Seeker is the social platform to find and share the places you love.

0 Places. 0 Trips and Guides.

North Cascades National Park: The Complete Guide for 2023

Nicole Jordan

California, USA

Nicknamed the “American Alps” for its snowy glaciated peaks, rugged mountain terrain, bright turquoise lakes, and vast old-growth forests, North Cascades National Park is a can’t-miss destination when in Washington. With scenic drives passing gorgeous glacier-fed lakes, steep hikes up rugged terrain, and relaxing paddles on a lake, all visitors will find a way to enjoy their time in this impressive US national park.

North Cascades National Park Guide for 2023

Where is North Cascades National Park?

North Cascades National Park, Washington, US

North Cascades National Park is located in Northern Washington right on the Canadian border about 2.5 hours northeast of Seattle. The park is actually part of a service complex that includes a few areas: North Cascades National Park, Ross Lake National Recreation Area, and Lake Chelan National Recreation Area. When visiting the park, you’ll see signs for North Cascades National Park Service Complex, which includes all these areas.

Facts about North Cascades National Park

North Cascades National Park, Washington, US
  • North Cascades National Park covers over 500,000 acres and the whole service complex covers over 2 million acres of federally protected wilderness.
  • From low valley floors at 2,000 feet in elevation to the highest peak, Goode Mountain at 9,206 feet, there is a variety of flora and fauna throughout the park.
  • There are over 300 glaciers in the park making it the most heavily glaciated area in the US outside of Alaska.
  • North Cascades has over 1,600 recorded plant species in its boundaries, which is more than any other national park in the US.

Indigenous Nations and Land Acknowledgment in North Cascades National Park

North Cascades National Park, Washington, US

The area of North Cascades National Park has been inhabited for nearly 10,000 years. As hunters, fishers, and gatherers, the nations indigenous to this region depended on the resources in this rough mountain environment. Today, the native nations that live off this homeland include the Nooksack, Upper Skagit, Sauk-Suiattle, Colville, and Yakima people.

Weather in North Cascades National Park 

North Cascades National Park, Washington, US

The best time to visit North Cascades National Park is during the summer from mid-June to late September. Summertime offers the best weather in the park, averaging around 70 degrees during the daytime.

In mid-July, most trails are snow-free (except at the highest elevations on mountain peaks.). However, afternoon storms are common during the summer and bring in rain and wind. The east side of the park is warmer and drier than the west side. Outside of this season, the park has minimal access. When Route -20 through the park closes, visitors cannot access visitor centers or trailheads.

North Cascades National Park Hours

North Cascades National Park, Washington, US

North Cascades National Park is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week during the operating season,; usually from late spring to the beginning of winter.

While the park technically always remains open, the main road that runs through the park, Route 20, and creates access to visitor centers and most trails, closes for the winter after the first significant snowstorm. This route stays closed until it’s safe to open in the Spring. Check the national park website for more information on current conditions and closures at North Cascades National Park.

While the park road and North Cascades Visitor Center are inaccessible to vehicles during the winter, experienced mountaineers can still travel throughout the park by skiing in.

North Cascades National Park Entrance Fee

North Cascades National Park, Washington, US

North Cascades National Park is free to access. Unlike other US National Parks, North Cascades is considered a National Park Service Complex and does not charge entrance fees.

Directions from Seattle to North Cascades National Park

North Cascades National Park, Washington, US

North Cascades National Park is just over two hours from Seattle. To get to North Cascades from Seattle, head north on I-5 for about 47 miles to WA-530 E. Follow WA-530 E for 46 miles until you turn right onto State Route 20 E in Rockport. From there, follow Route 20 E into the park.

Other National Parks near North Cascades

Mount Rainier National Park, Washington, US

North Cascades National Park is roughly 4 hours away from two famous Washington national parks: Mount Rainier National Park and Olympic National Park. Both can easily be reached in a day, and travelers often hit all three while in Washington.

