Posted: April 18, 2022 by Jason Mace
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It’s time for our “April 2022 – Park of the Month”! Each month, Discover Our Parks will choose a “Park of the Month” to showcase on our site and why we choose to feature it. We will utilize comments, time of the year and other factors when making our decisions. We might even ask you, our adventurers, which park you think should be next.
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Without further delay… what park gets April 2022’s “Park of the Month”???
North Cascades National Park
The establishment of the Park Complex has many chapters of its own. From its inception, North Cascades National Park Service Complex was envisioned primarily as a wilderness park, and in 1988 the Washington Park Wilderness Act designated 634,614 acres, or 93%, as the Stephen Mather Wilderness Area. The Complex is the core of over 2 million acres of federally designated wilderness, one of the largest such areas in the lower 48 states.1
The U.S. Congress set aside this expansive wilderness area as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System, in the words of the 1964 Wilderness Act, for “the public purposes of recreational, scenic, scientific, educational, conservation, and historical use.” The North Cascades National Park Service Complex includes 684,237 federally protected acres near the crest of the Cascade Mountains from the Canadian border south to Lake Chelan.1
The Complex is the core of a greater ecosystem which includes 3 million acres of protected public land spanning 2 nations and a range of cultures, communities and ecological life-zones. This expansive landscape provides a rare opportunity in North America for biodiversity to reach its full potential with minimal human impacts. An almost intact system of this size benefits an abundance of migratory animals as well as providing habitat to threatened and endangered species.1
The U.S. Congress established North Cascades National Park Service Complex in 1968 to preserve “certain majestic mountain scenery, snowfields, glaciers, alpine meadows, lakes and other unique glaciated features” … “for the benefit, use and inspiration of present and future generations.” The beauty of these landscapes has inspired poets, writers and artists for centuries, including indigenous people, 1950’s beat poets and writers Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder and Philip Whalen, who served here as fire lookouts, and others.1
Why “April 2022 – Park of the Month”?
When most people think about visiting the Pacific Northwest and the National Parks there, North Cascades isn’t always the first place you might think of. Most plan or think of Mount Rainier National Park or Olympic National Park, but for true wilderness in the Cascade Mountains, North Cascades National Park is the perfect spot.
The park offers adventure, relaxation and recreation of all types. This park will help you realize why the Cascades are nicknamed the American Alps. From boating, camping, biking, hiking and more, North Cascades National Park is a perfect spot to get away and enjoy the beauty of this fantastic wilderness.
Below you will find our suggestions and tips for visiting this amazing park, including:
- Best Scenic Drives
- Boating & Floating
- Best Hikes (in our opinion)
- Climbing & Mountaineering
- Camping & Lodging Options
Some of the below locations or activities are currently not available due to COVID-19 restrictions. Visit our North Cascades National Park page for more information on the status of the park in the COVID-19 Information bar.
The Scenic Drives
Driving through North Cascade National Park will open your eyes to the beauty and wilderness of the Cascades. The main scenic drive through through the park is the North Cascades Highway.
Drive approximately 30 miles across the park on the North Cascades Highway (State Route 20), and experience the old growth forests, cascading waterfalls, and mountain scenery of North Cascades. Allow at least an hour to drive this beautiful, winding road, and add more time for stops along the way.2
Thought the route is only 30 miles inside the park, it is really about 140 miles. Starting from Burlington/Sedro-Woolley, in the Skagit Valley, you drive through the small towns and wilderness leading up to the park. Then you enter North Cascades National Park for amazing views and overlooks, like Ross and Diablo Dam Overlooks, which are actually in Ross Lake National Recreation Area. Once out of the park, you drive through a few small mountain towns with amazing skiing in the winter months until you come upon Winthrop, a small western themed downtown, like the old spaghetti westerns. Finally you end the drive through Methow Valley Country and end in Twisp.
As the North Cascades Scenic Byway loops between massive peaks and along lakes colored turquoise by glacial silt, you’ll see why these mountains are called “the American Alps.” Many argue that the North Cascades Highway is the most scenic in Washington State.3
Of all the passes that traverse the Cascades, this is the most mountainous, with high hairpin turns and jaw-dropping vistas. It’s so rugged, it closes during winter months. And it’s so stunning that travelers line up before sunrise on the day it reopens in the spring in order to be among the first across.3
Here you’ll find 1920s-era company towns, organic farms selling their produce and, at journey’s end, one of Washington’s most beautiful outdoor recreation destinations—the Methow Valley. Load up your mountain bike, grab your hiking boots, bring your appetite and enjoy.3
Learn more about the stops, including the ones outside the park, from Scenic Washington here!
