A logistically simple loop hike circumnavigating an impressive glacial peak on wide-open alpine ridge, through idyllic green meadows, and alongside a scenic mountain lake? Yes please!
When I first learned about Devil’s Dome Loop in the North Cascades I knew it was the perfect route for me. I like big mountains, bigger views, and varied terrain. The only question is, would it be worth the 5000+ feet of climbing just to get up the first big hill?
I’m happy to report back that yes indeed, Devil’s Dome Loop is a fantastic and challenging backpacking route. It’s situated way up north in Washington state, close enough to the border that the lake it lies beside – Ross Lake – extends into Canada. The miles beside the lake, sometimes just a couple steps away, are peaceful and unique.
The loop is more than just convenient; it aesthetically circumnavigates dramatic Jack Mountain with views of its glacier and snow-flanked cliffs. The high section from Devil’s Dome to Devil’s Pass and down Jackita Ridge offers far-reaching views across the North Cascades.
Between Ross Lake and the high elevation views, hikers will face several thousand feet of steep climbing and descending on forested slopes. Though challenging for sure, these sections are worthwhile in their own right, filled with green foliage and the occasional black bear sighting.
I researched this route, hiked it, and reviewed a number of other trip reports as part of writing this guide. Here I’ve collected all the essential logistics for planning your Devil’s Dome hike, including route information, permit details, campsite locations, and other important logistics.
Pictures are from my own hike, which unfortunately was affected by wildfires in the area. The smoke took a bit of the “wow factor” away from the views, but I can assure you it was a spectacular route nonetheless.
Map and Elevation Profile
Distance: 39 miles according to the Gaia GPS map above, 41.5 according to my National Geographic topo map, and 43 according to other trail reports online.
Time: 3 – 5 days
Elevation gain: ~10,500 feet
Elevation range: ~1550 – 6900 feet
Trails: The Devil’s Dome Loop is a route linking up sections of four different trails:
- East Bank Trail along the shore of Ross Lake
- Devil’s Ridge Trail up and over Devil’s Dome
- Jackita Ridge Trail over Devil’s Pass and back down to Ruby Creek
- Ruby Creek Trail
Trailhead: From Seattle, the route lies about two hours and forty-five minutes northeast by car. There are two possible starting points, both along Highway 20 and only three miles from each other: Canyon Creek Trailhead and East Bank Trailhead. See Trailhead Parking below for more details.
Which direction to hike? Most people seem to go counterclockwise. I went clockwise though and would recommend it. The first day along the lake is a relatively gentle warmup, whereas going CCW it might be anticlimactic after the higher elevation hiking of the previous days. Another factor is permit availability for the Ross Lake campsites; more detail below.
Difficulty: This is a physically challenging hike. Though the trail is reasonably maintained and navigation isn’t difficult, the elevation profile is brutal. The climb up from Devil’s Junction to Devil’s Dome, if going clockwise, is 5000 feet in ~6 miles! Going the other direction isn’t much better. That said, fit hikers or those willing to take it slow and steady will likely manage fine. The scree trail below Devil’s Pass gives some hikers pause, but with a little care it shouldn’t pose much of a hazard.
When to hike: Parts of the trail can hold snow until fairly late in the summer. Starting after at least mid-July is recommended to avoid significant snow travel, and August is ideal.
Permits and Campsite Reservations
Devil’s Dome Loop spans two different land management areas, the Ross Lake National Recreation Area (part of North Cascades National Park) and the Pasaytan Wilderness. Here’s what you’ll need in each to hike the complete loop.
Ross Lake Campsite Reservations
The campsites along Ross Lake (Roland Creek and Devil’s Creek) are managed through the backcountry permit system of North Cascades National Park, and thus you need a reservation to camp at them. (Note that Ross Lake maps show other campsites in the area but these are boat-in only.)
To reserve a spot at Devil’s Creek or Roland Creek hiker campsites, apply for a walk-in permit in person at the Marblemount Wilderness Information Center (current hours here). Permits are competitive, especially on summer weekdays. Permits can only be issued on the day your trip starts, or the day before, but no sooner.
COVID Update: As of July 2020 the Marblemount station is closed but rangers are processing permit applications in the parking lot.
To improve your chances, arrive an hour or more before opening or even the previous day, and be sure to take a number from the board by the door when you arrive. Applications are processed in order by these numbers. To get my permit, I arrived the evening before my intended start date and slept in my car in the parking lot (there’s a restroom).
If you’re unsuccessful with your first choice of permit application, you can still salvage your trip with these options:
- Hike the other direction. I hiked clockwise and thus reserved Devil’s Creek for my first night, but if it had been unavailable I might have hiked clockwise instead and reserved it for my second night (I hiked the loop in 3 days).
