North Cascades National Park Rainbow Creek Trail

Distance - one way

Stehekin Valley Road to McAlester Pass: 9.7 miles (15.6 km)

Elevation gain

4800 ft (1463 m) gain


Hiker and stock


Moderately strenuous

Rainbow Creek Trail

Although day hikers may explore the lower reaches of this trail, with it's excellent views of Lake Chelan, you will need more time and energy to reach the broad meadows of McAlester Pass or access the side trails such as Rainbow Lake. Fishing is popular at McAlester Lake. For hikers and stock, this is a scenic route between Stehekin and State Route 20, and it is part of the popular Rainbow-McAlester loop backpack.

Special Concerns

  • The lower section of this trail, near the junction with Rainbow Loop, burned in the 2010 Rainbow Bridge Fire. The camp by the same name was also burned. Snags and falling trees are common in burned areas.
  • The bridge over Rainbow Creek near Rainbow Ford Camp is removed seasonally--do not cross if water levels are high.
  • Hunting is allowed in season in the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area. Washington State hunting and fishing regulations apply. Hunting and transport of game are not allowed in North Cascades National Park.
  • Pets are allowed only on a leash within the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area (pets cannot enter via State Route 20, Bridge Creek Trail).

Backcountry Camping

A backcountry permit is required for all overnight stays. Permits are limited. There are several camps spaced along the Rainbow Creek Trail: tiny Rainbow Ford, Bench Creek, and Bowan. McAlester Pass offers more camping options for both hikers and stock. Campfires are not allowed at High Camp--please protect this meadow environment by bringing a camp stove.


From Stehekin, take the shuttle bus or walk to the lower Rainbow Loop Trailhead, at mile 2.6 on the Stehekin Valley Road. To access the Rainbow Creek Trail from the north, drive State Route 20 to mile 159, Bridge Creek Trailhead. A Northwest Forest Pass or federal recreation access pass is required at this USFS trailhead, and is available at any ranger station. Then follow the McAlester Lake Trail description.

Detailed Trail Description

The total distance hiking between SR 20 and the Stehekin Valley Road, via McAlester Pass, is 18.5 miles (30 km), and makes a nice one or two night trip.

To make a loop trip, follow the Bridge Creek (PCT), McAlester Lake, Rainbow Creek, and Rainbow Lake trails. The loop works equally well starting from SR 20 or Stehekin. Total mileage for the loop from Stehekin is 35 miles (57 km). Total mileage for this route from SR 20 is 32 miles (51 km). Typical hiking time is 4 days.

Designed for wintertime activities ranging from backcountry skiing to mountaineering and ice climbing, the Simul Alpine...
Price subject to change | Available through
Featured Park
Rising above a scene rich with extraordinary wildlife, pristine lakes, and alpine terrain, the Teton Range stands monument to the people who fought to protect it. These are mountains of the imagination. Mountains that led to the creation of Grand Teton National Park where you can explore over two hundred miles of trails, float the Snake River or enjoy the serenity of this remarkable place.
Featured Wildlife
The pika is a close relative of the rabbits and hares, with two upper incisors on each side of the jaw, one behind the other. Being rock-gray in color, pikas are seldom seen until their shrill, metallic call reveals their presence.