Find more information about the best stops in North Cascades National Park here.
For more detailed information on the best stops and things to see, we totally recommend grabbing a copy of
The North Cascades Highway: A Roadside Guide Paperback:
Boating & Floating
North Cascades National Park is an amazing place for boating and floating! With crystal clear waters from melting glaciers and snow run-off, you can enjoy kayaking, canoeing, and motor boating within the park.
Kayaking, canoeing, and motor boating are popular activities on Gorge, Diablo, and Ross lakes, and Lake Chelan. Ramps and launches are located at Gorge Lake, Diablo Lake, the north end of Ross Lake at Hozomeen, and Lake Chelan.4
With multiple lakes, the park offers many areas to enjoy the water. But remember safety! Water temperatures in the park complex seldom reach above 50°F (10°C). Accidental cold-water immersion can be fatal within minutes. Hand powered watercraft overturn frequently and it can be extremely difficult to get to shore or out of the water.4
Another option in our April 2022 – Park of the Month is Rafting! The Skagit and Stehekin rivers attract many whitewater enthusiasts for rafting and kayaking, especially during the summer months.4
The Skagit River is accessible via a boat launch near Goodell Creek Campground at mile post 119 on State Route 20 and the Copper Creek Take-Out near mile post 112. The approximately 9 miles of river between the two access points features class II to class III rapids with few options for taking out and portaging around the whitewater. The Stehekin River is accessible via a boat launch at the Harlequin Campground.4
The park has rules and regulations set in place for both rafting and boating on any lakes. Be sure to read them all and understand any risks. The park does not require any specific permits for boating, rafting, canoeing or kayaking, but it does require a backcountry permit if you are planning on boat-in camping. Learn more about the regulations, approved outfitters and more by visiting the NPS page about it here.
Backcountry permits may be required in other areas as well. Learn more about backcountry permits here.
North Cascades National Park, our April 2022 – Park of the Month, has some amazing hikes! From adventurous multi-day hikes to awesome short hikes, this park has so many hiking options with breath-taking scenery to enjoy. Below are some suggested hikes (5 of them!) and where to find more information about other hikes within this awesome park!
The North Cascades National Park Service Complex preserves some of the finest mountain country in North America. From accessible trails and short, scenic strolls to steep mountain hikes, there is a trail here for everyone. Enjoy the solitude, peace, and challenge that hiking in this beautiful park offers. Remember to walk lightly, so that many generations more may continue to discover this place.5
Hikers, backpackers, and climbers travel the trails of the park complex year round; however, the more common hiking season stretches from April through October. The driest and most popular time to visit is during the summer months of mid-June through September. Higher elevation trails often remain snow-covered well into July and sometimes August. Precipitation and snowfall are greatest from November through March. The park’s winters are wet, and snowfall is heavy. Access is often limited during these winter months by impassable or closed roads.5
Our first suggested hike is several hikes on the Newhalem Area Trails. The best of these is “Trail of the Cedars” Nature Walk. This easy 0.3 mile, under an hour, gravel loop meanders along the banks of the Skagit River through stands of old growth forest. Begins at suspension bridge in Newhalem or from the Newhalem Creek Powerhouse at the end of the service road beyond Loop C in Newhalem Creek Campground.6
For more information about “Trail of the Cedars” Nature Walk and other Newhalem Area Trails, check out the NPS page here.
Our second suggested hike is the Thunder Creek Trail. It begins in ancient forests and takes the hiker on a sojourn into the heart of the park, following the cloudy-blue, glacier-fed creek from its lower forested reaches to its origins high on the heathered slopes of Park Creek Pass.7
Day hikers can take an easy stroll 2 miles, a half day hike, to the first bridge, or do a longer, more strenuous hike up to Fourth of July Pass or farther along the main trail. Backpackers enjoy the lower reaches of the Thunder Creek Trail as a shoulder-season getaway, or mid-season as a multi-day trip up and over the spectacular Park Creek Pass into the Stehekin Valley.7
For more information about this hike, check out the NPS page here.
Next on our hiking list is the start of the full day hikes. Most of the following suggestions require prior planning to ensure a safe trip, but these hikes are truly worth it!
The first full day hike suggestion is Maple Pass Loop (a favorite of ours). The trail, a 7-mile loop, is located technically in Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, but it does enter into North Cascades National Park as you climb into the park.