Hiking in North Cascades National Park

North Cascades National Park, Washington, US

Easy, perfect for families

  1. Trail of the Cedars Nature Walk (0.3 mi loop; flat)
  2. Skagit River Loop Trail (1.8 mi loop; 100 ft gain)
  3. Gorge Creek Falls Trail (0.5 mi loop; 40 ft gain)
  4. Happy Creek Forest Walk (0.4 mi loop; flat)
  5. Rock Shelter Trail (2.2 mi out & back; flat)

Moderate, fairly strenuous

  1. Ross Dam Trail (1.5 mi out & back; 500 ft gain)
  2. Diablo Lake Trail (7.6 mi out & back; 1,500 ft gain)
  3. Happy Creek Falls (2.2 mi out & back; 620 ft gain)
  4. Thunder Creek Trail (4 mi out & back; 200 ft gain)
  5. Thunder Knob Trail (3.6 mi out & back; 600 ft gain)

Difficult, experience recommended

  1. Cascade Pass Trail (6.5 mi out & back; 1,800 ft gain)
  2. Hidden Lake (9 mi out & back; 2,900 ft gain)
  3. Sourdough Mountain (10.5 mi out & back; 4,800 ft gain)
  4. Easy Pass Trail (7.4 mi out & back; 3000 ft gain)
  5. Thornton Lake Trail (10.4 mi out & back; 2,300 ft gain)

Lodging near North Cascades National Park

North Cascades National Park Hotels

Rolling Huts, Washington, US
  1. Ross Lake Resort
  2. Cascade River House
  3. Ovenell’s Heritage Inn
  4. Glacier Peak Resort
  5. Totem Trail Motel
  6. North Cascades Inn
  7. Cascade Mountain Suites — Mt. Baker Hotel
  8. Freestone Inn & Cabins
  9. Mazama Ranch House
  10. Rolling Huts, Winthrop

North Cascades National Park Camping

North Cascades National Park, Washington, US

Planning a night under the stars? Here are some of the best campgrounds and campsites in and around North Cascades National Park:

  1. Newhalem Creek Campground
  2. Goodell Creek Campground
  3. Gorge Lake Campground
  4. Upper and Lower Goodell Creek Group Campgrounds
  5. Colonial Creek North Campground
  6. Colonial Creek South Campground
  7. Lone Fir Campground
  8. Mineral Park Campground
  9. Alpine RV Park
  10. Hozomeen Campground

North Cascades National Park Tours

North Cascades National Park, Washington, US

During the summertime, join a ranger-led program to learn more about the park. From guided nature walks to stargazing tours, stop by the North Cascades Visitor Center to learn what the park offers.

Or go on a guided tour from Seattle with Evergreen Escapes or a backpacking trip with Wildland Trekking. There are a variety of private tour outfitters that offer trips including hiking, backpacking, rafting, climbing, and mountaineering.

Best Things to Do in North Cascades National Park

Drive the North Cascades Scenic Highway

North Cascades Scenic Highway, Washington, US

Also known as Washington State Route 20, visitors will enjoy impressive views along the 127-mile route. Stretching from Sedro-Woolley to Winthrop, on the North Cascades Scenic Highway you’ll see impressive vistas of the high cascade peaks, Diablo and Ross Lakes, and the Gorge. It’s a can’t miss experience when you visit the area.

Hike Up to Cascade Pass

Cascade Pass, Washington, US

Cascade Pass is one of the more popular hikes in the park because of its moderate rating and breathtaking views. You’ll start switchbacking up the trail through the forest until you’re above the treeline where you really see some of the beautiful features of the park. 6.5 miles out and back and gaining about 1,800 feet, plan to spend about a half-day exploring this trail.

Stop by Diablo Lake Vista Point

Diablo Lake Vista Point, Washington, US

Shortly after entering the North Cascades from the west, you’ll notice a bright turquoise-colored lake. Continuing around, pull off to check out Diablo Lake Vista Point to enjoy spectacular views of Diablo Lake, which is surrounded by the high cascade peaks in the distance.

