The Pacific Northwest is any outdoorsmans dream, beautiful mountains, cascading waterfalls, pristine lakes, untouched old-growth forests that have stood for hundreds of years, and a menagerie of natural marvels are waiting for you in this evergreen paradise. North Cascades National Park was said by it’s first explorers to have scenery “greater than Switzerland’s”. The Park came under the protection and management of the National Park Service on January 1st 1969, and became a National Park the same day as the Redwoods in California. In 2016 North Cascades reported 28,646 visitors.Over 300 lakes and 300 glaciers, some of the highest mountain peaks in the lower 48, and over 200,000 acres of old-growth forest attract most adventurers during the months between June and September.
120 miles from Seattle Airport, North Cascades National Park is accessible through Washington State Route 20, also known as North Cascades HIghway. There are a few towns nearby to stock up on supplies and a small store inside the park close to the main campgrounds. On the east side of the park there is a very nice tourist-friendly town called Winthrop. On the west side is Sedro-Woolley, and to the southeast, Chelan. Anybody making this trip during the summer planning to take a ferry should call ahead and make a reservation. Not having a reservation can add hours to your driving time if the ferry is full which is common during this season.
No matter if you are a seasoned hiker looking for a backpacking excursion or a family hoping for a relaxing forest stroll, North Cascades has what you are looking for.
Thunder Knob Trail is a relatively easy hike with a very rewarding overlook onto Diablo Lake at the end. Round-trip it is a little under 4 miles with only 425 ft in elevation gain. The trailhead is at the north end of Colonial Creek Campground.
In the Stehekin area Agnes Gorge Trail is a beautiful place to look for wildlife and wildflowers, only 2.5 miles each way and about 300 ft elevation. It is accessible by the Stehekin Shuttle.
For experienced hikers North Cascades is a treasure-trove of options to pick from. There is access to the Pacific Crest Trail, and dozens of hikes to tackle with spectacular views onto the hundreds of mountains, glaciers and lakes in the park. Sourdough Mountain Trail is 5.2 miles to the lookout with almost 5000 ft in elevation gain. We camped a night at the top in the beautiful meadow of wildflowers next to the river. It is a challenging and incredible hike, that does require a Backcountry Permit.
Cascade Pass is one of the most popular destinations for hikers and branches into three separate hikes for different experience levels. The Cascade Pass Trail is 3.7 miles each way and is a moderately easy hike. Shahale Glacier Trail is 5.9 miles, but gains almost 4000 ft. It is very rewarding, but also very difficult. The third Cascade pass trail leads to Cottonwood Campground and is 9 miles. These all begin at the Cascade River Road Trailhead, about an hour off Washington Route 20, and a steep drive on a gravel road. Be sure to check the weather report on the National Parks Service website to be sure that the road is clear of snow. https://www.nps.gov/noca/index.htm
There are plenty of places to camp, however during the summer months spots can fill up very quickly. For a car friendly campground, reservations are encouraged. We stayed in Colonial Creek campground, a beautiful spot with lake access, close to the Visitor Center and many of the main hikes. Some other car camping spots are Goodell Creek Campground, Newhalem Creek Campground, Gorge Lake Campground, and Hozomeen Campground. Don’t forget to make a reservation and bring your own firewood.
Many of the hikes can take you into the wilderness for the night or in many cases,longer. Backpackers have a lot of camping options, but should stop by the Visitor’s Center to get a Backcountry Permit first. These are usually free and come with a bear-proof container that you return after your adventure. For multi-day hikes there are designated campgrounds along the way, but these campgrounds are more rugged and do not have all the amenities that the car campgrounds have so be sure you bring all your own supplies.
I have spent most of my life in the Pacific Northwest and North Cascades took my breath away. This was our first visit, but definitely will not be out last. It is really one of those rare places that stands still in time, completely untouched. Here we illustrated this beautiful North Cascades Map to record our memories in the park, if you love this place as much as we do check it out.
Our next stop is Alaska! Some of the greatest and most remote parks in the U.S. and after our time in North Cascades, we are hungry for more epic views, hikes, and adventures.