This moderately strenuous trail offers a lot of reward. As you slowly ascend, the views get better and better. Just when you think you've seen the best view, you'll see another one that's even better. This is a "must hike" if you are in the area! You'll see magnificent jagged peaks, lakes, wildflowers in the summer, and a beautiful cascade.
The Heather/Maple Pass Loop is located in Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, though you'll touch North Cascade National Park during the highest point of the hike. The trailhead starts off of Hwy 20, at the Rainy Pass rest stop (on the west side of the highway). You'll need a recreation pass for your vehicle—you can pay at a ranger station on your way to the trail, or you can pay at the parking area where they provide a self-pay station. There are restrooms at the parking area.
You can choose to hike this loop clockwise or counterclockwise. I would suggest hiking counterclockwise since the elevation change is more gradual, and the views also gradually get better and better. Hiking clockwise might save your knees as your descent will be more gradual, and you'll get the elevation change out of the way, but it's more popular to hike counterclockwise, since the views continuously get more dramatic.
After you park (and pay), take the trail to Lake Ann. You'll head uphill through forest, and at about 1.27 miles you'll reach a trail that branches off to Lake Ann; however keep hiking on the main trail (unless you want to take the side-trip to Lake Ann, about 0.6 miles round-trip). The trail continues along the side of a mountain, and as you emerge above treeline, you'll see Lake Ann down to the left. The scenery here is beautiful, though it will get even better!
You'll climb steadily and encounter some switchbacks. At about 2.2 miles, you've reached Heather Pass. Keep hiking past a few more switchbacks, and now you'll be at the perfect viewpoint for spectacular views beyond Heather Pass. This is the perfect time to take a break and take in the beautiful panoramic views. Don't be surprised if you find yourself saying "Wow!" as you look around at the peaks and valleys all around you. As you look down into the other side of Heather Pass, you'll see several worn trails that meander through the meadow.
When you're satisfied with the views, continue on the main trail. You'll make your way to the opposite side on Lake Ann, on the very ridge you were looking at while on the other side of Lake Ann. Continue to climb, but do not forget to stop and take in the magnificent views and wildflowers during the summer. Along the way, you'll see signs that indicate you are on the border with North Cascades National Park. After you hike through Maple Pass, you'll eventually top off at almost 7000 ft. From this pass, you'll see a zig-zag of switchbacks that you'll take on your way down. You won't forget to take a break and marvel at the magnificent views here!
When you are satisfied with the views, continue on the main trail. You'll steeply descend over several switchbacks here. You'll cross another ridge (also with nice views). Continuing on your way, you'll be able to see Rainy Lake to the right. Don't forget to look back at the lake to see a beautiful cascade which feeds into the lake. The descent will lead you back into forest where you'll continue to meander. If you thought taking breaks was only necessary for the uphill incline, your knees will tell you otherwise here!
You may seem surprised when the trail suddenly spills into a paved pathway, Rainy Lake Trail #310
--take a left here, as this is the trail that will lead you to your car (about .5 miles away). If you take a right at the paved path, it will take you to Rainy Lake.
***If you choose to hike this loop counterclockwise, start your hike near the south end of the parking lot on the paved path to Rainy Lake. At about .5 miles, a trail will fork to the right, take the trail to the right (not paved) which starts the uphill ascent. The trail will eventually lead you back to the parking area.***