Marked by the rugged peaks of the North Cascade Range, North Cascades National Park is known for its many glaciers. In fact, a third of all of the glaciers in the lower 48 are located within this park. And, with glaciers come lakes and streams of crystal clear snow melt, alpine forests, meadows of wildflowers, and more. It's a relatively remote region, but the camping is top-notch and Seattle is only a few hours away.
Some tips for visiting North Cascades National Park -It's free to visit. A state road runs through the park, so these stunning views won't cost you a dime. Unless you want to camp, which will set you back a few dollars. -If you're visiting in the winter, make sure your car is in good condition, and check WSDOT for road closures. Snow makes some routes impassable. -You won't find any grocery stores or ATMs in the park. Make sure you bring everything you need, particularly if you're camping, or be prepared to do a lot of driving in and out of town. Also, you may not get good cell reception here. -Don't forget bug spray. The park's gorgeous lakes and streams are a breeding ground for mosquitoes and other pests, so come prepared.
Colonial Creek is one of the more popular campgrounds in the park, with its location right on the lake and lovely views. If you have a tent, aim for a shoreline site and set up right by the water. Almost all RVs can fit here, as well, and there are lots of trails nearby.
State Route 20, also known as the North Cascades Highway, is the most efficient way to get through the park, and it's completely breathtaking. The route winds past U-pick farms, quaint logging towns, densely forested state parks, rushing rivers, and stunning lakes. It's a great way to experience the Pacific Northwest and all it has to offer.
Stop by the Washington Pass Overlook, which offers awe-inspiring views of Liberty Bell Mountain and Early Winters Spires. It's right off the highway, with a nice parking area, and the trail to the overlook is a short quarter-mile loop.
Newhalem Creek Campground is a natural gem, shaded by forests of cedar, hemlock, and Douglas fir and set alongside the glacial-melt Skagit River. Salmon and bald eagles can be viewed here, and plenty of trails are accessible from the popular campground. It's close to the town of Skagit, as well as a visitor center where you can get additional info on this special part of the North Cascades.
Imagine waking up, stepping out onto your porch, and being instantly greeted with the best view in all of North Cascades National Park—that's what you'll get at Ross Lake Resort. In these picturesque floating cabins, your backyard is the lake itself, surrounded by snow-capped mountain peaks and lush evergreen forests. Every cabin has a stunning view. The resort is remote—it's best accessed by water taxi or ferry, unless you want to take a mile-long hike with all your luggage. Your view of the lake, mountains, and forests will be virtually undisturbed. Plus, since cell service and internet is spotty up here, it's a great place to disconnect. You can spend your days fishing, hiking, boating (bring your own or rent one), or simply sitting on the dock and soaking in the breathtaking beauty.
One of the park's most iconic features is Diablo Lake, a reservoir known for its bright turquoise color. Glaciers grind stones into a powder that's then carried into the lake by glacial melt, creating the vibrant blue. There are some nice overlooks here, but the lake is best experienced by renting a canoe and getting out on the water.
These grotto-like falls, located in a slot canyon near Newhalem, look lovely in the daytime, but they really shine at night. Colored lights are projected onto the falls, turning this natural feature into a stunning light show. Fed by a glacier, the falls flow well throughout the year. The trail is short but adventurous, taking you over a suspension bridge and up some stairs.
Whether you want to cool off with a rich, hand-dipped milkshake or warm up with a cup of coffee, Marblemount Diner is a great choice, located just outside the park. Sandwiches, burgers, and mouthwatering homemade pie make this classic little diner well worth a stop or two during your trip.
If you're here in early summer and are finding many frozen lakes and snow-covered trails, head to the Slide Lake Trail. It thaws before most other lakes, and the one-mile round trip makes for a pleasant stroll. Plus, Slide Lake has some great fishing.
Right off the North Cascades Highway is Cascadian Farm’s roadside stand, where you can stop for homemade ice cream and pints of fresh berries. They also sell flowers, chips, granola bars, and other treats. Everything grown on the farm is organic, and the location of the stand is picture perfect.
Artist Point is considered by some one of the prettiest spots in the state, with panoramic views of several peaks. Mount Baker Highway ends at the road to Artist Point, providing access to good trails. At certain times of year, this is a popular spot for snowshoeing.
Desolation Peak, located in the North Cascades Mountains, is a 6,106-foot peak that can be reached by a popular but strenuous hike. Author Jack Kerouac famously spent a summer here as a fire lookout in the 1950s, an experience he wrote about in the novel Desolation Angels.
Timing your trip to North Cascades is crucial. The best time of year to visit and get the most out of the park is the summer. Warmer temperatures make for pleasant hiking and camping. Spring and fall aren't bad either, with flowers and foliage, but you should expect rain. Winter can last from October until June and come with road closures and frozen lakes. Generally, whenever you choose to visit, bring rain gear, boots, and many layers, even in the summer. It's good to be prepared.