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 are 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.
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.
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 a large format slide program and video presentation. Several short, accessible interpretive trails and restrooms. Information desk. Bookstore. – NPS
Wilderness Informational 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. – NP
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
How to Get to North Cascades National Park
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 at the airport, and make the drive to the park from there. Or you can stay in Seattle to explore first.
Important Travel Information
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.
Don’t leave home without travel insurance! 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.
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, sweatshirts, 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 a 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 is 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!
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 changing. 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 to March. Snowfall is heavy making the winters wet and limiting access to certain roads or trails depending on current conditions.
Camping and Where to Stay in North Cascades
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 backcountry areas we found something quite disturbing. It looked like a squatter’s camper/area, and you could tell whoever lived there has been there for a while. Which would normally be fine, but what wasn’t fine… was the old broken bikes and toys, a car that was more of a shell than a vehicle, and… ick…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 campgrounds are $16 per night. Gorge Lake is $10 per night. Hozomeen campground is free. Backcountry camping (boat-in and wilderness) requires a free permit.
North Cascades Lodge at Stehekin 1.855.685.4167
Ross Lake Resort 206-386-4437
Search for other accommodations available in surrounding communities to the North Cascades National Park Complex.
Things to do in North Cascades National Park
Go on an Adventure hike and do a photo shoot in the woods with a professional.
Check out the Diablo Lake Overlook
Stop at the diablo lake overlook as you make your way around the park. This is one of the places where you can get beautiful unobstructed views for photos and enjoyment
Drive the North Cascades Scenic Highway
The highway weaves through the forests along the lake with plenty of stunning views along the way. This 140-mile byway spans the section of the Cascade Loop from Twisp in the Methow Valley to Sedro-Woolley, in the Skagit Valley. Experience the beauty and watch the environment change radically as you pass through Methow Valley Country and ascend into the North Cascades National Park, winding your way through jagged mountain peaks, rocky spires, rushing waterfalls, and alpine glaciers.
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.
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 by the Wilderness Information Center. Boat-in camping on Lake Chelan requires a federal dock permit.
Rafting & Kayaking
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 shorelines along the rapids. The other launch option is at the Harlequin Campground on Stehekin River.
The Best hiking trails in north cascades national park
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.
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.
Thunder Knob Hiking 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!
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 miles to the trailhead, on your right. You will see parking across the street from the trailhead.
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.
Ahh, this is the national park I haven’t had a chance to go to yet, but I’m definitely hoping to sometime in the next couple years to get a bunch of hiking in! (Fingers crossed!) Your photos look magical! <3
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.
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!
This is a park I want to see. Thanks for the info.
This NP is next on our list once the land border opens. Thanks for all the details! Saving for later!!
Oof…I have so much left to explore in Washington. I think I just get trapped in Seattle most of the time! Some day!
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!
Great advice, especially what to pack. I’ll leverage this for my next trip to the Seattle area.
The place looks amazing! Would love to visit one day!
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! 🙂
North Cascades National Park is high on my list! Beautiful captures and great guide! Can’t wait to visit!
This looks like a beautiful national park to explore for a few days. I would love to go on some hiking trails here.
Beautiful natural pics and post. Thanks for this posting.
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!
These places look so beautiful! This has gone right to the top of my bucket list!
Love these types of parks!!
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!
This is my kind of vacation! Your photos are amazing!
What a great trip to appreciate stunning landscapes!
This is a bucketlist destination for me! Thanks so much for all the great tips!
You have so many beautiful places to visit in America. I would love to come over and explore. It looks so peaceful.
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!
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.
Wow the lakes look beautiful!
This looks like a beautiful park! I have been wanting to go check out more national parks and the North Cascades seems so beautiful.
Woah, I just want to climb into your pictures and stay there forever, how absolutely gorgeous. It must be wonderful to be able to explore our beautiful planet.
Thee area looks really pretty. I have never been camping but I do love going hiking,
It was so beautiful! I would definitely recommend doing some hiking in that area, even if you dont camp 🙂
National Parks are always wonderful to visit. School has started back up here, so our travels are curtailed for awhile, but I will keep this on my radar.
I know how that goes! You could make a “travel adventure” jar for your kids/family to add money to throughout the school year, and at the end take an awesome trip!
US National parks look incredible! Would love to convert a van and go travelling
Wow, what a beautiful place to visit! I wish I could go there. Thanks for providing all the information about the national park.
You should go, or go to any other National Park. They’re all beautiful!
Stupendous view! I love nature and I bit, it will be a nice experience for me to visit there.
2 millions acres is a lot! I like travelling to places like this. It quickly connects you to mother nature.
That’s my favorite kind of travel. Escaping to the woods/mountains/nature to relax, heal, and reset 🙂
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.
it was magical, and VERY hard to leave 🙂
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.
There is! All our parks are treasures, glad I inspired you! 🙂
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.
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.
I loved this. I would love to be one of those people who just travels full time and visit places like this.
Thats the dream! Boyfriend and I are going to sell everything/get remote jobs and travel North America in an adventure home/vehicle!
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.
The lakes are breathtaking, and those were taken on CLOUDY days… imagine what they look like on sunny days.
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.
thank you so much!! The blue lake hike was my favorite hike.. it was so rewarding to arrive at that gorgeous lake.
This looks absolutely beautiful! My parents have been on the road in their RV for a few months now touring the national parks and I so want to do the same!
That’s my plan one day! We’re going to sell everything buy an adventure home/car set up and just travel North America to all the parks 🙂
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.
I’m so glad! That was also my first time visit, so I tried to remember/add things that I wish I would had known! 🙂
Sigh. Stop. This place is so damn beautiful. I can’t. I’m struggling right now and seeing these pictures reminds me there is still beauty in the world!
Awwww I’m so glad! Earth is so beautiful, we just have to get out and explore more 🙂
What a pretty spot! I would love to go here. That water looks gorgeous.
add it to your list of national parks!
My husband is always looking for new places to camp at. The prices are pretty good here.
Very reasonable.. and FREE in certain pull off + back country areas
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. 🙂
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 🙂
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*
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.
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.