"ALPINIST'S WONDERLAND" North Cascades National Park by mtncorg

North Cascades National Park Travel Guide: 83 reviews and 154 photos

For the mountain lover, there is no finer range in the lower 48 than the ranges found within the North Cascades of Washington State - both within the Park and outside. These mountains epitomize the word 'alpine'. Craggy, towering spires rocketing over misty primeval forested canyons. The Park encompasses a fair amount of the region, including 318 different glaciers, more than half the total within the Lower 48. The Park is only one part of the Federal government's attempt to set aside wilderness. The huge Glacier Peak Wilderness Area to the south and the Paysayten Wilderness Area to the east go together in making this one of the nation's larger areas where nature remains, for the most part, untrammeled.

Is it better as a National Park or as a Wilderness? A Park involves bloated administrative budgets, fancy visitors centers with dumbed-down exhibits and, hopefully, more visitors, a main reason to create National Parks these days - create jobs. Now, I don't want to leave the impression that the mountains protected by the Park are not 'worthy' of a Park. If the Guadalupe Mountains of Texas are 'worthy', than these mountains are a thousand-time more so. To stand on the edge of the Picketts gazing at their spires is to know mountains do not get much better or impressive ... anywhere. With good weather - always the crux with a visit to this Park - there is no finer alpine national park in the lower 48 States. It is that simple. The Olympics come a close second, but only close. The Rockies and Sierra seem a bit tamer when confronted by some of this terrain.

For the most part, this Park is the habitat of the elitist - the alpinist. Only one accessible gravel road enters into the park, otherwise you are on foot. Even then, you are limited, since most trails stay low among forests at the bottom of deep canyons. To really experience the unbelievable ruggedness awaiting you, you will not only have to break out your boots, but you will have to wander off the trails seeking new adventures among some of the toughest country around. The peaks are not the highest - Goode, Logan, Buckner and Shuksan are the only ones getting above 9000 feet/2727 meters. The average mountain will top out at a more modest 7000 feet/2121 meters or slightly higher. The problem is they tend to start out at 400-500 feet/150 meters, leaving you with a lot of vertical gain to make up, usually in a great hurry!

How can a non-alpinist experience the Park. You have options, but they are few. Most will simply drive WA20, the North Cascade highway, and that will be it. The road is a fine mountain road and you do get a nice viewpoint at Washington Pass. Some will take the Seattle City Light tour of Diablo and Ross dams, a very interesting trip in itself - you usually need to get reservations ahead of time. Of course, you can stop at the Park's visitor center in Newhalem - on WA 20 - you can actually get a little glimpse of the distant Picketts. Another way to visit would be to take the boats from Chelan up to Stehekin and visit the extreme south areas of the Park using the shuttle buses going out of Stehekin. I cannot advise you thusly having not used this option. You can drive the fairly decent gravel road up Cascade Pass, going into the heart of the mountains and the South Unit of the park - the Park is split into North and South units by the Skagit River and politics. From the end of Cascade Pass, hiking options exist not entailing outright alpine experience. Hikes bringing you to views of incredible beauty. This is the best option.

The season for visiting the Park is brief - mid/end of July to October. Even then you need to be prepared for changeable and extreme conditions. September can be a great time for visiting, but nothing is ever for certain up here. I will show four main areas, three accessible to a normal hiker and there is also plenty for the normal hiker on the fourth option, too. There are a couple tips from just outside the Park, looking in.

So, let's go into one of the US Park Service's most wild offerings. Let's go to the North Cascades.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Mountains, glaciers, forest, wilderness primeval
  • Cons:Very short season, not a place for injury, mountain access can be very steep and tough
  • In a nutshell:The Best Alpine Terrain in the Lower 48 States Bar None
  • Intro Updated Jul 29, 2008
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Reviews (18)

Comments (9)

  • mikehanneman's Profile Photo
    Jun 5, 2013 at 12:37 PM

    Nice page with great info and photos. I will be traveling to this Park with my wife so a lot of the trails you speak about won't be possible. I still would like to take a day to check the Park out.

  • kokoryko's Profile Photo
    Dec 17, 2010 at 3:13 PM

    A mountain lover must one day walk on the trails of these mountains, so few known in Europe! An inspiring page, Mark.

  • GuthrieColin's Profile Photo
    Aug 4, 2008 at 7:54 PM

    Of course you are correct. Altitude would be a better way to explore North Cascades. I'll enjoy the waterfalls in the mean time and plan trips up when i have time to do so. : )

  • chewy3326's Profile Photo
    Jan 31, 2006 at 8:08 PM

    What an amazing place! North Cascades is one of the parrks I've been dreaming to visit forever. Great photos, the views from Sahale and Sourdough look spectacular!

  • JetlagCity's Profile Photo
    Jul 23, 2004 at 1:33 PM

    Wow, you've really gotten around this area! Your awe-inspiring pictures are making me want to put those hiking boots back on!

  • goingsolo's Profile Photo
    Jun 18, 2004 at 9:39 AM

    A great page. Tons of information and fantastic photos. I'll be visiting here in July but won't lack the time and experience to cover this much territory. So thanks for the armchair view. :)

  • scotlandscotour's Profile Photo
    May 21, 2004 at 8:47 AM

    glad you found me - I love your pages - thanks for the effort. Much appreciated.

  • Jonathan_C's Profile Photo
    Nov 27, 2003 at 7:11 AM

    You've picked some real winners from the North Cascades! FYI: You can makee it from Seattle to Sahale arm and back in a long day trip. And you should try the awesome back country skiing near Lake Ann. It's 'Oh my GOD!' beautiful.

  • mrclay2000's Profile Photo
    Nov 23, 2003 at 8:17 PM

    What a page. . .spectacles such as Mt Shuksan and Picture Lake are my ideas of earthbound divinities.


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