The weather forecast called for a 40% chance of thunder showers, a perfect afternoon to head up into the North Cascades.
The 7-mile loop trail is perfect. The parking area is right off of the highway, at Rainy Pass which is about 4,800 ft elevation. The trail switchbacks up through thick forest, swings along side an open curved slope and climbs to the junction with a spur trail to Lake Ann. Continuing up, you break out of the trees as the path angles up, above the lake, on its way to Heather Pass. There are camping spots here, and often water. Every step from here is better than the last, the views open up: Cutthroat Peak is right across the highway, Black Peak and the spikes of Early Winter Spires and countless other peaks all adorn the horizon.
Once you reach Maple Pass you can see south, into the Glacier Peak Wilderness and beyond. Soon the trail reaches its highest point and you can see the switchbacks steeply plunging down, down to the shores of Rainy Lake.
If you start later in the day (hit the trail at 2pm or so) you’ll get some wonderful light. Just remember to bring head lamps and flashlights for the hike down in the dark!