Hike the Trail of Cedars Nature Walk

Trail of the Cedars, Washington, US

This 0.3-mile easy trail runs along the Skagit River while following through an old-growth forest filled with ferns, maple trees, Douglas Firs, paper birches, and Pacific Yews. It’s worth continuing beyond the short Trail of the Cedarsuntil you reach a suspension bridge across the Skagit River.

Check Out Washington Pass Overlook

Washington Pass Overlook, Washington, US

Located right off of Route 20, Washington Park Overlook is worth the stop. The roadside stop is wheelchair-friendly and only a quarter-mile walk to see views of the surrounding granite peaks and lower growing conifers. 

Walk Out to Diablo Dam

Diablo Dam, Washington, US

Sitting along the Skagit River and forming Diablo Lake, the Diablo Dam was the tallest dam when completed in 1930. There you can read signs to learn about the glacier geology that formed this area and learn about the construction of the dam and the hydroelectric power generated from it.

Explore the Gorge Creek Falls Trail

Gorge Creek Falls Trail, Washington, US

This half-mile loop winds you through the forest before reaching Gorge Creek Falls, running through a narrow gorge. Wander among the mossy-covered rocks and through the cool, shaded forest on your way to the viewpoints. 

Go Fishing on the Skagit River

Skagit River, Washington, US

The Skagit River is one of the main watersheds in Washington, as well as a beautiful spot in the park. It’s home to many fish species including 5 types of salmon, cutthroat trout, steelhead, freshwater trout, and char. Any visitors are required to carry a Washington state fishing license. They’re not available at visitor centers so obtain one before heading out.

Take a Ferry to the Town of Stehekin

Stehekin Boat Launch, Washington, US

The small town of Stehekin sits right on Lake Chelan with beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. Only accessible by foot, plane, or boat, the 2.5-hour ferry ride is a wonderful way to arrive in this town. Once there, relax, hike, or kayak while visiting this quaint town. 

Go Horseback Riding throughout Lake Chelan National Recreation Area

Lake Chelan National Recreational Area, Washington, US

Most of the trails throughout Lake Chelan National Recreation Area are stock trails and are a popular option for horseback riding. It’s a fun way to visit the park while enjoying the beautiful sites. Stop by a visitor center for up-to-date information about trail conditions and regulations.

Go Paddling at Ross Lake

Ross Lake, Washington, US

Ross Lake is a beautiful spot to rent kayaks to explore the lake while surrounded by the beautiful mountain setting. Ross Lake Resort rents out kayaks, canoes, portable boats, and small power boats to visitors. Because it is a reservoir, it’s best to visit when the lake is full, which is generally from July-September.

Stop by the North Cascades Visitor Center

North Cascades Visitor Center, Washington, US

Learn about the park’s geology, history, culture, wildlife, and more at the North Cascades Visitor Center. Chat with a ranger to find out the best activities for your visit or buy books, maps, and other souvenirs.

Go Sport Climbing in Gorge Dam

Gorge Dam, Washington, US

While the North Cascades are well known for their mountaineering trips, if you’re not quite into all the snow but want some rock climbing time, check out Skagit Gorge Dam. Go sport climbing or bouldering in this area and get great park views while staying off the highly technical peaks.

Cycle Stehekin Valley Road

Stehekin Valley Road, Washington, US

Bring your bike or rent one near the Stehekin ferry landing and ride along Stehekin Valley Road for scenic views and a chance to see wildlife. Lakes, waterfalls, and forests are some of the beautiful sites you’ll see.

 Grab food at Annie’s Pizza Station

Annie’s Pizza Station, Washington, US

There are minimal resources and restaurants along the Cascade Scenic Highway, however, Annie’s Pizza Station is a perfect mid-point stop and well known for their amazing handcrafted pizza. And if you don’t love pizza, this family-friendly restaurant also makes amazing homemade lasagna, sandwiches, salads, and desserts.