Pre - Trip Planning & Logistics
Route Resources & Information
There is not too much information out there on the internet about the Cougar Traverse. To start, we found Cristof Tuescher’s account of his Fastest Known Time and route information to be helpful and very entertaining to read. Also, the NWhikers forum/blog has a wealth of information for almost anything related to Washington hiking and I am sure you can find many folks who have spent countless hours in the areas where the route travels.
We didn’t have the book where the route was originally outlined. It may be worth purchasing Mike Woodmansee’s Trekking Washington book on it to be able to obtain as much information as possible before you start.
We took notes on trail conditions and a few other things that we found along the way if you would like to take a look at the Map & Overview of the Route page for more information. Remember, this information is from August 2020….so it could be completely inaccurate when you go as things change quickly from season to season.
Maps & Navigation
The maps that we used were just basic overview maps of the Pasayten Wilderness. We used the National Geographic Trail Illustrated Map #223 of North Cascades National Park and then the Adventure Maps version of the Methow Valley. These two maps covered the entire 242 mile loop and seemed to work fairly well for us. I suppose you could look into purchasing the USGS Quadrangles, but it seems like you may have to carry an inordinate amount of maps with that strategy. It may not be worth the weight of all those maps.
For us, we never use a GPS/ Navigation App to help us. For all of our longer trips we have always used map and compass. But, as always, you could use a GPS in combination with the two overview maps and you will most likely be in a pretty good spot.
Food & Resupplies
Resupplying. There might not be too much of that (maybe none) on the Cougar Traverse. Due to the nature of the route not crossing any roads (except for the one that you will most likely start and end on), resupplying will most likely require some outside assistance from another person or a willingness to walk some extra miles out to nearby trailheads. You may be able to stash food at these trailheads or meet someone at one of them with more rations. The call is up to you.
This brings up the conversation of food. For us, we did the Cougar Traverse in 13 days with a self supported resupply part way. You can read our Trip Report page to see what we did! We have read that the guidebook recommends 10 days (don’t quote us on that because we didn’t actually read the guidebook), but travel may have been easier (i.e. no fallen trees because of wildfires) when it was written. The choice is yours to make - carry many days of food on top of your normal backpack weight and hope to make your intended destinations - OR - try to work out a resupply somewhere along the way.
The logistics of this one thing may be why many people don’t do the Cougar Traverse in one push.
This route is a loop. So, you just need to make it to whatever trailhead you are starting at because (hopefully) you will be ending at the same trailhead. There is no public transportation in the area to any of the trailheads along the route, so I would plan on driving your own vehicle or getting a ride from a friend.
What direction should you hike this loop in? Well, there are a few options…you could hike it all in one direction, switch part way through at the overlap of the eight, or you could do two separate loops of some form. Be creative. We decided to walk as much of the southern section of the route as we could at the beginning since we knew it had the most fallen trees and wanted to do it feeling fresh. But, once again, the choice is yours.
Here are some questions to consider:
Do I have a resupply? Where is that and how do I want to incorporate that in my direction of travel?
How heavy will my pack be and what terrain do I want to travel across while my pack is heavy and while my pack is light? Especially if I am carrying ALL of my food from the beginning.
Am I planning on stashing food while I walk and coming back to pick it up later in the trip? Will I need to visit a spot twice to make this work? Maybe consider a figure eight style direction.
When to Hike
The time to hike the Cougar Traverse is most likely August to September -- in peak summer season for backpacking in the North Cascades -- before the early fall cold arrives. Although, if you wanted to you could probably push both sides of that timeframe. We did it in the first two weeks of August. Preferably, you would want all of the snow to be melted out and the trail crews to have cleared what they can on the more popular trails so you aren’t walking, jumping, crawling, and eventually hobbling over downed trees for all of the 242 miles. The bugs usually tend to be more prevalent in late summer (and they were definitely out for us), so maybe a little later in the season would be more ideal to avoid that.
Permits & Other Requirements
To park your car at the trailheads you will need a Northwest Forest Pass. You will need a permit for your time around Ross Lake because it is technically in the North Cascades National Park Service Complex. Check out the North Cascades National Park website for details on how to obtain a permit. The Pasayten Wilderness only requires overnight visitors to sign the trailhead register - if there is one.