North Cascades National Park is an American national park in the state of Washington. At more than 500,000 acres (200,000 ha), it is the largest of the three National Park Service units that comprise the North Cascades National Park Complex. North Cascades National Park consists of a northern and southern section, bisected by the Skagit River that flows through the reservoirs of Ross Lake National Recreation Area. Lake Chelan National Recreation Area lies on the southern border of the south unit of the park. In addition to the two national recreation areas, other protected lands including several national forests and wilderness areas, as well as Canadian provincial parks in British Columbia, nearly surround the park. North Cascades National Park features the rugged mountain peaks of the North Cascades Range, the most expansive glacial system in the contiguous United States, the headwaters of numerous waterways, and vast forests with the highest degree of flora biodiversity of any American national park.
The region was first settled by Paleo-Indian Native Americans; by the time European American explorers arrived, it was inhabited by Skagit tribes. By the early 19th century, the region was visited by fur trappers and several British and American companies vied for control over the fur trade. After the Canada–United States border was set at the 49th parallel in 1846, explorers came to chart potential routes through the mountains for roads and railroads. Limited mining and logging occurred from the late 19th century to the early 20th century. The first significant human impact in the region occurred in the 1920s when several dams were built in the Skagit River valley to generate hydroelectric power. Environmentalists then campaigned to preserve the remaining wilderness, culminating on October 2, 1968, with the designation of North Cascades National Park.
Heavy snows and a high risk of avalanches due to the steep terrain, especially on the western slopes, severely limit visitation in the winter. Most access to the park is from State Route 20, which follows the Skagit River, though even this road is closed for months at a time in the winter. Most of the plant and animal species native to the park region are still found there, though climate change and pollutants from industrialized regions to the west pose risks to the environment. The park has one of the earliest and longest lasting research programs dedicated to studying climate change, primarily through examining the effects of glacial retreat.
North Cascades National Park is almost entirely protected as wilderness, and so the park has few structures, roads or other improvements. Visitors wishing to drive to a campground must do so in the adjacent national forests or national recreation areas. Camping inside the park requires hiking in by trail, horseback or boat, and camping is regulated by a permit system to ensure the wilderness is not over-exploited. Mountaineering is popular in the park and only unobtrusive clean climbing is allowed.
Established: October 2, 1968
Size: 504,780.94 acres
Visitation: 17,855 (2021)
Free! But if you plan to visit more National Parks within the next 12 months I suggest you go ahead and purchase the America the Beautiful Pass (which can be found at the entrance gates to most national parks). This pass gets you into all National Parks, Forests, Monuments, and more including 2,000 sites for free after a one time $79 fee.
Best Time to Visit North Cascades National Park
The Best Time to Visit North Cascades is mid-July through September.
Restaurants & Food Options
Food options are limited in the North Cascades area so It better getting food beforehand in Burlington and packing it into the park.
Things to Do in North Cascades National Park
- Diablo Lake Vista Point
- Maple Pass/Lake Ann
- Ross Lake Resort
- Blue Lake
- Cascade Pass
- Sourdough Mountain
- Desolation Peak
- Whitewater Rafting
- Visit Hozomeen
- Mountain Goats
- Thunder Arm
- Ross Lake Overlook
- Scenic Drive
- Picture Lake
Camping and Lodging
You’ll find three hotels located in the valley
North Cascades Lodge (most popular), Silver Bay Inn Resort, & Stehekin Valley Ranch. Not to worry if the hotels are booked up as there are several rental cabins as well.
What Makes This One of the Best National Parks
Referred to by some as the “American Alps” with mountain beauty that rivals any range on the planet, North Cascades is the crown jewel of the mighty cascade range.
One of three Washington state national parks, North Cascades is the least visited, the most difficult to access all around, and perhaps the most rewarding for those who dare.
A backpackers paradise to be sure, but it’s just not very approachable for the average national park/outdoors enthusiast. For that reason we had to dock it on amenities as there really aren’t any.