North Cascades National Park Flat Creek Trail

Distance - one way

4.2 miles (6.76 km)

Elevation gain / loss

500' (152m) gain


Hiking and Stock



Flat Creek Trail

This trail makes an excellent day hike into a deep, wild North Cascades valley for anyone camping at Flat Creek Camp or other nearby camps in the upper Stehekin Valley. The trail affords excellent views of the sharp peaks towering above the Flat Creek valley, old growth forests, and the opportunity to see a forest recovering from a 2001 forest fire. The trail leaves the National Park after the first 2 miles and enters the Glacier Peak Wilderness of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. See the detailed trail description for more information.

Special Concerns

  • Mechanized and motorized equipment, including bicycles, are not allowed.
  • Dogs and other pets are not allowed
  • Within the National Park (the first 2 miles of the trail) camping is only allowed at Flat Creek Camp.
  • The upper portions of this trail can be brushy, so long pants are recommended.
  • Hikers may encounter parties on horseback. Talk to the lead rider in a calm voice and step off the trail on the downhill side where your party is visible to the animals.

Backcountry Camping

A backcountry permit is required for all overnight stays in North Cascades National Park. Permits are limited. Overnight camping is available at Flat Creek and Park Creek camps.


The Flat Creek Trail begins at a junction with the Upper Stehekin Valley Trail (the old Stehekin Valley Road). Hikers can reach the beginning of the trail after hiking over Cascade Pass (13.4 miles, 21.6 km, from the Cascade Pass trailhead). Hikers and stock parties can also reach the start of the trail from either High Bridge ( 8 miles / 13 km via the Old Wagon Trail and the old road) or from SR 20 via the Bridge Creek Trail and old road (15.4 miles / 25 km).

Detailed Trail Description

The trail almost immediately crosses a bridge over the Stehekin River, which roars through a narrow bedrock gorge below your feet. The bridge is a great spot to watch for the American Dipper, or Water Ouzel, which has been sighted diving into the cascading river here in search of food. On the south side of the bridge a sign post indicates the access trail to the Flat Creek Camp, which was re-built in 2009. The camp has two pleasant, forested sites within earshot of the Stehekin River.

Observant travelers will note that for miles upstream and downstream of this brief gorge the bed of the Stehekin River is wider and meanders through floodplain deposits. The exposed bedrock below the bridge is a sign of the geologic forces that converged in this area. During past ice ages, glaciers descending the Stehekin valley and the Flat Creek valley converged and exposed this bedrock outcrop. Since the glaciers receded, the Stehekin River has vigorously cut into the rock, thus allowing itself to be "captured" in a narrow channel.

The first couple miles of the trail burned in the 2001 Flat Creek Fire, and representatives of all woodpecker species native to western Washington have been seen among the standing dead trees in the old burn. Purple flower spikes of fireweed punctuate the forest floor, and views abound as the trail gently ascends the valley. Peak 6062' presents an impressive profile rising like the prow of a ship from the wide valley floor. For the first 3.2 miles (5.1 km) the trail traverses ~100 feet (30 m) above the valley bottom and provides views down to lush, wide riparian meadows punctuated with old-growth cottonwoods several feet in diameter.

After the first 2 miles (3.2 km) the proximate vegetation begins to dominate the trail views, and the trail leaves North Cascades National Park. As the trail nears the West Fork Flat Creek at 3.3 miles (5.3 km) it passes through a stand of old-growth western red cedars that provides an excellent place for a rest. The trail continues on the other side of the creek, which must be forded (may not be possible during spring snow melt when the water runs high).

Beyond the West Fork the trail wanders through a wide forested floodplain of old-growth and some of the western red cedars reach diameters of 6 feet (1.8m) or more. As the trail continues the valley becomes narrower, the trail enters the brushy riparian zone near the creek, and eventually peters out in a stand of cedars.

A map, a weather forecast, and a trail guide can only tell you so much--you never really know what's waiting for you on...
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