It doesn't get any cooler than North Cascades National Park. Marked by the rugged peaks of the North Cascade Range, the park is known for its many glaciers. In fact, a third of all of the glaciers in the lower 48 are located within this park! And, with glaciers come lakes and streams of crystal clear glacial melt, alpine forests, meadows of wildflowers, and more. It's a pretty remote region, but the camping is top-notch and sometimes it's nice to feel like you have a park to yourself! And, if you ever find yourself missing civilization, Seattle is only a few hours away. What more could you want?
Some tips for visiting North Cascades National Park:
-It's free to visit! A state road runs through the park, so these stunning views won't cost you a dime. Unless you wanna camp, which will set you back a few bucks. Worth it, though! -If you're visiting in the winter, make sure your car is in good condition, and check WSDOT for road closures. Snow makes some routes impassable. -You won't find any grocery stores, or any ATMs in the park. Make sure you bring everything you need, particularly if you're camping, or be prepared to do a lot of driving in and out of town. Also, you won't get much cell reception here. -Don't forget bug spray! The park's stunning lakes and streams are a breeding ground for mosquitos and other pests, so come prepared.
State Route 20, also known as the North Cascades Highway, is super functional, because it's the most efficient way to get through the park, but it's also completely breathtaking. It winds past u-pick farms, quaint logging towns, densely forested state parks, rushing rivers, and stunning lakes. It's the best way to experience the Pacific Northwest and all it has to offer!
If you're on a tight timeline, at least stop by the Washington Pass Overlook, which offers awe-inspiring views of Liberty Bell Mountain and Early Winters Spires. Plus, it's right off the highway, with a nice parking area, and the trail to the overlook is 1/4 mile, looping... there's no excuse to not stop!
Newhalem Creek Campground is a natural gem, shaded by forests of cedar, hemlock, and Douglas fir and set alongside the glacial melt Skagit River. Salmon and bald eagles can be viewed here, and there are plenty of trails accessible from the popular campground. And, it's super close to the town of Skagit, as well as a visitor center where you can get additional info on this special part of the North Cascades.
Imagine waking up, stepping out onto your porch and being instantly greeted with the best view in all of North Cascades National Park-- that's what you'll get at Ross Lake Resort, because in these picturesque floating cabins, your backyard is the lake itself, surrounded by snowcapped mountain peaks and lush evergreen forests. Literally every cabin has a stunning view. The resort is pretty remote-- it's best accessed by water taxi or ferry unless you want to take a mile-long hike with all your luggage-- so your view of the lake, mountains and forests will be virtually undisturbed. Plus, since cell service and internet is spotty up there, it's a great place to go to disconnect. You can spend your days fishing, hiking, boating (bring your own or rent one of theirs!), or simply by sitting on the dock and soaking in the breathtaking beauty, which you likely won't tire of.
One of the park's most iconic features is Diablo Lake, a reservoir known for its bright turquoise color. It's caused by glaciers, which grind stones into a powder that's then carried into the lake by glacial melt. There are some nice overlooks here, but I'd suggest renting a canoe and getting out on the water!
These grotto-like falls, located in a slot canyon, look lovely in the daytime, but they really shine at night. Colored lights are projected onto the falls, turning this natural feature into an awesome lights show! Besides, a night hike sounds much less sweaty. Plus, since it's fed by a glacier, it's pretty much consistently awesome all year round. The trail to the falls, which are right outside Newhalem, is pretty short, taking you over a suspension bridge and up some stairs.
Right off the North Cascades Highway is Cascadian Farms roadside stand, where you can stop for homemade ice cream and pints of fresh berries as snacks. They even sell flowers, chips, granola bars, and other little snack-y things! Everything they grow is organic, and the location of the stand is picture perfect.
Artist Point at Mt. Baker is a great spot for hiking and scenic views. There's a parking area at the end of the Mt. Baker Highway, and tons of trails that traverse the Mt. Baker area that start at Artist Point.
Located in the North Cascades Mountains of Washington State rises Desolation Peak. The push to the summit rewards hikers with stunning views of the North Cascades range and offers those with a penchant for literature a special treat. On top of Desolation Peak sits a fire tower where famed Beat Generation author Jack Kerouac (On the Road, The Dharma Bums) lived for a summer while serving as a fire lookout. He chronicled his experiences in the novel Desolation Angels. Upon leaving his post at Desolation Peak, Kerouac wrote a send off universally relatable to anyone who has spent a hard day in the mountains. “Farewell Desolation, thou hast seen me well… All I want is an ice cream cone.”
Timing your trip to North Cascades is crucial. The best time of year to visit and get the most of out of the park is the summer. Warmer temperatures make for pleasant hiking and camping! Spring and fall aren't bad either, with flowers and foliage, but it gets a little rainy, as you're in the Pacific Northwest. Winter can last from October until June, and when its at its snowiest, roads close and lakes freeze over. Generally, whenever you choose to visit, bring rain gear, boots, and lots of layers, even in the summer. It's good to be prepared!