Ross Lake and Desolation Peak

Seattle, WA
4.9 (12 reviews)

Trip Highlights

  • Stunning Views of Ross Lake
  • Rejuvenating Mountain Solitude
  • Breathtaking Waterfalls
  • Ancient, Old Growth Forests
  • Amazing North Cascades High Country
  • Abundant Wildlife Habitat
  • Towering Granite Peaks


Towering peaks and old growth forests surround us on this 5- or 6-day hike that traverses the east shore of Ross Lake. The 5-day version stays along the lakeshore, which makes for a perfect early season (June and July) North Cascades adventure. The 6-day itinerary – available in August and September – includes a layover day to explore the high country and summit Desolation Peak.

We’ll start on Ruby Arm—the southeastern most inlet of Ross Lake—and hike 32 miles along the lakeshore, over tumbling creeks and on side drainages tucked between high granite spires, until emerging just a few miles from the Canadian border. The 6-day itinerary includes a layover day at Lightning Creek, which gives us the opportunity to summit Desolation Peak and visit the famous watch tower where Jack Kerouac wrote Dharma Bums. While we don’t summit Desolation Peak on the earlier season 5-day itinerary, we have great views of the snow-covered high peaks towering above us. After completing our traverse of the lake, we’ll take a water taxi all the way back to our starting point, and have a chance to see everything that we hiked from an entirely new perspective.

Read more …
5 Days From
$1885 Per Person
6 Days From
$2130 Per Person
Return Guests get a 10% discount on all Trips!
Trip Type: Guided Backpacking Trip
Difficulty Level:
Solitude Level:
Group Size: 1-10 Guests
Trip Length: 5-6 Days
Distance: 34+MI / 55+KM


Scale of 1-5. 1 is least difficult; 5 is most difficult

The 6-day version of this trip is Level 4 difficulty because of our ascent of Desolation Peak. The 5-day version is Level 3 difficulty. The trek is on mostly well maintained trails, with some rocky and and challenging route finding to the summit of Desolation Peak (6-day itinerary only). The ascent of Desolation Peak is a strenuous day (4,400 feet ascent in rocky and challenging terrain) but it is with just light day packs, which is why this trip receives a Level 4 difficulty rating.

Hiking Distances:

4-13 mi

Backpack Weight:

35-45 lbs


Moderately Rugged

Max Daily Elev. ↑↓:

4400 ft (6-day only)

Heights Exposure:


Please Note: Terrain, Elevation Gain and Heights Exposure ratings reflect the section or day of the trip with the maximum difficulty of each. Much of the trip is at easier levels. See the trip itinerary for more detailed information. Backpack Weight ratings are estimates that account for Wildland-provided gear, guest clothing, personal items and a share of group food. By packing light it’s often possible to stay on the lower end of the weight range. Pack weights also decrease during the trip.


  • Hiking uphill or downhill with a 35-45 lb backpack for 6-8 hours
  • Hiking uphill, then downhill with a 8-12 lb backpack for 8-10 hours (6-day trip only)
  • Maintaining balance and footing on moderately rugged terrain
* For an official and complete list of physical requirements, please see our Essential Eligibility Criteria.


1 least solitude, 5 most solitude

We rate this North Cascades National Park hike a solitude 4. You can expect to see a couple other groups of hikers per day.

Seattle is one of the United States’ most convenient cities to travel to. SeaTac (Seattle-Tacoma) Airport is one of the most easily accessed destinations in the country. Many major cities in the United States and internationally offer direct flights into Seattle. Please stay at one of our recommended hotels (coming soon!), all of which have airport shuttles so you do not have to rent a vehicle.

Private Trips

Travel in perfect company by booking a private trip exclusively for your group!

Our sliding scale for private trips is based on the final number of guests in your group. Rates are per person and do not include sales tax, national park fees or guide gratuity. The final rate is based on the actual number of guests on the trip and may adjust based on cancellations or additions.

Please Note: you can also enjoy a private trip at our normal scheduled rates by filling any empty tour to capacity. However, if group members drop from the tour those spots will automatically become available on our website for instant booking. By purchasing a private trip at the rates listed below, your trip will remain exclusive to your group regardless of cancellations. 

