Destinations Editor Kristin Smith loves this shoulder-season overnight on East Bank Ross Lake Trail in Washington’s North Cascades National Park.
The burbling call of a bald eagle rings across the water, echoing off the glass-smooth reflection of Genesis Peak. A moment later heavy wingbeats sound overhead; I turn just in time to watch the eagle launch from the snagged top of a hundred-foot Douglas fir, skimming low over the rocky lakeside before vanishing up a narrow valley. It’s my second eagle spotting of the day as I pick my way along the shore, dipping in and out of thick evergreen forest as I traverse the schist and ancient basalt that cups 23-mile-long Ross Lake. With fall shading into winter the peaks above are already draped in snow; I’ll be glad for my zero-degree bag at camp tonight. For now I continue winding up the narrow valley, water to my left and cliff-studded forest to my right, the last of the autumn leaves crunching beneath my feet.
Turn by Turn
1) Descend from the East Bank Trailhead to Ruby Creek. Cross the creek, turning left just after the bridge.
2) At mile 2.8 go west to reach the lake (and campsites, if you’re looking for an easy overnight), then follow the main trail north to Hidden Hand Pass.
3) From the pass, wind down through dense forest to the shore, paralleling the edge of the water through a few sections of narrow trail and drop-offs before reaching the Rainbow Point Campground at mile 9.
4) Retrace your steps the next morning to return to your car.
Campsite: Rainbow Point
With sweeping panoramas of the bright turquoise lake and jagged peaks above to either edge, this narrow beach is a hard spot to beat. There are only three sites, so a reservation is advised for the busier months–shoulder season and midweek trips, though, have little to worry about. The sites have backcountry toilets, and fires are allowed during low-risk times of the year (check with the ranger station before heading out). Make sure to bring bear hang gear, as they’re often spotted in the area.
Poets on the Peaks
You’ll wind past two of the most important literary sites in the North Cascades on the East Bank Trail: Some of the most influential writers of the Beat movement spent summers as fire lookouts on the mountains above Ross Lake. Sourdough Mountain, on the opposite shore, was brought to vivid life in the poetry of Gary Snyder, who spent several summers as a lookout before he was banned due to his anarchist political views. Closer to camp, a spur trail from Lightning Creek (7 miles past Rainbow Point) leads to Desolation Peak, where Jack Kerouac spent a summer as a lookout; he wrote about his time there in Desolation Angels and in his more famous work, The Dharma Bums.