This trail offers a challenging loop beginning in a heavily timbered area. The first mile is an easy hike and soon passes through a large avalanche meadow and more timber to junction with the side trail to Lake Ann. At Heather Pass there is a faint trail leading off towards Lewis lake and a possible side trip for experienced hiker and route finder.8
Wildflowers are beautiful in July and August and the fall colors created by golden alpine larch and red huckleberries bushes are spectacular. Snowmelt sometimes lingers into mid July, making it difficult to follow trail. The hike beyond to Heather Pass and Maple Pass is steep, the trail is above tree line in high alpine zone. Maple Pass offers sensational views of surrounding mountain peaks. From the alpine meadows along the ridge top one can sit and enjoy the scenery and a view of both Lake Ann and Rainy Lake.8
The trail then descends along a ridge line between Lake Ann and Rainy Lake dropping quickly and steeply into timber (this trail beyond the summit is steep and challenging), the trail then levels out when it junctions with the Rainy Lake trial. Continue for about 0.25 mile on the paved Rainy Lake trail to return to the trailhead.8
For more information about this hike, check out this US Forest Service page here.
Our next suggestion is Cascade Pass Trail. This 7.4 mile in and back hike is a great day hike with spectacular views of peaks and glaciers. The trail climbs steadily to the pass, with views of peaks such as Eldorado, Johannesburg, Magic, Mixup and McGregor. This trail provides the shortest and easiest access in the park to the alpine environment. As a result, Cascade Pass is the most popular day hike in the national park and can be quite busy on summer weekends.9
For an extended day hike, continue on to the Sahale Arm Trail. This trail ascends steeply through subalpine meadows and talus fields to the base of the Sahale Glacier. Expansive view of numerous peaks, including Mt. Rainier on a clear day, await. Stehekin can be accessed via the Cascade Pass Trail. It is a 23 mile hike from the Cascade Pass parking lot to High Bridge, where shuttle service is available to Stehekin.9
For more information about this hike, check out the NPS page here.
Our last suggestion is the Desolation Peak Trail. This 9.6 mile, full day hike is a steep hike to open meadows, grand vistas and a historic fire lookout. It is a popular day hike for boaters staying on Ross Lake, or a scenic but strenuous side trip for backpackers along the East Bank Trail. Many hikers come to see the site of poet and writer Jack Kerouac’s mountainous sojurn. This is a steep hike that is often hot and dry; know your limits and bring plenty of water.10
For more information about this hike, check out the NPS page here.
For more amazing hiking trails, we totally recommend grabbing a copy of
Hiking the North Cascades: A Guide to More Than 100 Great Hiking Adventures, 3rd Edition (Regional Hiking Series):
Be sure to check out the NPS Trail Guide for North Cascades National Park here for even more amazing hikes!
Climbing & Mountaineering
Our April 2022 – Park of the Month has some great climbing opportunities for fellow adventurous types!
North Cascades National Park is renowned for its varied and rugged climbing terrain. Here you will find climbing routes of high quality and aesthetic appeal, guarded by remote, rugged access and weather volatility, resulting in mountaineering experiences of mental and physical challenge, solitude, and fulfillment.11
The numerous peaks and over 300 glaciers present a variety of challenges and rewards: classic mixed mountaineering routes, intricate glacier travel, technical rock climbing and scrambling, all within a premier wilderness setting. Approach routes are often arduous, requiring strenuous cross-country travel, sometimes for days or through thick slide alder, rocky avalanche shoots and scree slopes, icy creeks or rivers, steep snow, or traversing slopes in steep, slippery terrain.11
The physical and mental challenge can push climbers to their limits, and changes in the weather can foil a summit bid. But when you finally stand on the top of a summit in the North Cascades, looking out over a jagged, glaciated mountain range that finds its finest and highest expression here in the park, as you tower over the alpine meadows and deep valleys, you will understand why these peaks draw climbers and wilderness travelers again and again, and you will begin to plot your next climb in these mountains.11
If you are planning to do climbing or mountaineering, be sure to read all the rules and regulations set forth within the park for your safety and others. A backcountry permit is required for climbing and mountaineering.
If you plan to go climbing, we recommend grabbing a copy of
Classic Cascade Climbs: Select Routes in Washington State (Mountaineers Books):
For more information about planning a climbing trip within North Cascades National Park, visit this park Planning a Climb page here.
