If you love the vast native wilderness, turquoise water, mosses, majestic trees, plants, and wildlife, North Cascades National Park in Washington State should be at the top of your bucket list.

“If there is magic on this planet,” American Anthropologist Loren Eiseley wrote, “it is contained in the water.”  North Cascades National Park is a beautiful treasure with mountain scenery, mesmerizing cascading waterfalls, glacier-sculpted mountains with peaks blanketed with snow, cliff walls, spires, and more. It’s hard to believe it is one of our least visited National Parks!

Here are Yvonne’s tips for getting the most out of your visit.

Getting into the Park:

Drive Washington State Route 20 (North Cascades Highway) from Burlington on the west or Twisp on the east to reach the North Cascades.  State Route 20 passes Gorge, Diablo, and Ross Lakes in Ross Lake National Recreation Area.  Only Gorge, Diablo, and Ross lakes can be reached by vehicle from State Route 20.  The wilderness scenery along this road is spectacular as over 94 percent of the park and recreation areas are designated as the Stephen Mather Wilderness Area.

There are several overlooks and hikes, including a short, wheelchair-accessible boardwalk through an old-growth forest that is simply stunning. You may want to bring a camera with an extra battery or a battery for your phone as they will be working overtime for the pictures you will take.

Where to Stay:

Lodging can be found on Ross Lake, in Stehekin, and at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center.  There are four vehicle-accessible campgrounds: Goodell Creek, Newhalem Creek, Colonial Creek, and Hozomeen –  all on a first-come, first-served basis.  Make reservations well in advance as these campgrounds fill up for May – September.  If there happen to be sites available it will be on a first-come, first-served basis. Also, reserving a camping site near the stunning turquoise alpine lakes is pretty hard; but do not let that deter you, as there are some beautiful camping sites nestled in the old-growth forest.

What to See:
  • The North Cascades Visitors Center in Newhalem should be one of the first stops once inside the park to learn about this magnificent vast park’s natural and cultural history that is so diverse and rugged.  Ask a park ranger for recommendations on accessible trails to hike, picnic, and explore.  There are also informative and educational exhibits, audio-visuals, and ranger-led programs to participate in.
  • Hiking trails – There are approximately 400 maintained in the North Cascades National Park.  You can observe over 1,700 species of plants, ferns, fungi; birds, including the bald eagle; mammals such as bears, reptiles, amphibians, and insects.  Pick up a trail map at the visitor center.
  • Ross Lake National Recreation Area – This area stretches along the Skagit River below the dams.  There are many outdoor recreational activities such as boating, fishing, hiking, and more.  Ross Lake rents canoes, kayaks, and small motorboats and offers portage service between Diablo and Ross Lakes.
  • Diablo Lake, a reservoir created by the Diablo Dam, is truly astonishing as the color is a magnificent turquoise, surrounded by snow-capped mountain peaks and pines. Take a hike on the Diablo Lake Trail. For more information on this beautiful scenic trail with old-growth forest, visit the Washington Trails Association website.
  • Be sure to pay attention to the posted speed limits along Route 20, as you can get distracted by the beauty. There are plenty of roadside turnouts to view the scenery safely.  Be sure to keep an eye out for wildlife, pedestrians, bicyclists, rocks on the roadways, and other drivers.

Enjoy your experience and share your photos with us @one_planet_life. Download the One Planet Life app to earn points for your nature journey.

Yvonne’s North Cascades National Park Photo Gallery

Check out Yvonne’s Insider Tips for exploring these National parks as well: