The Search for the Perfect Trail Bar

By Dan Bullard, Head Chef at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center

With the myriad of closures and cancellations surrounding the Covid pandemic over the past year-plus, the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center’s kitchen team has had to find many ways of adapting. Changes have included  moving from buffet-style food in the Dining Hall to grab-and-go meals, as well as dreaming up new cooking and canning projects and limited staffing schedules. (Update: the Learning Center’s Dining Hall reopened on July 1, so in-person meals are back!)

One exciting new offering that the kitchen team has created this summer is our Snack Pack. Instead of serving our usual hot lunches to Skagit Tours visitors as part of their Diablo Lake Boat Tours, this year we will be offering creative “snack” lunches assembled by hand. These mini-meals will feature fresh fruit and vegetables from local producers, as well as local meat and cheese. Instead of using our popular trail cookie (which contains gluten and dairy), we decided to create a new vegan and gluten-free trail bar.

This Spring, the kitchen team got to work experimenting with different combinations of dried fruits and seeds until we settled on one that we liked.

Diablo Lake Vegan Trail Bar Recipe

6 cups rolled oats (toasted)
2 cups sunflower seeds (toasted)
2 cups pumpkin seeds (toasted)
½ cup chia seeds
½ cup flax meal
½ cup hemp seeds
2 cups dried apple dices
2 cups dried cranberries
4 cups dates (pitted)
1 cup agave nectar
2 cups brown rice syrup
1 cup sunbutter


  • Soak the dates in warm water to soften. Process in a blender or food processor. In a large bowl, mix together all the seeds, oats, dried fruit, and smooth processed dates by hand (it helps to wear gloves for this).
  • In a saucepan, lightly heat the agave, brown rice syrup, and sunbutter and mix together until fairly smooth and incorporated.
  • Pour this over the oat mixture and mix everything by hand.
  • Pour the entire mixture into a sheet pan (18×13) lined with parchment, cover with plastic wrap and roll out flat.
  • Chill for at least an hour, then cut into bars of the desired size.

All of these ingredients are completely interchangeable. I used some agave and some brown rice syrup because that’s what we had on hand, and I wanted a diversity of flavors. We used sunbutter instead of peanut butter because our dining hall is a nut-free facility. All of the dried fruits and seeds could be substituted for different ones depending on what you have on hand.

If you join make your way up to the North Cascades for a Diablo Lake Boat Tour this summer,  we hope you’ll enjoy the hard work and love we’ve been putting into these trail bars and healthy snack packs!


“Hi! I’m Camilo. I’m part of the kitchen team at the Environmental Learning Center and I’d love you to join me as a cook here at the North Cascades Institute.

I am excited to be here for the first time, most recently having moved from Atlanta, GA to join the Institute. I have wide experience working in the Hospitality business and Culinary Arts world and have lived, studied and worked in Costa Rica, Colombia, Spain and Atlanta.

Now I’m here at the lush green Pacific Northwest, working along with Chef Dan and the wonderful staff of North Cascades Institute. It’s going to be an amazing season!”

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