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Rainbow-McAlester Loop

North Cascades


North Cascades -- North Cascades Highway - Hwy 20
View map below


31.5 miles, roundtrip


Gain: 6650 ft.
Highest Point: 6300 ft.


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Parking Pass/Entry Fee

Northwest Forest Pass

Sample the best the North Cascades has to offer—subalpine lakes, forested valleys and rugged mountain passes—on this multi-day trek.

By connecting a series of trails, the Rainbow–McAlester Pass Loop lets you experience the natural splendor found in the heart of the North Cascades National Park Complex. With numerous campsites along the way, you can plan an itinerary to suit your own hiking preferences for speed, difficulty, and views.

Start by heading south on the Bridge Creek Trail (part of the Pacific Crest Trail) and enter the national park at 1.4 miles. This stretch gently loses elevation as it follows Bridge Creek through patches of Douglas-fir and ponderosa pine. At 3.1 miles, reach the junction with the Twisp Pass Trail; continue right to stay on the Bridge Creek Trail. Still paralleling the creek; the junction with the Rainbow Lake Trail is reached near 5.6 miles.

Follow the trail south to Rainbow Lake, climbing the rough, steep pass on the back side of 7,895-foot Bowan Mountain before reaching the azure waters of Rainbow Lake at 13.6 miles. Proceed through wildflower-filled meadows—complete with views of jagged Rainbow Mountain—before reaching an intersection with the Rainbow Creek Trail at 17.4 miles. Here, head north and prepare to be greeted with sweeping views of Lake Chelan and the surrounding mountains.

At 21.9 miles, reach McAlester Pass, and just a half-mile beyond, come to peaceful McAlester Lake. Enjoy the boggy subalpine meadows and forest of mountain hemlock and larch before continuing on. At 26.9 miles, reconnect with the Bridge Creek Trail and retrace your steps to complete your journey.

WTA Pro Tip: If traveling before August, an ice ax may be needed to traverse the steep snow at Bowan Pass on the Rainbow Lake Trail.


Rainbow-McAlester Loop

Map & Directions

Co-ordinates: 48.5076, -120.7310 Open map in new window


North Cascades -- North Cascades Highway - Hwy 20

North Cascades National Park

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Guidebooks & Maps

Trails Illustrated North Cascades

Green Trails Stehekin No. 82

Green Trails Washington Pass No. 50

Getting There

Drive Highway 20 to mile 159, just over one mile east of Rainy Pass. The parking lot is located on the north side of the highway. To access the trail, cross the highway and look for a short connector trail that takes you to the main trail, the Pacific Crest Trail. A Northwest Forest Pass required.

Parking Pass/Entry Fee

Northwest Forest Pass

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Rainbow-McAlester Loop

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