- Choose the other campsite and adjust your itinerary. Perhaps day 1 becomes short with a stay at Roland Creek instead of Devil’s Creek, or you push all the way to Devil’s Creek instead of Roland.
- Take the Ross Lake Water Taxi to bypass the stretch along the lake.
- Hike a very long day. Once out of the Ross Lake National Rec Area you can camp where you like (using leave no trace principles), so strong hikers going clockwise from East Bank Trailheadcould in theory push past the boundary ~13 miles in before camping. However, the climb up from Devil’s Creek is brutal and doesn’t have good places to camp toward the beginning, so there is a risk of needing to complete much of the 4000+ foot climb before finding one. Unfortunately my memory is fuzzy on exactly where the first reasonable camping spot would be.
Pasaytan Wilderness Self-Issue Permit
This one is easy. Simply sign the trailhead register to self-issue a free backcountry permit.
There are two trailheads along Highway 20 where you can start and end this hike: East Bank and Canyon Creek. They are about 3 miles apart. Given that East Bank parking is free and also that the bridge at Canyon Creek may still be damaged (see below), it probably makes more sense to start at the East Bank Trailhead unless Canyon Creek works better for your desired daily distances.
East Bank Trailhead:
- No pass or fee required, according to this source
- Restrooms at trailhead
Canyon Creek Trailhead:
- Northwest Forest Pass required, $5 per day. Can be purchased at local vendors, from a machine at the trailhead (apparently – I don’t remember seeing this), or if you want to be safe, purchased online and printed at home.
- Restrooms at trailhead
- As of summer 2019 (and still in 2020) the bridge leading to Jackita Ridge Trail was damaged, making this trailhead only practical for Devil’s Dome loop during late summer or fall when the creek can be safely forded. See here for latest updates.
Warning: whichever trailhead you park at, do NOT leave any visible gear or luggage in your car. Breakins are unfortunately common here.
Popular Campsite Locations
Within the Ross Lake National Recreation Area, camping is only allowed at designated sites and reservations are required (see above).
In the Pasaytan Wilderness where most of the loop lies, camping is allowed anywhere within Leave No Trace guidelines (camp in previously used sites, on durable surfaces, not immediately next to water sources).
Here are a few of the most popular camp locations, and their mileage when hiking clockwise from East Bank Trailhead.
|Name||Approx. Miles from Start|
|Roland Creek (reservation required)||6|
|Devil’s Creek (reservation required)||12|
All of these sites should have water, though late in the summer this should never be relied on completely and hikers should fill up when they find the opportunity. Check here for recent reports if in doubt.
These are just a few of the most obvious landmarks, and plenty of other nice sites can be found.
For my 3-day itinerary I spent night 1 at Devil’s Creek, and night 2 in a lovely little meadow near a stream about 2 miles south of Devil’s Pass.
Bears and Bugs
This is definitely black bear territory, so be sure to use proper food storage and bear avoidance techniques. I personally saw two bears in two days along this trail! It’s not a bad idea to make noise and avoid startling them (I was hiking solo and probably too quietly).
Bear canisters aren’t required on this route but aren’t a bad idea anyway. See this guide to using bear cans to learn more. If not using one you should absolutely hang your food properly. Devil’s Creek and Roland Creek campsites do NOT have food boxes.
Mosquitoes and bees can be a real nuisance along this trail. I had trouble with them in both my campsites. Bring bug repellent!
Ross Lake Water Taxi
For those wishing to focus on the higher elevation hiking, it’s possible to take the Ross Lake Water Taxi instead of hiking a large portion of the East Bank Trail. Reservations are required and the per-boat fee makes more sense if hiking in a group.
Personally I enjoyed the East Bank Trail and the lake views quite a bit. I think it’s worth hiking this section if you have the time.
Variations and Extensions
Devil’s Dome Loop is definitely not the only good trail in the area. A number of other options exist, including extensions into longer loops of 70+ miles by heading further north to Castle Pass Trail, or further east to the PCT and beyond.
Long distance enthusiasts may be intrigued by the route’s overlap with the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail, which stretches over 1200 miles into Idaho and Montana. I met a group of thru-hikers on top of Devil’s Dome and they seemed to be enjoying the route.
Maps and Navigation
Here is a basic overview map for planning purposes, not suitable for on-trail navigation.
For on-trail navigation I recommend the National Geographic topographic map of North Cascades National Park, available here.
More Backpacking Resources
If you’re thinking about hiking Devil’s Dome Loop, you might find these helpful:
Hiking resources in your inbox?
There’s more where this came from! Sign up here for occasional emails full of inspiration and information about backpacking and hiking.
Share the Adventure
If you found this article helpful, please consider sharing so more people can benefit from it: