This breathtaking loop offers an undulating ridge walk on the Pacific Crest Trail, a jaunt through the West Fork Pasayten River Valley — one of the priority areas in WTA's Lost Trails Found campaign — and views from the highest fire lookout in the state.
From the Hart’s Pass trailhead, head north on the Pacific Crest Trail. The first section of this hike offers expansive views with little elevation gain.
Soon, arrive at 6,550-foot Buffalo Pass — 4.3 miles in, then go another mile to flower-speckled Windy Pass at 6,300 feet, where there are a few campsites and water, but fierce black flies. This is also the boundary of the Pasayten Wilderness.
After Windy Pass comes Foggy Pass at 6,180 feet, and then Jim Pass (a little higher, at 6,270 feet and 7.2 miles from the trailhead). Revel in stunning views of Oregon Basin as a backdrop for your camp.
Now it’s 6.5 miles to the next pass, Holman. Along the way, you’ll hike along Devil’s Backbone, enjoying views of Mount Baker and Glacier Peak, before gradually descending to the wooded junction where the Holman Creek Trail intersects your trail.
At the junction, turn right to follow Holman Creek for 1.7 miles before arriving at the West Fork Pasayten River Trail at 4,800 feet. Ramble south on this trail for 8.8 miles through a forested river valley that seldom sees traffic. You can expect brush, downed logs, water crossings and maybe even a meandering moose!
During your hike, keep an eye our for the work of WTA trail crews who have been through the area. Riverside campsites offer rest 2 miles from the junction before the trail begins its ascent back up to gorgeous views. Climb gradually on a meadowed slope below Haystack Mountain with the Slate Peak fire lookout beckoning in the distance. A snowfield can sometimes linger here until late in the season.
After intersecting the highest road in Washington state at Slate Pass, a short detour to the right brings you to the leveled summit (7,446 feet) and presents an unrivaled 360-degree peak-studded panorama of the rugged North Cascades. Savor your well-earned display of beauty!
Just a mile back on the road to the PCT trailhead and 1.4 miles south soon completes your loop.