For more information about climbing & mountaineering in general within North Cascades National Park, visit the park climbing page here.
Camping & Lodging
Our April 2022 – Park of the Month pick has numerous options for staying overnight within the park. From a lodge, cabins, campgrounds and backcountry trips, this park has so many different options to stay in this beautiful wilderness!
Today, the North Cascades Lodge at Stehekin offers a way through to a stress-free place of natural splendor, just like it has for a great many years. Connected to the outside world only by foot, boat or plane, life is a little slower and more beautiful at the Lodge at Stehekin, which is peacefully nestled along the forested shore of Lake Chelan, the third deepest lake in America.12
When you land at the North Cascades Lodge at Stehekin, you know you’ve arrived in nature’s paradise. Their 27-room rustic lodge on the shore of the 50-mile-long Lake Chelan offers quiet and comfortable accommodations with rooms varying in size and layouts. Rooms with kitchens are also available. For those needing room to spread out, their fully furnished Lake House sleeps up to 12 and features a private deck with a barbecue grill and hot tub.13
Learn more about North Cascades Lodge at Stehekin here.
If you’re looking for cabins, your best bet is Ross Lake Resort. In existence since 1952, Ross Lake Resort is nestled in the heart of the North Cascade Mountains and is comprised of fifteen floating cabins and a marina. As visitors to the National Park increase every year, so does the popularity of our floating mountain oasis.14
With only 15 cabins and a rental season of Mid-June through October, we do book up quickly. But don’t worry, there are a few ways you can visit the resort in the future. To get a cabin reservation you must join the waitlist the year you are looking to stay.14
Learn more about Ross Lake Resort here.
Now to the campgrounds! North Cascades National Park has plenty of options. Here are two suggestions for you to consider.
The first of the two campgrounds is Goodell Creek Campground. Goodell Creek Campground is situated in lush, old growth forest on the banks of the Skagit River. Campsites are suitable for tents and small RVs. First-come, first-served during the winter; summer reservations can be made up to 6 months in advance. Nearby recreational opportunities include a raft/kayak launch on the Skagit River and fishing on the Skagit and its tributaries.17
The campground is forested with western redcedar, western hemlock, Douglas-fir, wild red huckleberries, and other native shrubs. Nearby is Newhalem Creek and the Skagit River. The river is the largest river that flows into the Puget Sound area and provides critical habitat for all species of Pacific salmon. The river drains cold, clean glacial melt-water from the mountains of British Columbia and northern Washington. Bald eagles return to its shores every winter.18
Visitors can walk to several of Newhalem’s hiking trails from the connecting trail to the Newhalem Campground, such as the River Loop Trail, Trail of the Cedars and Rock Shelter Trail. The creek and river are popular for fishing, boating access is available from the raft launch at the campground. Black bears inhabit the area, so caution must be taken while hiking, picnicking or camping.18
For more information on Goodell Creek Campground, check out the Discover Our Parks page about it here and the NPS page here.
Our second campground suggestion, and our favorite, is Newhalem Campground. The campground is a comfortable facility close to the town of Newhalem, Washington, and the Skagit River. It is surrounded by forests that that can be explored through the area’s many hiking trails. The campground has individual campsites as well as two group sites. It is private and secluded, yet the town, a visitor center and other amenities are only a short walk away.15
The campground is forested with western redcedar, western hemlock, Douglas-fir, wild red huckleberries, and other native shrubs. Nearby is Newhalem Creek and the Skagit River. The river is the largest river that flows into the Puget Sound area and provides critical habitat for all species of Pacific salmon; there is a salmon-viewing station located near the group campsites. The river drains cold, clean glacial melt-water from the mountains of British Columbia and northern Washington. Bald eagles return to its shores every winter.16
Visitors can walk to several of Newhalem’s hiking trails from the facility, such as the River Loop Trail, Trail of the Cedars and Rock Shelter Trail. The creek and river are popular for fishing, though there is no boating access from the campground. Both grizzly and black bears inhabit the area, so caution must be taken while hiking, picnicking or camping.16
Campers who wish to learn more about the area can attend interpretive programs, or participate in a variety of tours, which can be booked at the Skagit Information Center in town. Visitors can walk to town of Newhalem via a mile-long trail along the river. Those staying in the group campsites are also a half-mile away from the North Cascades Visitor Center.16
For more information on Newhalem Campground, check out the Discover Our Parks page about it here and the NPS page here.
