+5 5 votes

Cathedral Lakes Loop

Cathedral Lakes Loop

Any way you cut it, the trip into Cathedral Lakes and Cathedral Peak is going to be a 40-plus-mile roundtrip jaunt, but the pilgrimage into the Pasayten Wilderness and to this peak sitting near the American-Canadian boundary is a prize worth the endeavor. The initial burnt forest approach is long and underwhelming. As you move into the alpine zone, however, the nature of the country flip flops. Suddenly the landscape is expansive, made for travel, and perfect for setting the spirit wandering -- to nearby peaks and to faraway corners of the mind. Try to move through the low country quickly and reserve extra time to establish a camp up high from where you can day trip in different directions. Once you reach this hallowed area you won’t want to come back down.

Backpacking, horsepacking, and peak bagging. Rock climbers also have lots of technical rock to climb on Cathedral Peak, The Monk (the flying buttress leaning against Cathedral Peak’s east flank), and Amphitheater Mountain confining Cathedral Lake to the south. Motorized vehicles and bicycles are forbidden.

Length. This entry gives the most details about accessing the area from the Thirtymile Trailhead located at the end of the West Chewuch Road (29 miles from Winthrop) and describes a 42-mile loop. You can also hike to Cathedral Pass via the Andrews Creek Trailhead and Andrews Creek Trail (42-miles roundtrip) or via the Boundary Trail from the Iron Gate Trailhead (49 miles roundtrip to Cathedral Pass).

Elevation Gain. The routes mentioned above, gain elevation gradually and involve 4,200 to 4,600 vertical feet of climbing.

Fitness: 2 (intermediate) if you give yourself a few days.

Skill: 2 (intermediate). The trails are in good shape, well graded, and fairly well marked.


  • From Winthrop, drive 0.3 miles west of downtown Winthrop along Highway 20 and turn north onto the West Chewuch Road. Stay on this road as it turns into Forest Road 51 and, eventually Road 5160. The road is paved for 23.5 miles to the Andrews Creek Trailhead (another way to hike into the same area). The final 5.5 miles of the road leading to the Thirtymile Trailhead is unpaved but well maintained and easily driven with a passenger car. Both these trailheads have unloading docks for horses, outhouses, and a picnic table. Northwest Forest Passes are also required for both trailheads.
  • From Loomis, follow the Loomis-Oroville Highway 2.2 miles north. Turn left on Toats Coulee Road (Road 39) and drive 13.6 miles (mainly uphill). Turn right onto Road 3900-500 and follow this rough, dirt road 5.7 miles to its end at the Iron Gate Trailhead (high-clearance vehicles are recommended on this road). The trailhead has an unloading dock for horses, outhouses, picnic tables and a few camping sites (bring your own drinking water for camping). There is no charge for camping but a Northwest Forest Pass is required to park at the trailhead.

Trip Instruction

  • From the Thirtymile Trailhead (waypoint c1). Follow the Chewuch Trail #510 up the Chewuch River for 8.25 miles (you’ll pass a few intersecting trails), cross Tungsten Creek (c2, easy in late summer and autumn) and in another few hundred yards reach the intersection of the Chewuch Trail and Tungsten Creek Trail (c3). You’ll be returning to this junction via the Tungsten Creek Trail but, for now, stay left and keep following the Chewuch Trail uphill. In another 9.5 miles, reach the trail intersection (c4) with a short spur trail branching left and leading down to Remmel Lake (a good place to camp). To reach Upper Cathedral Lake, stay right and travel on another mile where you’ll intersect the Boundary Trail (c5). Go right and enjoy another very beautiful and pleasant two miles of travel to reach Upper Cathedral Lakes (c6). Now about a mile of spectacular trail leads to Cathedral Pass (c7). From this pass follow the trail east right under the cliffs of Cathedral Peak and then contour to Apex Pass (c8) and eventually to the trail junction (c9) at an old tungsten mine (5 miles from the pass). Turn right here and follow the trail 6 miles down Tungsten Creek until it re-intersects the Chewuch Trail (c3) (the intersection mentioned earlier). Turn left and follow the Chewuch Trail 8.5 miles back to the car. Note: The mileage figures given above won’t exactly match the mileage figures on the signs you’ll pass, but we've walked the route with a GPS and believe the stated mileages are more accurate.
  • From the Iron Gate Trailhead. Follow the Boundary Trail 6.25 miles to Horseshoe Basin. Stay on the Boundary Trail as it contours gorgeous country near the 7,000-foot level for 13.25 miles until it reaches a trail intersection at an old tungsten mine. Stay right here and contour another 5 miles through Apex Pass and eventually to Cathedral Pass. A final 0.75 mile descent leads you down to Upper Cathedral Lake. This route is a few miles longer than the one described above, but it’s actually way prettier.This route gets you up into the high-country much faster and then contours through the alpine zone mile after mile. There are also all manner of easy peaks to hike up as you go. Horseshoe Mountain, Arnold Peak, Rock Mountain, Haig Peak, Teapot Dome, Bauerman Ridge, Wolframite Mountain, Apex Mountain, and Cathedral Peak are all easily climbed via non-technical routes from the Boundary Trail.

Maps. Map 1 (first 7.5 to miles). Map 2 (next 11 miles). Map 3 (highest part of route).                                          

GPS Info. Download this GPX file with the waypoints noted on our map.

Land Ownership. Okanogan National Forest

Fees/Permits.  A Northwest Forest Pass is needed to park at the trailhead. You will also be traveling in the Pasayten Wilderness and must carry a free, self-issued wilderness permit. Fill this out at the kiosk at the very start of the trail.  

Date. First posted June 30, 2015

Leave It Better than You Found It. This should be every user’s goal. Do no damage and pick up trash left by others.


Disclaimer. Treat this information as recommendations, not gospel. Conditions change and those contributing these reports are volunteers--they may make mistakes or not know all the issues affecting a route. You are responsible for yourself, your actions, and your safety. If you won’t accept that responsibility, you are prohibited from using our information.