Private Rates FOr This Trip

  • 2 People: Rate x 2.5
  • 3 People: Rate x 1.75
  • 4 People: Rate x 1.25
  • 5+ People: Rate x 1.15

*all rates are per person

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Trip Itinerary

Trip Itinerary

Day 1

  • Shuttle to the trailhead: 3 hours
  • Hiking Mileage: 7.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,000 feet

This multi-day North Cascades National Park hiking trip begins with a pick up at your hotel in Seattle, and then a scenic drive into the North Cascades. When we arrive at the trailhead, we’ll get our packs and gear sorted out and hike along Ruby Arm. Small inlets, glacier-fed streams, and moss-covered old growth trees will accompany us. We’ll turn away from Ross Lake for a few miles, climb moderately to cross Hidden Hand Pass, and then find our our camp for the night at May Creek, where your guide will prepare the first of many delicious backcountry dinners.

Day 2

  • Hiking Mileage: 8.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: Minimal

Day two takes us along the edge of Ross Lake for many miles—dramatic views of deep blue water and peaks across the lake will accompany us as we traverse north to Lightning Creek. The elevation change on Day 2 is minimal, as we’re hugging the lake all day long, but the views are spectacular, and we’ll watch for fish jumping and eagles flying over the lake.

Day 3 (6-day itinerary only)

  • Hiking Mileage: 13.6 miles
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: 4,400 feet

We will spend two nights at Lightning Creek and attempt too summit Desolation Peak as a day hike. It’s a big hike, but we’ll leave our heavy gear behind and take only daypacks. After a pleasant 2 mile jaunt along the bank of the lake, we’ll start climbing quickly, and won’t stop till we reach the top of Desolation Peak at 6,102 feet. It’s a challenging hike, but the 360 degree views are stunning, and the historic fire lookout at the top—where Jack Kerouac spent 63 days in 1956—is a welcome respite. After a nice break we’ll head back to camp for a well-earned dinner and a good night’s sleep.

Day 3/4

  • Hiking Mileage: 6.4 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,000 feet
  • Elevation Loss: 400 feet

Leaving the sometimes busy Lightning Creek behind, we’ll switchback steeply up and get some final views of this section of Ross Lake, before dropping into beautiful Lightning Creek valley. We’ll make our way up Lightning Creek until we reach our campsite under some towering cedar tree. Our night here will feel very different from the wide open panoramas of Ross Lake—we’ll be tucked away under giant trees and get to appreciate the rugged and wild forests of the North Cascades.

Day 4/5

  • Hiking Mileage: 5.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: 800 feet

Day 5 will take us further up Lightning Creek, through more old growth forest, and then up over a small pass. We’ll end the day by hiking out a small spur trail to Hozemeen Lake—a beautiful blue-green lake framed by the granite tower of Hozomeen Mountain. On our last night out we’ll keep an eye out for black bear, deer, elk, wolves—and this close to the Canadian border, maybe grizzly bears! We’ll eat one last delicious dinner, enjoy the reflections in the lake, and then get a good night’s rest.

Day 5/6

  • Hiking Mileage: 4 miles
  • Elevation Loss: 500 feet

Our last morning will be bittersweet—we’ll leave the solitude of Hozomeen Lake behind, and wind our way through the forest until we begin descending back towards Ross Lake. As we approach the bank, we’ll get new panoramas, looking west and south across Ross Lake. At just a few miles from the border, we’ll have reached a place that’s accessible only by foot, or by a very long and circuitous drive through Canada. It will be strange to see people again after the solitude found at Hozomeen Lake, but we won’t linger long. We’ll get picked up by a water taxi and boat all the way back to the south end of the lake. We’ll return to the vehicle, bid farewell to Ross Lake, and drive back towards Seattle, where soft beds and warm showers await you in your hotel.

Please Note: We always do everything in our power to follow the set itinerary, however it can change occasionally based on temporary access restrictions, weather, lodging/campground availability, guest ability/injury, natural events like fires and flooding, and other potential causes. Normal terms and conditions apply to trips with itinerary changes.

Trip Dates & Booking


Click on a date to register. You can also click here to request new dates or book through customer service.

Available to Book


This trip is available and bookable online! Click on the date to register now or contact us online to book through our award-winning customer service team!

Going Fast


This trip has 1 or 2 spots remaining and is bookable online! Click on the date to book now or contact us online to book through customer service.

Request a Reservation


This trip is exclusively booked through customer service due to logistics with lodging, permits, staffing, availability, or something else. Please contact us online or call us at 800-715-HIKE (4453) to request a reservation.

Don't see your dates? Call us! We may be able to add new trip dates.

