Happy Panther Trail–Take a joyful catwalk in the North Cascades


Enjoy a spectacular view of Jack Mountain above Ross Lake.

Enjoy a spectacular view of Jack Mountain above Ross Lake.

Quick Facts:

Location: North Cascades Scenic Highway

Land Agency: Ross Lake National Recreation Area, National Park Service

Roundtrip: 12.4 miles

Elevation gain: 550 feet

Green Trails Maps: Green Trails, Diablo, WA- No. 48, Mount Logan, WA- No. 49

Contact: North Cascades National Park complex

Notes: Dogs must be leashed

Access: From Burlington follow SR 20 east to Marblemount. Then continue on SR 20 (North Cascades Highway) east for 29 miles to large parking area on your left for Ross Dam Trail.

Good to Know: kid-friendly, dog-friendly, historic


Trail starts from the Ross Dam Trail.

Most hikers prefer not to run into a panther on the trail at all. But if you were to encounter one of these big cats, a happy one is preferred over a hungry one! This trail in the North Cascades actually derives its name not from a content cougar but from the two creeks that flow near its east and west ends—Happy Creek and Panther Creek. And this trail, part of the Pacific Northwest Trail was once an old pack trail used by miners and prospectors long before the North Cascade Highway was built.

A perfect time to hike this trail is in the spring before the North Cascade Highway is open allowing for a much quieter and wilder experience than in the summer and fall. Start by following the Ross Dam Trail descending to Ross Lake. Soon cross Happy Creek. Let its captivating cascades put a smile on your face. At .6 mile, come to a dirt road. Left leads to Ross Dam, a good objective for those seeking a short trip. You want to head right, coming to the Happy Panther Trail just before the dock for the Ross Lake Resort.

Head right on the Happy Panther hugging the shoreline of manmade Ross Lake. Soon come to a scree slope providing a breathtaking view of Jack Mountain, one of the most prominent peaks in these parts. The trail then works its way on ledge, under ledge and through mossy carpets fringed with lichen. Undulating between fir forest-pine forest-and hemlock forest the path pulls away from water’s edge. Hard to believe that highway 20 is just a short distance away. The surrounding forest is so peaceful.


Walk the road back and take time to read roadside displays on Ross Lake and Jack Kerouac.

Cross several cascading creeks. The trail continues through a landscape shrouded in green, crossing crashing creeks on sturdy bridges from time to time. At 5.0 miles Rudy Creek makes its presence seen and heard. The last mile of trail brushes up against highway 20 and you may want to turn-around at this point. Otherwise continue on the Happy Panther to its happy ending, reaching the East Bank Trailhead 6.2 miles from your start. If the highway is closed, you may want to consider returning on it for a loop. Yeah—it’s a roadway—but pretty scenic offering some nice views over Ross Lake.

For more information including maps on this hike and 124 other nearby hikes, check out my Day Hiking North Cascades Book.0486

For more information on things to do and places to stay and eat near Ross Lake and the North Cascades, consult Northwest TripFinder.NWTFmasthead_layers15

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