Dog Friendly Fall Hike: Heather-Maple Pass Loop

While Gretel needed zero recovery time after our 3-day backpacking trip, I am still sore and ouchie. None the less, the show must hike on.

A friend from California was in town last weekend and I thought I would show her some of the best fall-color hikes near Seattle. We have a lot of deciduous trees here in Washington that stay green all year long but there are a few trees that pop gold, red, and orange against the green background come October – Maple and Larch trees. I decided to take her and Gretel to one of the best dog friendly fall hikes near Seattle – the Heather-Maple Pass Loop.

Dog Friendly Maple Pass Trail - North CascadesNow, when I say “near” Seattle I mean within driving distance. A long driving distance though. The trailhead is about 3 hours northeast of Seattle along the North Cascades Highway. We spent more hours driving (6 hours round trip) than we did hiking (about 4 hours) for this hike but it was worth it.

The trail starts at Rainy Pass along the North Cascades Scenic Byway (Highway 20), which cuts through the North Cascades National Park. Now, dogs aren’t allowed on the trails of the North Cascades National Park but there is a “loophole” for this trail. I have yet to find out the “official” name for it, or the land manager (I assume it’s the Forest Service or Department of Transportation) but there is a corridor on the north and south sides of the highway that is not technically “in the park” so dogs are allowed on those trails.

The mustard-green swath is the "safe zone" where dogs are allowed on the trails
The mustard-green swath is the “safe zone” where dogs are allowed on the trails

The trails often go right up to the boundary of the National Park so these “loophole” trails are a great way to experience some of the North Cascades National Park scenery with your dog.

Northj Cascades National Park Boundary Sign at Dog Friendly Heather Pass

Gretel the Dachshund posing with the Interior of the North Cascades National Park in the BackgroundAnyway, this is an excellent dog friendly hike any time of year but especially in the fall. Everyone else thinks so too though so this trail is very crowded on the weekends. I suggest you go on a weekday if you can for the best chance at some solitude and to get the best “people-less” photos.

Enjoy the rest of the photos from our fall hike….

Heather Maple Pass Loop 1

Heather Maple Pass Gretel 2

Heather Maple Pass Larch

Heather-Maple Pass Trail

Trail Stats:

Trail Name: Heather-Maple Pass Loop
Distance: 7.2 miles round trip
Elevation Gain: 2,000 feet
Highest Point:  6,650 feet
Permits and Passes: A Northwest Forest Pass is required to park at the trailhead
Directions: From Seattle, drive Hwy 20 through the town of Marblemount and on towards North Cascades National Park. After approximately 50 miles, the Rainy Pass trailhead will be on the south (right) side of the road. There is room here for 40 cars, as well as a privy. There is also a parking area on the north side of the road here which provides access to other trails.

About the Author

Hi, I’m Jessica. I’ve been studying the Dachshund breed since 2007, owned 3 of my own, and shared in the lives of thousands of others through their owner’s stories. When I’m not sharing what I know on this blog, you can find me hiking, camping, and traveling with my adventurous wiener dogs.


    1. That’s actually an average one for us 🙂 On our recent backpacking trip, Gretel and I hiked for about 7 hours a day. We worked up to that though. A lot of Chester and Gretel’s very first hikes were around an hour.

  1. I am so jealous of that scenery. I love hiking with my babies but the dirt and cactus get so…boring. I’m living vicariously through your photos!

    1. I absolutely love certain areas of the southwest but, yes, there are some areas that I find a little boring. My brother took me on a “nice” hike near LA and I was like “you call this nice?”. Ha, ha.

  2. 3 bum swings! 3 more! Gretel looks pawsome in these photo’s! We live in the rural parts of Eastern Ontario known as the Land of Lakes. Hiking is one of our favorite things to do. I don’t travel well due to neurological issues & epilepsy but if I could I would love to hike through the North Cascades National Park.
    Thank you for sharing your experience with us.
    Nose nudges,
    CEO Olivia

  3. Hi – I was wondering if there are any backcountry camping sites along this loop? Or if you know of any dog-friendly hikes in the area that are just as gorgeous and permits backcountry camping. I’m planning a trip next year to visit the pnw and would like to take my bulldog. I’ve done a few 3 to 5-day hikes, but so far I’ve only taken my dog out for max 5miles – we’re working on her stamina. Please let me know if you have any recommendations!