800-715-HIKE (4453)

Trip Details

Trip Details

What's Included

  • Top-of-the-line tent, backcountry sleeping pad and multi-day backpack
  • High quality, synthetic sleeping bag (professionally laundered after every use) – or bring your own.
  • Use of trekking poles
  • All meals are included from breakfast the first day through lunch on the last day
  • Trained hiking guide(s) with years of personal wilderness and hiking experience, medical certifications, and a passion for leading people into breathtaking landscapes. See Guide Bios.
  • Comprehensive, roundtrip transportation from your hotel in Seattle and back
  • All entrance fees, permits and passes
  • Emergency equipment including a company-issued first-aid kit and communication device (InReach Explorer or satellite phone)
  • A Lifetime Hiking Membership entitling you, your spouse and dependents to a discount of 10% off any Wildland hiking trip after your first one (must book directly with us to receive the discount)!

What's Not Included

  • Clothes, raingear, and footwear (see recommendations)
  • Sunscreen, toiletries and personal items
  • Water bottles and a headlamp or flashlight
  • Guide gratuity (industry recommendation is 10-20% of trip cost)

Click here to see a printable, downloadable trip information packet with more detailed guidance about what to pack.

Meals: What To Expect

All of our hiking and backpacking tours include a diversity of tasty meals packed full of critical carbohydrates, proteins and fats. We carry foods that travel well in the backcountry – rice, pastas, lentils, beans, couscous, packaged meats, nuts, breads, oatmeal, granola, and more.

For optimal taste and energy, we supplement all our meals with spices, herbs, oils, cheeses, butter, sugar, and fruits and vegetables (fresh and dried). In addition, we provide you with with an assortment of trail mix, snacks, and dried fruits to eat at your own discretion.

We regularly accommodate vegan, vegetarian, kosher and non-gluten diets and will make adjustments for food allergies. These and other special dietary requests may require an additional fee.

Gear We Provide

We provide all group gear which includes the following:

  • Deuter or Osprey backpacks
  • Sierra Designs, Kelty or Big Agnes tents
  • Sierra Designs, Kelty, Big Agnes and Mountain Hardware synthetic-fill sleeping bags (or bring your own)
  • Thermarest or Big Agnes sleeping pads
  • Leki trekking poles
  • Cooking stoves and cookware
  • Company-issued first-aid kit
  • Emergency communication device(s)

Guest Packing List

When you register for this tour you’ll receive access to a printable, downloadable trip information packet with a detailed packing list specific to this trip (click here to see it now.) All trips require a sturdy pair of hiking shoes or hiking boots, rain gear, a recommended clothing system, a headlamp or flashlight, a hydration system (water bottles and/or bladder) and other items specific to each trip.

Additionally, some guests choose to bring their own sleeping bag. We supply high quality, synthetic fill bags that are professionally laundered after every trip. Synthetic fill is non-allergenic, insulates when damp and stands up well to repeated washings, but is heavier and bulkier than down. If you’re able to bring your own down sleeping bag, there are multiple benefits. If not, we’ve got you covered!

Trip Logistics

Trip Logistics

How do I Register?

Reserve your spot today! In the Trip Dates & Booking section of this page, the green and red dates are bookable online by simply clicking on the date, and blue dates must be booked through our customer service team for a variety of possible reasons. To email our customer service team, you can click here to get the ball rolling. Our adventure consultants will confirm availability, and if you’re ready to register we’ll email you a link to a registration profile. You’ll have 72 hours to complete your profile (and that of any dependents) and pay the deposit.

Feel free to call us for more info – we’re here 7 days a week!

Where Do We Meet?

Your guide will conduct a virtual orientation meeting (via conference call) at 5:00 PM the evening before your trip begins to review the packing list, communicate the first day’s logistics and answer any last minute questions you have. Your guide will give you the phone number for this call during the pre-trip contact approximately 10 days before your trip start date.

Early on the morning of Day 1 your guide will pick you up from your accommodations in Seattle, WA.

Click here to see a printable, downloadable trip information packet with more detailed guidance about flights, shuttles, recommended lodging and more.

Start/End Times

Your guide will inform you of the first day’s pick-up time. Generally, you can expect it to be between 5 and 8 am, although the exact time will depend on current weather and road conditions. We will drop you off at your hotel on the final day normally before 5 PM (this time is not guaranteed, as a variety of circumstances can influence our exact return time).

Safety Precautions

Your safety is our top priority. Our hiking tours are led by professional hiking guides, all of whom are wilderness-certified first responders or EMT’s, each with years of guiding and wilderness experience. Guides adhere to standardized risk management protocols in case of any potential or actual incident, and all tours carry an emergency communication device and comprehensive first-aid kit. Additionally we have a “24/7” system through which guides or guests can reach Wildland support personnel at any time.

