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Rainbow-McAlester Loop

North Cascades > North Cascades Highway - Hwy 20
48.5050, -120.7191 Map & Directions
31.5 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain
6,650 feet
Highest Point
6,300 feet
Calculated Difficulty About Calculated Difficulty
Photo by trip reporter KenWP. Full-size image
  • Wildflowers/Meadows
  • Ridges/passes
  • Wildlife
  • Established campsites
  • Dogs not allowed
  • Lakes

Parking Pass/Entry Fee

Northwest Forest Pass
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Sample the best the North Cascades has to offer—subalpine lakes, forested valleys and rugged mountain passes—on this multiday trek. Continue reading

3.00 out of 5

Hiking Rainbow-McAlester Loop

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.

Hike Description Written by
Lindsay Leffelman, WTA Correspondent

Rainbow-McAlester Loop

Map & Directions

Co-ordinates: 48.5050, -120.7191 Open in Google Maps

Before You Go

A $26 backcountry permit is required to camp overnight in the North Cascades National Park Service Complex (incl. Ross Lake National Rec Area and Lake Chelan National Rec Area). Permits must be picked up in person at the Wilderness Information Center in Marblemount. See the National Park Service website for more information.

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Parking Pass/Entry Fee

Northwest Forest Pass

WTA Pro Tip: Save a copy of our directions before you leave! App-based driving directions aren't always accurate and data connections may be unreliable as you drive to the trailhead.

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.

More Hike Details


North Cascades > North Cascades Highway - Hwy 20

North Cascades National Park

Guidebooks & Maps

Trails Illustrated North Cascades

Green Trails Stehekin No. 82

Green Trails Washington Pass No. 50

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Rainbow-McAlester Loop

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