North Cascades National Park

Blue Lake North Cascades National Park

North Cascades National Park

North Cascades National Park is the best for camping and hiking adventures. The park covers more than 2 million acres, of federally designated wilderness, with plenty of things to do. North Cascades is one of the largest national parks in the lower 48 states so there is A LOT of areas to explore. Add this park to your National Park road trip!

I’ve put together this ultimate adventure guide to help you plan your perfect weekend in the great wilderness of North Cascades National Park. This vacation getaway itinerary will help you make the most of your time visiting this amazing hidden gem.

Ultimate Guide to North Cascades National Park | Weekend Guide | Hiking | Camping | Adventures | Things to do

Here is your perfect weekend guide to North Cascades National Park!

Listen to cascading waters in forested valleys. Go hiking through landscapes filled with life that have adapted to moisture in the west and recurring fire in the east. The jagged mountain peaks are crowned by over 300 glaciers. This fragile landscape is especially sensitive to our Earth’s climate change. Rugged mountain peaks of the North Cascades Range, the most expansive glacial system in the contiguous United States, and numerous waterways. Go camping in forests with the highest degree of flora biodiversity of any American national park.

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North Cascades Complex | Ultimate Guide to North Cascades National Park | Weekend Guide | Hiking | Camping | Adventures | Things to do

North Cascades National Park Info

The area is referred to as a complex, and is comprised of three National Park Service units- North Cascades National Park, Ross Lake National Recreation Area, + Lake Chelan National Recreation Area. In addition, other protected lands including several national forests and wilderness areas surround the park.

NORTH CASCADES VISITOR CENTER

Location: Across the Skagit River from the North Cascades Highway (State Route 20) near milepost 120 and the town of Newhalem. Adjacent to Newhalem Creek Campground.

Exhibits: Relief map of the park and surrounding area, exhibit room featuring multimedia exhibits on the park’s natural and cultural history.

Available Facilities: Theater featuring large format slide program and video presentation. Several short, accessible interpretive trails and restrooms. Information desk. Bookstore. – NPS

Perfect Weekend Guide to North Cascades National Park | Weekend Guide | Hiking | Camping | Adventures | Things to do

WILDERNESS INFORMATION CENTER

Backcountry permits are required for overnights in the park year-round and are available at an outdoor self-issue station when the center is closed during the winter season. Information desk. Sales area with books, maps, videos, and other items related to the national park and adjacent national forests. – NPS

Park Entrance Fees | Ultimate Guide to North Cascades National Park | Weekend Guide | Hiking | Camping | Adventures | Things to do

COVID-19 Response

Following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state and local public health authorities, park operations continue to adapt to changing conditions while maintaining public access, particularly outdoor spaces. Before visiting a park, please check the park website to determine its operating status. Updates about the overall NPS response to COVID-19, including safety information, are posted on www.nps.gov/coronavirus
Please recreate responsibly.

– North Cascades National Park Service

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How to get to North Cascades National Park

How to Get There

North Cascades National Park is located about 3 hours outside of Seattle. The nearest airport to the North Cascades is Seattle Tacoma International airport (SEA). You can rent a car (Click Here to Save 10%) at the airport, and make the drive to the park from there. Or you can stay in Seattle to explore first.

Other parks outside of Seattle are Mt. Rainier, and Olympic National Park. Both are worth checking out if you have the time. Save time and money with the Seattle CityPass for exploring the hip west coast city.

Click Here to Save up to 66% off airport parking vs parking at the airport!

Don’t leave home without travel insurance! CLICK HERE for more info. 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.

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What to Wear

Depending on what season you visit the park, dress attire will vary. In July it was summer time but we still wore long pants, sweat shirts, and long sleeves. Temperatures get lower as you ascend the mountains, and get closer to the lakes. I would recommend packing light active pants and sweater or sweatshirt in addition to shorts and a tank depending on which season you visit. Hiking boots are highly recommended due to the rocky unstable mountain terrain. My favorite pair of hiking boots are the Salomon Women’s X Ultra 3 MID boot. I didn’t need to break them in as I did previous pairs of boots. They have never hurt my feet, plus they’re waterproof!

Kanapee SweatshirtCozy Up Ankle PantLayna ShortTri Thermal Threads Full Zip
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Ultimate Guide to North Cascades National Park | Weekend Guide | Hiking | Camping | Adventures | Things to do

Best Time to Visit North Cascades National Park

All year round people will be backpacking, hiking, and climbing throughout the trail system. Prime hiking season starts in April and goes until October with the seasons change. The busiest time of year is during the dry summer months from mid-June until September. The higher elevation trails can stay snow covered until July or sometimes August, so make sure you pack cold weather attire if you plan on doing high elevation hiking. The rainy/snowy season is from November – March. Snowfall is heavy making the winters wet and limiting access to certain roads or trails depending on current conditions.

