In August 2022, we backpacked a new part of the North Cascades for us: the Devil’s Dome Loop on the western edge of the Pasayten Wilderness. We hiked the route clockwise, from the East Bank Trailhead, taking four days and three nights.
This was a stunning loop that took us to parts of the North Cascades we had not visited. We enjoyed excellent weather and beautiful views.
Our total distance, including a side trip, was about 41 miles, and 10,800′ of elevation gain. Trail conditions made the route more difficult than the stats would imply.
Our route had us stopping at Devil’s Creek the first night. Because this is within the North Cascades National Park Complex / Ross Lake National Recreation Area, we needed a backcountry permit. We started on August 12. For those reading this in future years, the 2022 summer had gotten off to a late and wet start, so we may have had more water available than typical at this point in the summer.
Day 1: East Bank Trail to Devil’s Creek
We picked up our permit from the Wilderness Information Center (WIC) in Marblemount. Permit pickups are in the same queue as people seeking new permits or changes, so this took about 50 minutes. I wish the park service would go back to email-issuing them or having a separate line for people picking up permits without changes.
The East Bank Trail is straightforward and pretty fast to hike; we camped at Devil’s Creek (about 12.7 miles for us). The digital map I was referring to had the junction for the East Bank and Hidden Cove further along than the East Bank / Little Jack junction. This caused us to fly past the junction, only to backtrack when realized our mistake.
The last few miles of this stretch were the most interesting and right along the lake.
As a backcountry campsite, Devil’s Creek offers sort of an odd layout. There are four sites, but two of them are smack on the way to others. This left us to set set up in a way that others often had to walk through our site. The site was a bit buggy but not bad. Our camp offered no real views, but a short walk took us to dock and lakeside. This provided a nice place to cool off. The creek, accessed through the stock camp, was our water source.
Day 2: Devil’s Creek to Devil’s Dome
From the junction with Devil’s Creek and the East Bank Trail, the trail to Devil’s Dome climbs steadily. The grade was never bad despite the thousands of feet of gain. The miles would have passed quickly except for the many blowdowns, starting about 1/2 mile before the recreation area boundary. With those, it felt like we had to overcome a new obstacle every time we got up momentum.
The creek at 4100′ (~3 miles from junction) was flowing well. The following two creeks had water in them but were not flowing well.
At Dry Creek Pass, we reached a four way junction. Left seemed to lead out to a long ridge, straight to campsites (?), and right to Devil’s Dome. From later viewpoints, the trail to the left looked like it leads to a very walkable, excellent vantage point toward Ross Lake. It could be worth future explorations.
On our trip, we continued toward Devil’s Dome, turning off to visit Bear Skull Shelter. Our goal was to hike to Spratt Mountain. We dropped some weight and followed the boot path to where it ended in a stream bed and steep hill covered with wildflowers. From there we went up and then over thinking we’d hit a boot path somewhere on the ridge. We never did, so going was slow, and often required ascending or descending to get through rows of trees. The views were great, but we turned around about 3/4 mile short of the summit due to time and wanting to preserve some energy.
On the way back, I thought we could descend gradually, avoiding the steep descent down the wildflower stream-slope. Instead, I brought us through several successive rows of trees that were difficult to pass through. This slope also was steep and on clumps of grass. It made for very slow going.
Back at Bear Skull Shelter, wildflowers were nice and bugs were bad. We filled up water for the night and next morning. As we prepared to depart, three others arrived and told us that the water was flowing in the basin before Devil’s Dome. Perhaps we should have dumped our water, but, sunk cost fallacy and all, we chose to carry it.
Another 1.2 miles or so brought us to Devil’s Dome (~11.4 miles and 6200′ gain including the side trip, total.). Not long before the summit, we passed the basin, where water was indeed flowing well.
We considered setting up on the summit, with its 360º views. This seemed like a recipe for a dusty night, and sharing our camp with anyone else who wanted summit views. Instead, we set up camp a little off the summit at a spot that looked like a recently dried out tarn.
Once set up, we walked back to the summit for dinner and sunset. Sunset was fantastic, with just enough clouds to add color to the wonderful views. One direction is classic North Cascades views, including Koma Kulshan (Mount Baker). The other direction offers classic Pasayten views.
Day 3: Devil’s Dome to Devil’s Park
Sunrise was equally great – with even fewer clouds so we could see all surrounding peaks. This made it hard to leave the summit.