If you are looking for an adventure filled, multi day trip, boat-in camping or backpacking might be your best option to explore the park!
North Cascades National Park has an extensive backcountry wilderness. Whether you are looking to hike it or traverse the 3 lakes that provide boat-in campgrounds, this park is perfect for those looking to get away from the crowds and truly take an adventure.
If you are looking for boat-in camping, North Cascades National Park has 3 lake options for you. Seclusion, scenery, and still water. Twenty-five boat-in camps dot the backcountry shorelines of North Cascades National Park Complex.19
On Lake Chelan, explore the shoreline of a water pathway used by human travelers for thousands of years. In the Skagit Valley along State Route 20, visit the hidden coves, islands, and bays of Diablo and and Ross Lakes, both reservoirs created by the dams on the Skagit Hydroelectric Project. Whether you spend a night or a week, boat-in camping within the park complex is a unique experience.19
For more information on Boat-In Camping, check out the NPS page here.
Backpacking in our April 2022 – Park of the Month can be a very rewarding trip. Backpacking options in the park run the gamut from short, one-night trips along a river or to a lake or high point, to multi-day treks up valleys and over multiple passes.20
Within the trail corridors, there are almost 140 designated sites. Camping in the trail corridors is allowed only at these camps, which are designed to provide a safe and low-impact camping experience. Most camps are located off the main trail, to provide privacy and a sense of solitude for passing hikers. Each camp has a flat tent pad area, pit or composting toilet, and access to water. Designated camps at lower elevations also have an established fire ring.20
Cross-country camping is allowed as well, but must be at least one-half mile from any trail and one mile away from designated camps. Camping is not allowed in alpine meadows or on fragile vegetation, or near water sources. Off-trail hiking can be very challenging in this steep and thickly vegetated terrain. In many areas, hiking one-half mile away from a trail may literally put you on the side of a steep slope, or crossing a swift creek.20
Most off-trail travel is undertaken by mountaineers with climbing objectives beyond the forested lower slopes. However, adventurous and experienced backpackers will find a wild park with plenty of opportunities to bushwhack, explore your physical boundaries, find solitude, and discover some hidden gems.20
For more information on backcountry hiking and camping, check out the NPS Backpacking page here.
Don’t forget a National Geographic Trail’s Illustrated Map if you are planning a backcountry trip! Or in general, it’s a great map for anyone visiting the park:
For more information about North Cascades National Park, our April 2022 – Park of the Month, and to plan your trip, visit our park page, which includes specific information about the park status in regards to COVID-19. Be sure to check out the more detailed About the Park page with great information from the park.
Remember when visiting any National Park, whether camping, hiking or just visiting a visitors center, always do your part and follow the Leave No Trace principles to help protect the park. Learn more here!
Have you been to North Cascades National Park or have a comment regarding our choice? Let us know below in the comments section, we want to hear about your visit!
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‘We got some of the above information from the following:
1: NPS – North Cascades NP – Stories
2: NPS – North Cascades Highway
3: Scenic Washington – North Cascades Scenic Highway
4: NPS – North Cascades NP – Boating
5: NPS – North Cascades NP – Hiking
6: NPS – North Cascades NP – Newhalem Area Trails
7: NPS – North Cascades NP – Thunder Creek and Park Creek Trails
8: USFS – Lake Ann / Maple Pass Loop Trail #740
9: NPS – North Cascades NP – Cascade Pass / Sahale Arm Trail
10: NPS – North Cascades NP – Desolation Peak Trail
11: NPS – North Cascades NP – Climbing
12: North Cascades Lodge at Stehekin – About Us
13: North Cascades Lodge at Stehekin – Accommodations
14: Ross Lake Resort – Stay at the Resort
15: NPS – North Cascades NP – Newhalem Creek Campground
16: Recreation.gov – Newhalem Campground
17: NPS – North Cascades NP – Goodell Creek Campground
18: Recreation.gov – Goodell Creek Campground
19: NPS – North Cascades NP – Boat-In Camping
20: NPS – North Cascades NP – Backpacking
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- The Isolated Black-bellied Salamander: Wildlife of the Week – 2023 Week 22
- The Splendid Sandhill Crane: Wildlife of the Week – 2023 Week 21
- The Promising Peregrine Falcon: Wildlife of the Week – 2023 Week 20
- The Intimidating Killer Whale: Wildlife of the Week – 2023 Week 19
- The Swift Fox: Wildlife of the Week – 2023 Week 18