 View Current Conditions

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Ultimate Guide to North Cascades National Park | Weekend Guide | Hiking | Camping | Adventures | Things to do | Where to Stay

Camping + Where to Stay

The Wilderness Information Center is the main backcountry permit office for the North Cascades Complex which includes Ross Lake and Lake Chelan National Recreation Areas. When we visited, we drove around the back country looking for the perfect site. We found a beautiful spot on Ross Lake. Unfortunately, the visitors before us left piles of feces, toilet paper, beer cans, and garbage everywhere. So we spent the first hour we were there cleaning up other people’s waste.

As we were searching for a site, deep into the forest away from the busy/popular back country areas we found something quite disturbing. It looked like a squatter’s camper/area. There was old bikes, a broken car, and… a stick in the ground with a doll’s head skewered at the top spray painted with red symbols. It was terrifying. We immediately turned around and got as far away as we could.

There are a number of options for accommodations while visiting the different areas within the complex. Camping is the most budget friendly, and is my preferred accommodation type when visiting national lands. Campsites at Colonial Creek, Goodell Creek, and Newhalen Creek campground are $16 per night. Gorge Lake is $10 per night. Hozomeen campground is free. Backcountry camping (boat-in and wilderness) requires a free permit. More Information on Camping

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North Cascades Lodge at Stehekin 1.855.685.4167
www.lodgeatstehekin.com

Ross Lake Resort 206-386-4437 
Rockport, WA 98283
www.rosslakeresort.com

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Pro Tip: Go camping at Colonial Creek campground. The campground is by the Visitor Center + the only area with cell service. However bring an extra battery charger because the sites are rustic. There are hiking trails within walking distance. Pyramid Lake trail is shorter, and the Thunder Creek trail which is longer.

Click here to search for other accommodations available in surrounding communities to the North Cascades National Park Complex.

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Ultimate Guide to North Cascades National Park | Weekend Guide | Hiking | Camping | Adventures | Things to do

Things to do in North Cascades National Park

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Diablo Lake

Diablo Lake Overlook

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Diablo Lake Ultimate Guide to North Cascades National Park | Weekend Guide | Hiking | Camping | Adventures | Things to do

Drive North Cascades Scenic Highway

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Ultimate Guide to North Cascades National Park | Weekend Guide | Hiking | Camping | Adventures | Things to do

Boating on Lake Ross

At the Ross Lake Resort you can rent motorboats, kayaks, canoes, and other equipment to explore Ross Lake. Plus they offer a water taxi service. There are also a limited amount of paddle craft rentals at the Stehekin on Lake Chelan.

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Ultimate Guide to North Cascades National Park | Weekend Guide | Hiking | Camping | Adventures | Things to do

Boat Camping

Boat-in camping is available on Ross, Diablo and Lake Chelan. See also the guide to boating on Ross Lake. Please note that boat-in camping on Ross Lake and Diablo Lake requires a backcountry permit issued from the Wilderness Information Center. Boat-in camping on Lake Chelan requires a federal dock permit.

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Ultimate Guide to North Cascades National Park | Weekend Guide | Hiking | Camping | Adventures | Things to do
Photo Credit: NPS

Rafting

The Skagit and Stehekin rivers are great for kayaking, especially in the summer months.

You can launch kayaks at the boat launch on Skagit river by Goodell Creek Campground at milepost 119. Enjoy 9 miles of river with class II to class III rapids for the ultimate adventure! Take caution before launching and have a safety plan in place. There are very few options for reaching shoreline along the rapids.

The other launch option is at the Harlequin Campground on Stehekin River.

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Blue Lake Trail | Ultimate Guide to North Cascades National Park | Weekend Guide | Hiking | Camping | Adventures | Things to do

Blue Lake Hiking Trail

Blue Lake hiking trail is extremely beautiful. This was my favorite thing to do when we spent our weekend in the park. The hike takes you through alpine forests, a wild flower filled meadow, and towering mountains. You’ll end below the glacier at the iridescent crystal clear blue lake.

Length: Moderate, 5.3 miles (8.5 km) roundtrip, elevation gain 958 ft (292 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.

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Rainy Lake Trail | Ultimate Guide to North Cascades National Park | Weekend Guide | Hiking | Camping | Adventures | Things to do

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.

