Located in the U.S. State of Washington, some of the best hikes await in North Cascades National Park. The trails will take you to bright crystal clear lakes, tall alpine forests, and glaciers! Nature lovers such as myself will enjoy the diverse landscape and peaceful mountain sounds. There are so many incredible places to hike so I’ve narrowed it down to the best hikes in North Cascades National Park with maps for each trail in the park to help you make the most of your time.
More than 2 million acres of federally designated wilderness, make North Cascades one of the largest National Parks in the lower 48 states. I’ve put together this list of all the best hikes to help you plan your hiking trail wish list when visiting North Cascades National Park.
These are the best hikes in North Cascades National Park
North Cascades National Park Information
The cascade area is referred to as a complex. There are three National Park Service units within the complex- North Cascades National Park, Ross Lake National Recreation Area, + Lake Chelan National Recreation Area.
Other protected lands in the complex include several national forests and wilderness areas. The complex was established in 1968 when the three NPS sites merged.
If you’re looking for more information on the park-like where to stay – learn everything you need to know in my Perfect Weekend Guide to North Cascades National Park. Search for accommodations available in & around North Cascades National Park Complex.
Face masks are required on NPS-administered lands where physical distancing cannot be maintained and in all NPS buildings and facilities. Park operations vary based on local public health conditions. Before visiting, please check the park website to determine its operating status. Additional details are available at www.nps.gov/coronavirus. Please recreate responsibly.
– North Cascades National Park Service
Don’t leave home without travel insurance! Travel insurance will help protect you from any travel disasters or mishaps such as lost baggage, unexpected layover accommodations, and financial costs you have paid into your trip.
Best Hiking Trails in North Cascades National Park
Enjoy colorful mountain peaks crowned by more than 300 glaciers. Each trail has something exciting to offer. From cascading waters in quiet forest valleys to bright rainbow-colored waters.
The landscape and ecosystems of the park are very sensitive to the planet’s rapidly changing climate so please do your part to help preserve this precious land. Stay on the hiking trails, do not climb up rocks or mountains that veer from the trail. Pack in, pack out. Whatever you bring into the park, including garbage – take it with you until you find a garbage.
Easy Hiking Trails
Rainy Lake Hiking Trail
Length: Paved & Easy, 2.0 miles (3.2 km) roundtrip, elevation gain 124 ft (38 m).
Location: North Cascades — North Cascades Highway – Hwy 20
Getting There: To go hiking from Marblemount follow Hwy 20 east for 20 miles to Gorge Lake Bridge. Continue for another 0.75 mile to the trailhead, on your right. You will see parking across the street from the trailhead.
Rainy Lake hiking trail is an out & back hike that’s great for all skill levels. Peak season is from July – October. The trail leads you to a beautiful greenish-blue lake with a waterfall! Plus its dog friendly!
Moderate Hiking Trails
Thunder Knob Hiking Trail
ROSS LAKE NATIONAL RECREATION AREA
Length: Moderately Easy, 3.6 miles (5.8 km) roundtrip, elevation gain 425 ft (130 m).
Trailhead: North Cascades — Colonial Creek Campground
Getting There: To get there, take State Route 20 to milepost 130, Colonial Creek Campground is 24 miles (39 km) east of Marblemount. The trailhead is at the entrance to the campground on the north side of the highway. **Bonus if you’re camping here!
At the peak, you’ll see the ridge of Sourdough Mountain sprinkled with the snowfield of Davis Peak. There is an additional short trail that will lead you to another viewpoint, which will provide views facing Jack Mountain and down toward the narrow channel of Diablo Lake.
Thunder Knob trail has a moderate grade, accompanied by stunning views of surrounding peaks and the famous Diablo Lake.
The low elevation gain makes Thunder Knob a perfect hike for families and beginner hikers who want to see mountain scenery without the physical demands of high-country hiking. I wouldn’t suggest bringing strollers on this hike due to the uneven, sometimes rocky terrain.
Pets are allowed on most trails but must be on a leash–please respect others and protect wildlife by leashing and cleaning up after your pet. – NPS
Length: Moderate, 4.5 miles (7.2 km) roundtrip, elevation gain 1500 ft (457 m).
Location: North Cascades — North Cascades Highway – Hwy 20
Getting There: From Marblemount follow Hwy 20 east for 20 miles to Gorge Lake Bridge. Continue for another 0.75 mile to the trailhead, on your right. You will see parking across the street from the trailhead.
The hiking trail starts beside Pyramid Creek and a beautiful cascading waterfall. Catch some cool breezes, and then almost immediately you’ll get to work ascending. The hiking trail is difficult and slow, covered in large roots, loose rocks, some scrambling, and uphill most of the way. Hiking boots with ankle support are HIGHLY recommended. When under the thin canopy of lodgepole pine, you’ll hear the silence of the woods and the trees creaking as they sway in the wind.
Current Trail Conditions
For more information on current trail conditions, permits, regulations and trip planning please see the Wilderness Trip Planner.
Hard Trails in North Cascades
Blue Lake Trail
Length: Hard, 4.6 miles (7.4 km) roundtrip, elevation gain 921 ft (280.7 m).
Location: North Cascades — Stehekin, Washington
Getting There: From Burlington, drive east on Hwy 20, the trailhead will be located at mileposts 161 + 162 on the south side of the road.
Saving the best for last – Blue Lake Trail. This difficult hike was absolutely GORGEOUS and is 100% worth the 4.6 miles to get to the lake. The trail wasn’t busy as we passed very few hikers along the out-and-back trail. Blue Lake trail takes you through alpine forests, a wildflower-filled meadow, and towering mountains. You’ll end at the iridescent blue lake with crystal clear water below the glacier.
The trail offers a number of activity options and is best used from July until November. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on a leash.
My recommendation is to take lunch or some snacks with you. Then once you reach the lake, take a well-deserved break on one of the boulders lining the lake. Admire the subalpine lake feeding a creek – all powered by glaciers! As you pass the creek, you’ll see an old sunken beaver dam and water-logged branches 6-7 inches below the surface. There is also a trail along the left side bank of the lake for different vantage points. I like to stretch or do a gentle yoga flow with Yoga Download! They have thousands of diverse online classes they offer. So you can download your favorite session and find your center no matter where you are.
Not sure what to pack? Check out my National Park Packing Guide for some assistance.
What camping essentials to pack for your National Park camping road trip? These are important items for your camping checklist: Tent | Sleeping Bag | Sleeping Pad | Camping Pillow | Headlamp| + all other gear essentials for what to bring camping for beginners.