Pre - Trip Planning & Logistics
Route Resources & Information
We couldn't find a lot of information out there about the Cougar Traverse. To start, we found Cristof Tuescher’s account of his Fastest Known Time and route information to be helpful and also very entertaining to read. The NWhikers forum/blog has a wealth of information for almost anything related to Washington hiking. Here you could find information from 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 get 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 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. We did not look into purchasing the USGS Quadrangles. That strategy would have given much more detail but would require carrying an inordinate amount of maps, so we decided against it.
We do not use a GPS or Navigation Apps for personal hiking. For all of our trips we prefer to use map and compass. But of course this is personal preference. For the Cougar Traverse you could use a GPS in combination with the two overview maps and be well covered.
There aren't many great options to resupply on the Cougar Traverse. The route doesn't cross any roads, except for the one you start and end on, so resupplying will likely require some outside help. You may be able to stash food at a trailhead, or meet up with someone to resupply. That call is up to you.
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 read somewhere that the guidebook recommends 10 days to do the traverse, but don’t quote us on that since we didn’t actually have the guidebook. Travel may have been easier (i.e. no fallen trees because of wildfires) when the book was written. The choice is yours -- carry lots of food and hope to make your intended miles -- or try to work out a resupply somewhere along the way.
Perhaps these logistical hangups are 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 one trailhead to start and finish. There is no public transportation in the area to any of the trailheads along the route, so we suggest driving your own vehicle or planning a ride with someone.
What direction should you hike this loop? 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 that feeling fresh.
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 best time for the Cougar Traverse is most likely August to September, in peak summer season for backpacking in the North Cascades. Although, if you wanted you could probably push either side of that timeframe. The ideal window to hike (for us) is when the snow has melted and trail crews have cleared what they can on the more popular trails (THANK YOU to trail crews). This will minimize your time spent walking, jumping, crawling (and eventually hobbling) over downed trees throughout the 242 miles. We hiked this route in the first two weeks of August. The bugs 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. Who knows.
Permits & Other Requirements
To park your car at any of the possible trailheads you will need a Northwest Forest Pass. You'll also need a permit for your time around Ross Lake because its 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.