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Thunder Knob Trail | Ultimate Guide to North Cascades National Park | Weekend Guide | Hiking | Camping | Adventures | Things to do

Thunder Knob Trail

Look up and see the ridge of Sourdough Mountain and the snowfield of Davis Peak. A short trail leads to another viewpoint, looking across toward Jack Mountain and down toward the narrow channel of Diablo Lake.

Length: Moderately Easy, 3.6 miles (5.8 km) roundtrip, elevation gain 425 ft (130 m).

Location: 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 trail head is at the entrance to the campground on the north side of the highway. **Bonus if you’re camping here!

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Pyramid Lake Hiking Trail

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 up hill most of the way. 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.

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.

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Not sure what to pack? Check out my National Park packing Guide!

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.

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.

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North Cascades National Park

63 thoughts on “North Cascades National Park

  1. This is amazing! So much information! I really need to get to the US to explore the National Parks. A lifelong dream of mine. The photos look divine! Love the idea of rafting too.

  2. I’ve been to Olympic National Park but I’m ashamed to say I haven’t even heard of North Cascades! It looks absolutely gorgeous though and your post was full of so much useful information! I’m excited to add it to my list!

  3. Oof…I have so much left to explore in Washington. I think I just get trapped in Seattle most of the time! Some day!

  4. Love this and it’s right in my backyard! I think you just planned one of my weekends for this summer!
    It’s been a few years since we have been up there. Love your photos too!

  5. Wow! North Cascade National Park looks so beautiful and there is so much to do. I definitely need to make my way there at some point. Great guide! 🙂

  6. Wow! North Cascades national park is GORGEOUS! The water is just such a beautiful color. We’ve not been there but I am definitely putting this on our list of places to take our kids. Loved your photos and thanks for sharing!

  7. Looks so beautiful! I have had friends do some of these hikes and loved them! I’ll have to look into it when I am in Washington!

  8. You have so many beautiful places to visit in America. I would love to come over and explore. It looks so peaceful.

  9. This is one of the things I envy about the US — you have a lot of natural parks like this. We don’t have a lot of protected areas here and it’s so sad. 🙁 This is paradise!

    1. That is sad!! Where are you from? You should look into signing a petition or reach out to your community/government to start protecting your lands. Earth is our most precious resource…we have to protect her as much as we can from overpopulation/pollution/ and stop destroying her for our own selfish needs.

      1. US National parks look incredible! Would love to convert a van and go travelling

  10. Oh wow! I’m not sure I could ever leave that place. it is absolutely one of the most gorgeous place I’ve ever seen.

  11. 2 millions acres is a lot! I like travelling to places like this. It quickly connects you to mother nature.

  12. I love exploring our National Parks. There is so much flora, fauna and wildlife to encounter. I’ve never been to North Cascades but I’m definitely adding it to my must see list.

      1. I love national parks. North Cascades is one I haven’t been to yet, and which I haven’t heard about that much. Is on my must visit list of national parks.

  13. Just seeing this post reminds me of how much I miss hiking. I haven’t been in a few months but I’m sure we will be going in a few weeks. North Cascades National Park is so picturesque it will be so difficult to go home to four walls.

  14. I would love to visit the North Cascades National Park and spend at least a few nights there, camping. The scenery is so beautiful and I love to clear the water of the lakes is.

  15. I can’t stop imagning myself camping over at North Cascades National Park. The Blue Lake hiking trail is stunning and your pictures are just so beautiful.

  16. So many things to do there and it is nice to have such post to learn more about the place. the national park is so vast that such post is helpful for first time visitors.

  17. I love North Cascades NP! We’ve been there a few times, and enjoyed it every time. So many trails, so much wilderness! I’m bookmarking your post, you’ve shown me some trails we haven’t tried yet. Thanks for this post. 🙂

    1. Thank you!! I’m so happy I could help. The North Cascades area is HUGE! I couldn’t believe how many different trails and areas there is to explore! Thanks for commenting 🙂

      1. Omgosh this post is so informative & helpful!! My husband and I are huge fans of National Parks! We’ve never been to the Cascades together! I’m going to bookmark this to refer to when we do! Thank you! 💕 Xx, Morgs*

  18. I’m a huge fan of National Parks and I’m surprised I hadn’t heard of North Cascades National Park. After reading your post and seeing your gorgeous photos, I’m convinced I need to make a visit! Thank you for sharing your experiences and inspiring me to make my way to this park sometime soon.

    1. That is such a compliment, thank you truly. This park won’t disappoint you, and its one of the least visited parks in the country! its crazy… the least visited are often the most beautiful.

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