If you have any further questions about safety, please contact us at 1-800-715-HIKE (4453) for more information.

Essential Eligibility Criteria

Essential Eligibility Criteria (“EEC”) have been specifically identified to help you understand the skills and abilities necessary to participate on each Wildland trip, and they apply uniformly to all potential trip participants, irrespective of the presence or absence of any disability.

Once you identify a trip in which you may be interested, please carefully review the EEC and itinerary details. If after reviewing the EEC that apply to your desired trip, you determine you need an accommodation in order to meet the EEC, please contact us prior to registering to discuss your requested accommodation.

The EEC exist for your own safety and that of all participants. If you are unable to meet the EEC for the trip, with or without an accommodation, you are not eligible for that trip. If you register and arrive for a trip for which you do not meet the EEC, you will be disqualified from participation on the trip and will be dismissed or evacuated from the trip without a refund.

Guide Working Parameters

Guides are required to take 8 hours off each 24-hour period to sleep, recuperate, take personal/down time…etc. In addition, as part of the 8 hours off they must sleep/rest or be in their tents/rooms uninterrupted for a minimum of 5 hours each night. We ask guests to respect these requirements and to not interrupt guides’ off time and sleep time unless there is a true emergency.

Age Restrictions

Age restrictions on this trip are as follows:

  • 12 and older to join scheduled tours (mixed groups)
  • 5 and older to join private tours, with final approval and specific logistical requirements (such as porter or stock assist) determined on a case by case basis

Weather in North Cascades National Park

The best hiking weather in the North Cascades is from mid June to late September, when the vast majority of trails (except ones up very high) are snow free. The west side of the Park catches the brunt of storm systems coming in from the Pacific Ocean, making the west side much wetter and more lush. The lower east side tends to be much warmer and drier throughout the summer. The west side receives on average 70+ inches more of precipitation and 400+ more inches of snowfall than the west side. Even with these discrpencies however, summer is a stunning time of year to be in the Cascades, on either side. See below for average temperatures and precipitation in North Cascades National Park:

June63°41°2.2 in
July70°45°1.7 in
August70°45°1.7 in
September61°39°2.5 in



Backcountry Sleeping

Tent Camping

Sleeping on backpacking trips is in premier 1-person, 2-person or 4-person backcountry tents. Solo travelers, and anyone else who requests it, are issued single tents. Top-of-the-line self-inflating sleeping pads and synthetic-fill sleeping bags (professionally laundered after every trip) are also provided.

Backcountry Cuisine

Fresh & Delicious

Meals from breakfast Day 1 through lunch the last day are fully included and prepared by your guide. We never use dehydrated backpacking meals, instead serving freshly prepared, delicious backcountry cuisine made with a variety of common and specialty ingredients that travel well in the wilderness.

Amazing Campsites

In the Action

Of course campsites vary tremendously by destination, trip and even by the individual day of a trip. However, you can expect to camp in beautiful areas that put you right in the action to make the most of your backpacking adventure. We carefully design our itineraries with campsites in mind.

Trip Reviews

Trip Reviews

  • Average Customer Ratings:

  • 4.9 (12 reviews)
Christina G


6 months ago

Really enjoyed this trip- especially the opportunities to swim along the way in Ross & Hozameen lakes. Was also an unexpected delight to meet Jim, the fire lookout man on Desolation Peak who was so eager to share his experience of working & living in his eagle's nest on the mountaintop. Alex was a wonderful guide- friendly, helpful, fun to be around & wore his vast expertise lightly. Speedboating back up the lake on the last day we got a view from he water & a whole other perspective on the trek we'd just completed- exhilarating! Would have liked longer time trekking on penultimate day. Also, can packs offered by wildlands be better fitted to women? If trek were only a day hike, it wouldnt be so much of an issue, but the fit is v important given weight we have to carry. I'm 5' & pack was far to large for my frame. Other woman on trip had similar difficulty.

Sunita G

Absolutely Amazing!

8 months ago

I recently attended Ross Lake Desolation peak backpacking trip and it was absolutely amazing! This has been my 7th trip with WLT. I continue to backpack with WLT because of its small group size, knowledgeable friendly guides, and many off the beaten path backpacking trails they take us on. Our guide, Ilan was very caring, supportive and took care of us very well. He was attentive at all times! The best part was he made us chocolate brownies in the wilderness! Who does that? I look forward to joining more backpacking trips in the near future! Sunita

Noelle G


1 year ago

Beautiful country (even in the rain) with a great guide. Sydney was patient, encouraging, and positive through out the trip.

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