If you’re seeking an unforgettable trip with stunning mountain peaks, cascading waterfalls, old-growth forests, glacier-fed alpine lakes, rewarding hikes, and you want your dog there to make memories with, North Cascades National Park is awaiting you. Located in northern Washington near the Canadian border, believe it or not, it’s one of the lesser visited national parks, but one of the most beautiful with over 300 glaciers and 300 lakes.
Experience the rugged beauty from the car on the scenic drives, park at the overlooks to get a birds eye view, or hit the hiking trails for a closer connection to the unique ecosystems. Maximize your time with a multi-day trip, or soak up what you can in a day trip — here’s your actionable guide for spending time in this extraordinary national park!
What To Prepare
- North Cascades is one of the only parks in Washington that doesn’t require a fee to enter, but if you plan to hike, be prepared with a Northwest Forest Pass because some of the trail heads start on US Forest Service land.
- This park is pretty remote with spotty reception, so plan ahead by downloading offline directions and trail maps beforehand.
- Also due to the remote location, there aren’t a lot of gas or food services, so fuel up your car and belly.
- Some people say “summer doesn’t start until the 5th of July in Washington,” so be sure to check for road closures before embarking. This park is open from June through October because it can only be accessed by Highway 20, which closes in winter due to snow. We were grateful to be able to explore mid-June due to the unseasonably warm spring we had this year!
Where to Snooze
- Unless you scored a backpacking permit or a reservation at one of the popular campsites inside the park like Newhalem Creek or Colonial Creek, your options will give you that small-town feel. Marblemount and Concrete sit on the west side of the park, and Winthrop and Twisp sit on the east.
- We stayed in Marblemount and scored an awesome campsite on Hipcamp that sat along Boulder Creek near the Skagit River.
- If you’re aiming for a more luxurious feel, this Scandinavian Airbnb is an epic choice.
What To See & Hike
- This guide would be amiss without mentioning Diablo Lake, which is undoubtedly the most popular attraction in this park. If possible, try to visit on a sunny day because this lake has a distinctive, bright turquoise color that’s caused by fine rock particles called “glacial flour” that refract the sunlight.
- Diablo Lake Overlook (also called Vista Point) sits within the heart of North Cascades, so if you’re exploring other areas of the park, this is a great central location to branch off from. From this overlook, you’ll be able to bask in the beauty from above.
- But if you want to climb to even higher heights, one option is the 7-mile out and back Diablo Lake Trail which boasts incredible views of the mountain peaks, Skagit River, and Ross Dam.
- Another option is the shorter 3.5-mile out and back Thunder Knob Trail which is great for kids, but bring sun protection because there is little shade.
- Feeling ambitious, we continued along Highway 20 to hike the 6.5-mile loop Maple Pass Trail, which was remarkable. We were fortunate enough to be able to complete this hike in just our hiking shoes, but it did feature snow, so bring microspikes or poles to increase accessibility. Although this loop can be done in either direction, keep in mind that most hikers choose to go counter-clockwise. You’ll be rewarded with views of Lake Ann, dramatic mountain peaks, ambient noises of waterfalls, and depending on what time of the year you hike, Washington-famous wildflowers, all worth it after overcoming those brutal switchbacks.
- Another worthy option is the 4.6 out and back Blue Lake Trail that features exactly what the name suggests: a blue lake that’s crystal clear.
- Although this sightseeing list isn’t all encompassing, lastly, check out Washington Pass Overlook, which is a 0.3 loop trail that features endless views of evergreen trees that cover every mountain slope and peak.
After energy exerted and time spent in North Cascades National Park, your legs will be sore and your soul will be renewed. This park has so much to offer anyone looking for a nature-inspired adventure. As always, practice Leave No Trace Principles to be considerate of the beautiful outdoors and your fellow outdoor enthusiasts.