.
At 3:45 p.m., we saw another black bear. We reached Sahale Glacier Camp at 5:30 p.m. We had an unfilled permit, so our longtime friend Clay Hagblom invited his buddy Joe Koizen along. This was one of the hardest hikes he’s done but he was a great sport, had fun, and caught the bug.
After dark, I saw a mountain goat standing really close to our camp and staring at us. For some reason it looked sinister. I yelled at the goat and encouraged him to move along. He took the hint and shuffled down the scree slope below us.
Tip: If you’re hiking in the North Cascades, a little mountain goat safety can go along way.
- Distance: 2 miles
We started hiking down at 9:45 a.m. For how strenuous the climb was, the down-climb was equally difficult and we took it slow.
At 11:30 a.m., we arrived at Cascade Pass. At 1:15pm, we made it back to the suburban.
In Marblemount, we went to Mondo Restaurant for the second time to fuel up for the Devils Dome Loop. When we finished that loop, we ate there again for a third time! Delicious American-Korean food made by a very friendly couple.