Once we did leave, the first part of the day was wonderful. Meadows or thin forests kept the views coming all the way to Devil’s Pass and the following two miles. Blowdowns continued to slow progress, but, with the views, we did not mind.
For those needing water, the basin after Devil’s Dome (where the trail does a broad, descending U) had a good amount though not as readily as accessible as the basin on our ascent. We did not investigate the water at Devil’s Pass.
The descent into North Fork Devils Creek was challenging: steep, slippery (because of dry dust), slippery (because of mud), blowdowns, and brushy enough to make it hard to see where we were stepping. The same trail conditions persisted on the steep climb out, albeit drier. This was probably one of the harder stretches of official trail I’ve done in the Pacific Northwest.
After this, a descent and ascent brought us to the scree field. It was completely snow free, and, after the previous steep climbs, felt mostly like a respite. There was only a short stretch of finer scree that felt like one step forward and half a step back.
From there, the going is again easy for the descent into Devil’s Park. We debated whether to camp at Devil’s Park. It was buggy (mosquitoes and horse flies) and views were limited. There are tantalizing glimpses through the trees of Jack and Crater, as well as to the west and east. If there are sites that open up to expansive views, though, we didn’t find them despite lots of exploring. Looking at a map, in hindsight, I wonder if we should have looked further to the east end of the park, where the trail turns?
Hikers traveling the other way had warned us that Macmillan Park was even buggier and similar with respect to views. Based on this report and the hour, we decided to stop at Devil’s Park.
The stream was flowing well, which made getting water easy. We each found nice pools to soak our feet. A breeze held the bugs at bay for 30 minutes or so. Columbian ground squirrels popped in and out of the ground all around us.
Total: ~11.9 miles, 2800′. It felt much harder than the previous day despite being less than half the elevation gain.
Day 4: Devil’s Dome to Devil’s Park
We woke up and tried to get moving before the bugs woke up. We’d heard deer throughout the night, but didn’t see any – just lots of ground squirrels.
The descent out of Devil’s Park again offered nice views, especially of Jack and Crater. The site at Nickol Creek had a nice view of Jack and we could see and hear water, though the creek was underground at the most obvious access point. Macmillan Park had lots of water (and lots of standing water – easy to see how the bugs would be bad), a view of the side of Crater, and a couple of spots that had nice views back to Jackita Ridge.
After Macmillan, the descent begins. Switchbacks keep the grade reasonable, but, as before, blowdowns slowed progress.
Back at Ruby Creek, we followed the trail back to the East Bank trailhead. Immediately after where you would ford to get to Canyon Creek, there’s a large landslide that requires climbing over/through, with the assistance of some stone steps. The next 1.5 miles or so are a brushy, blowdown-filled mess–definitely not the easy, stream-side stroll I had imagined to end the loop. Conditions improved the further west we got.
Total: ~11 miles, 800′ gain.
This is a spectacular loop. It also really made me feel like I worked for it in a way that distance and elevation gain alone would not suggest, largely because of trail conditions.
Devil’s Dome, Devil’s Ridge, Jackita Ridge, and Ruby Creek are all in need of maintenance, a state that is particularly frustrating as you can often tell there’s a well-built trail under there. Sections of Jackita Ridge and Ruby Creek in particular are well on their way to being Lost Trails, despite the traffic they get. In many places, the blowdown detours are now more prominent than the original trail, but in places that contribute to erosion. I don’t like encouraging people to take more cars to the mountains, but a car spot would be worth it to avoid using Ruby Creek, in its current condition, to complete the loop.
We did see two trail runners (and many other backpackers) on this loop, so I don’t want to overstate its difficulty or the conditions while I also don’t want to understate it.
If I were to do to this again, I might:
- Indulge in the water taxi to Devil’s Junction / Devil’s Creek, especially if we had a second car to make logistics easier. There’s nothing wrong with the East Bank trail, it just felt a lot like a positioning day rather than a true part of the trip. This also would have let us skip needing permits.
- Perhaps use the time saved to add a night at Crater Lake and time to do either the Crater Mountain summit or Lookout #2.
- Would love to find a site with more open views on the last night. Perhaps some more exploring around Devil’s Park would have yielded one?
If you’re considering this route, I recommend picking up the Green Trails North Cascades map. We rely extensively on Green Trails maps both for planning our Washington state hiking and backpacking, and when we are on the trail. Also check out the route description and latest trip reports on the Washington Trails Association (WTA) website.