    1. Hi Marijoy. Camping is very limited to non-existent on the Heather-Maple Pass loop. You can’t camp on either of the passes. I’ve read there are a couple camping spots at Lake Ann but have not seen them myself. I do know camping within 1/4 mile of the lake is prohibited so the camp spots, if they are indeed there, would be right after the junction of the Lake Ann trail and the main one. Also, considering that the Lake Ann trail junctions is only 2 miles into the Heather-Maple Pass trail, you wouldn’t be gaining much by camping there (still have at least 5 miles to go – which your pup has done so maybe it’s worth it?) I would call the ranger station to confirm there are indeed campsites there.

      Most of the trails along highway 20 go right up to the National Park Boundary and some continue inside. The camp sites along the trail might be inside the park and dogs aren’t allowed on those portions of the trail.

      The Blue Lake Trail (make sure it’s the one off Highway 20 near Rainy Pass if you look it up – we have more than one in this state) may have some camping available. I don’t remember seeing campsites there but the Forest Service rules say “no camping within 1/4 mile of the lake” so that leads me to believe there may be a campsite or two. There is also Hidden Lake Lookout. I haven’t done that one but it’s on my list. It’s VERY steep in sections but beautiful. Camping is allowed in the lookout on a first-come-first-served basis but I’m pretty sure dogs are not officially allowed in there. You may be able to sneak your pup in if the other campers there don’t mind but it’s iffy. I don’t know if there are other campsites around the Lookout. There are down by Hidden Lake but you can’t hike there with your dog because it’s inside the park boundary.

      Again, I would call the ranger station and ask on these and any other options. One thing to keep in mind is that, if there are camp spots on the trail, they are very limited. I don’t know when you will be visiting but these trails are very popular so the campsites could be full. Planning to stay a weekday night would be best. Highway 20 itself is closed approximately November through sometime in May. Even then, after the road opens, the trails remain covered in deep snow until around mid-July. Late summer and fall are the best times to visit this area.

    2. It looks like one of your best bets would be the East Bank Trail on the east side of Ross Lake. An add-on to this be the Desolation Peak, Lightning Creek, Willow Lake, Hozomeen, and Hozomeen Lake Trails.

      The Big Beaver Trail on the west side of Ross Lake would also be an option.

      South of highway 20 you can do the Thunder Creek, Fourth of July, and Panther Creek Trails.

      Lake Chelan National Recreation Area / Stehekin has a lot of dog friendly backpacking, but is less accessible.

      The Ross Lake & Lake Chelan National Rec Areas are open to dogs, it’s only North Cascade National Park that is off-limits. All 3 are run by the National Park Service and share a website.

  4. This trail says it’s in a national park, which doesn’t allow dogs… How did you find out that it was dog friendly? I just want to confirm before driving up : )

    1. It is true that the National park does not allow dogs but the trail is not inside the National Park if you look at the park boundary map. I lived near that area for years, and do a lot of my dog-friendly trail research using maps, and I am very familiar with National Park rules about dogs (I used to work in one), so I knew it was dog friendly. My many friends that have hiked it with their dog, and the trailhead signs, confirmed it. I am 1000% sure it’s dog friendly. I don’t write about trails on my website claiming they are dog friendly if I haven’t confirmed it. Have fun. It’s a gorgeous hike! But do note about the road closure. Highway 20 is closed in winter due to snow. There is no scheduled date to plow the road yet this year and the snow doesn’t melt out on the trail until about June.

  5. FYI, the loophole is called Ross Lake National Recreation Area & it is administered by the National Park Service- it shares a website with North Cascades National Park.

    1. I’m familiar with the Ross Lake National Recreation Area and that is incorrect. The Ross Lake area is to the northeast of this hike. The Lake Chelan National Recreation Area is closer but is southwest of where this hike is located. If you look at a boundary map of the North Cascade National Park, you will see it ends at the boundary of the North Cascades National park sough unit.

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