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.
Preset Filters – Give your photos a professional touch with just one click
Autumn Leaves Preset Collection$8.99 USD
Seaside Blue Preset Collection$8.99 USD
Valley of Fire Preset Collection$8.99 USD
Lightroom Preset Black as Night Collection$3.99 USD
Lightroom Preset Earthy Green Collection$5.99 USD
Snow White Lightroom Presets$7.99 USD
I fell in love with hiking in the North Cascades. And there are just soooo many beautiful hikes – thanks for sharing some I hadn’t heard of yet. More for the list!
This is such an amazing post I can’t wait to take all of these hikes!
So many beautiful hikes, I love that there is variety from easy to hard. This is definitely on my list to visit some time.
I love your pictures. The scenery is stunning
These hiking trials look great . Hikers would love this great guide.
What a beautiful park! I love that there are so many quick/short trails. That would be perfect for bringing all the kids on! I also really love that it’s free entrance, woot woot!
I’m an amateur (beginner!) hiker, and I think this would be a great place to explore. Looking forward to it!
These are all so pretty! I lived in Seattle for almost a decade and I can’t believe I never made it out here for a hike! Diablo Lake looks amazing, and it’s good to know that Thunder Knob Trail isn’t too strenuous!
I was so happy to read that pets are allowed in the park. I would love to trek Thunder Knob. I’m not an avid hiker so this one is perfect for me. Plus the scenery is so beautiful!
Wonderful hiking trails! We have driven through North Cascades but we had limited time and the weather was awful so we did not hike. Clearly we need to return! I would definitely want to hike to Blue Lake. It may be challenging but definitely looks worth the effort.
Blue Lake was incredible, and absolutely worth it. If you take your time and make stops along the way to take photos/rest it isn’t bad.
What a great selection of hikes in the North Cascades National Park. We sure miss our trips to the west coast. And can’t wait to get back to Washington State again. It was great to see the long list of easy hiking trails for us to start with. But good to know there are trails to move up to. And all with such a great variety of scenery.
There are so many hiking trails, even some of the moderate hikes weren’t too bad and are doable. Blue Lake is worth it!
I do so love the colors in this glacier-carved area. It is great that you provide hikes for all skill levels.
I’m glad you found it useful! The colors of nature are just beautiful
What a beautiful national park to hike around! I like that there are a lot of easy hiking trails, because sometimes I want to hike but not at an intense level. Saving this post for my hiking trip here!
I feel ya. I always look at the easy hikes first to see which ones I want to do first 😂 they are often just as beautiful, and it doesn’t tire me out so I can still throw in some moderate/difficult ones too. Blue Lake is a must see when you visit!
So many beautiful hikes! I’m kicking myself that I never did any hikes in the Northern Cascades when I lived in Portland. I’d love to do many of these hikes and like that they are all fairly easy and so scenic. I’d definitely want to do Blue Lake Trail and Thunder Knob Trail!
oh yes, both were so beautiful. We are trying to make it out to Portland to do some of the parks in that area! Any recommendations?
Wow all the himes look so amazing and interesting ..hope to visit
Washington looks like such a beautiful state! I live in AZ and love hiking here, but I’d love to visit Washington to hike through the lush green trees and get some views of those gorgeous lakes! Thanks for sharing 🙂
I’ve hiked in Sedona and that was just beautiful, it reminded me a lot of the Utah parks with the red landscape. Washington parks are just FULL of greenery and the weather is perfect for hiking. I recommend all the NP’s around Seattle!
What an amazing place to explore! I would love to discover this area! Thank you for all the great hiking recommendations!