Is North Cascades National Park Worth Visiting?

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is northern cascades national park worth visting

(photo: Jeffhollett)

The North Cascades National Park is truly a unique experience for anyone looking to explore some of Northern Washington’s beautiful landscape. With glaciers, steep mountains, valleys, waterfalls and more there’s no shortage of views to take your breath away.

It’s one of the most renowned and visited of all the National Parks and with good reason. Read on to find out more!

Facts/History of the North Cascades National Park

Whilst looking for a trade route, Alexander Ross was the first person to explore the North Cascades peaks, however humans have lived there for as long as 10,000 years. It’s known by many as the American Alps because of the snow covered mountain peaks.

Spanning over 1,000 square miles, the North Cascades National Park showcases the very best of Washington’s breathtaking scenery and nature. Founded in 1968, the aim was to protect the stunning mountains, subalpine meadows, forests and glaciers as well as the wildlife that calls this park home.

Roaming around this vast natural beauty you’ll find black-tailed deer, mule deer, bobcats, mountain lions, black bears and even 12 grizzly bears! These are just some of the cool animals found here though; there’s actually 75 different mammal species found at the park.

With almost 40,000 people visiting in 2019, it’s easy to see why this park is so popular.

What is the North Cascades National Park Known For?

The North Cascades National Park is known for its rugged, steep alpine landscape which draws in adventurous mountain climbers, hikers and thrill seekers from all over. Some of the peaks of these mountains weren’t even reached until the 1930s!

Apart from its challenging peaks and hikes, this park is also well known for its glaciers. They’ve got over 300 which is the most found anywhere apart from Alaska.

On a different note, the mountains contained in this National Park are well known for their pretty ominous names. You’ve got the likes of Mount Terror, Mount Despair, Mount Fury, Mount Torment, Forbidden Peak and Desolation Peak. Despite the macabre names, you will most likely feel the absolute opposite of fury, terror and despair when standing tall at the peak of these beautiful mountains.

is northern cascades national park worth visiting

(photo: Jeffhollett)

What Can You Do at the North Cascades National Park?

The list of things to do at the North Cascades includes but is not limited to hiking, mountain climbing, free climbing, backpacking, camping, swimming, horseback riding, rafting and kayaking.

For some of the most beautiful and must-see places to visit on your first trip to the North Cascades, check out these:
• Diablo Lake Overlook
• Ladder Creek Falls
• Sterling Munro Trail
• Rainy Lake
• Cascade Pass Trailhead
• Thunder Knob (not joking!)
• Washington Pass Overlook
• Stehekin

diablo lake northern cascades

Diablo Lake (photo: Ethan Conley)

What Is the Best Time to Visit?

Mid-June to late-September are the best months to visit the North Cascades. The snow makes the one access road impossible during the winter months. As for the trails, by July most of the snow is gone apart from at the very peaks of some mountains.

How Many Days Do You Need in the North Cascades National Park?

The beauty of this park is it can be enjoyed by almost anyone for almost any amount of time depending on what you want out of the park. There are some shorter hikes and routes that are perfect for families or those who only have a day or two.

However, ideally, if you’re an outdoorsy person and want to get the most from this national park, you should aim to spend 4-5 days here. This way you can explore a few different areas of the park. The weather, landscape and activities vary vastly from area to area so it’s always good to spend a little longer checking out different parts of the park.

Tips For Visiting the North Cascades National Park

Top Tip #1: Plan Ahead!

Personally, I love travelling and not planning anything, just taking it day by day and seeing where the wind takes me. However, I understand this is not always the best tactic to take, especially with a national park as large and diverse as the North Cascades.

So, take a little time to research which area of the national park you’d like to explore and plan a route and where you’ll sleep. Maybe you want to stay for a day around one of the lakes to take advantage of the beautiful kayaking scenery but then you want to camp. It’s always good to see how far away the closest campsite is and then you know when you need to leave the lake so you’re not hiking in the dark. These small things will make a huge difference to your experience.

Top Tip #2: Avoid the Crowds

Head to the backcountry like the Upper Stehekin Valley. Yes, it’s more difficult to get to but that means less people! Way less people! There’s even a part of the Pacific Crest Trail that passes through this beautiful landscape.

Honestly, thanks to the rugged terrain and lack of access roads, it’s pretty easy to avoid the crowds here, hence why it’s featured on most “best national parks to avoid the crowds” lists!

Where Should I Stay When Visiting the North Cascades National Park?

If you’re looking to stay inside the national park, there are a few overnight lodging options in the Ross Lake National Recreation Area and Lake Chelan National Recreation Area. They are, however, a little pricey with cabins at the Ross Lake Resort starting at $165 a night.

For those of you (me!) that don’t have this kind of budget, you’ll probably be looking into camping. Lucky for you there are tons of camping options throughout the park to accommodate for different visitors.

Along State Route 20, there’s five car-accessible campgrounds but there’s also a bunch more that can only be accessed on foot or bike. Personally, I would want to check these out as they’ll be quieter, you’ll get more privacy and you can feel like you’re really in nature.

Plan Your Visit

You’ll be pleased to know there are no entrance fees to get into the North Cascades National Park! It’s still hard for me to believe how many beautiful places we have in the States that are FREE to go and enjoy! How lucky are we, right?

Technically, the park is open all year round, however, the access road Route 20 (sometimes known as the North Cascades Highway) is closed late November to early May so make sure you’re aware of this when planning your visit. You won’t need a parking pass for parking up when you get there though, which is an added bonus.

As for pets, if you’re like me and adore taking your furry friends with you on your outdoor adventures, this could be a deal-breaker. Dogs are allowed in both recreation areas, however this is what they say on the national park site: “Dogs are not allowed in the national park except on the Pacific Crest Trail and within 50 feet of roads.” So it looks like you’ll have to leave the furry critter home for this trip!

Why is the North Cascades National Park Worth Visiting?

Okay, with all that said, I think it’s clear to see why so many people visit this free national park every year. It’s got such a diverse range of landscapes that you can feel like you’re in a whole other state from one area to the next. There’s no shortage of beautiful land to discover and jaw dropping wildlife to observe and that’s not even mentioning the array of activities to keep you busy.

Short answer: YES! The North Cascades National Park is definitely worth visiting!

Mariska Lee

Mariska is a recovering attorney who gave up her professional job to discover new perspectives of life while traveling in a 2009 Ford Transit. She has been living the van life for 3 years and has not looked back since.

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