Hiking the Boundary Trail is an adventure on many a hikers’ bucket list. The trail spans the width of the Pasayten Wilderness and is part of the much larger Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail. The combination of stunning scenery and lack of crowds is one of the Boundary Trail’s most enticing aspects especially in autumn, when colors are changing, temperatures are cooling and bugs are gone. A number of places along the trail are so special that you’ll have the images etched into your memory for years to come.
Starting at the Irongate trailhead west of Loomis—and doing the trip east to west—means reaching the hallowed meadows of Horseshoe Basin on the first day of your trip.
You’ll reach the portal of 7,200-foot Sunny Pass at 5.2 miles and the view of the vast meadows will be but an introduction to the scenic feast ahead. Camping is available at several places in the basin, but in late season Loudon Lake may be the only available water.
From Horseshoe Basin, the Canadian border is just a mile away via easy cross-country travel. Continuing westward over mostly open terrain with views, the Tungsten Mine is reached at 21 miles. Several rusty mining relics can be found near the trail.
When you reach Apex Pass a few miles farther, you’re presented with your first views of craggy Cathedral Peak, unlike anything else in the Pasayten. At 26 miles you’ll reach 7,600-ft Cathedral Pass, then head down to upper Cathedral Lake near the base of the impressive 8,360-foot Amphitheater Mountain. Camping is good here, and you’ll want time to savor the ambiance.
If you’ve built in a layover day, or have a few hours to spare, consider the extra few miles for the unmarked trail up the south side of Amphitheater Mountain. This horse trail goes nearly to the top and the views include most of the Pasayten Wilderness.
Leaving the Cathedral Lakes behind, the views continue as you hike west, with bulky 8,685-foot Remmel Mountain being front and center. This is followed by a long descent to the log crossing over the Ashnola River at 38 miles. Across the river is a 2,000 foot climb to more big meadows near 6,900-foot Peeve Pass at 42 miles.
Following the pass, trail conditions begin to deteriorate before it climbs right over the top of 7,240-foot Bunker Hill. Stop for lunch here before descending a bit more than 3,000 feet to the Pasayten River. Ford the river—a detour downstream may be necessary—then hike upstream for 7 miles to the site of the old Three Forks Cabin. Here is a pivotal trail junction where three streams of the Pasayten come together.
One of the biggest challenges of hiking the entire 80-plus-mile Boundary Trail is where to exit. The “official” ending descends to Ross Lake via the Castle Pass and Lightning Creek trails. However, this section receives little maintenance and is not recommended.
From Three Forks Junction, one option heads south up the Middle Fork Pasayten Trail to exit via Slate Pass. Hiking out via the West Fork Pasayten Trail exits near Slate Peak. Two other options provide access to the Pacific Crest Trail via either Woody Pass or Holman Pass. From Holman Pass, longer options exist to hike over Devils Dome to Ross Lake or McMillan Park to Hwy 20.
Hiking out via the mostly forested Middle Fork Pasayten River is the shortest way out to the Slate Pass trailhead (Harts Pass area, 80 hiking miles from Irongate).
WTA Pro Tip: If you like to get off the trail and scramble easy summits, the Boundary Trail was made for you. At 8,100 feet, Armstrong Mountain is a long mile from Horseshoe Basin and takes you right to U.S.–Canadian border. Haig Mountain is higher, but Teapot Dome at 7,610 feet is just a half-mile from the Boundary Trail. 8,300 foot-high Apex Mountain is almost mandatory, given the legendary views of Cathedral Peak. From the 7,100-foot pass, Bald Mountain looms 7,930 feet high over the Ashnola River, and Sheep Mountain, at 8,275 feet, near Peeve Pass will each take at least a few hours of your time.
This trail is part of WTA's Lost Trails Campaign. Learn more about how we're saving lost trails across the state here.