Where is North Cascades National Park?
- 48°49′58″N 121°20′51″W
- North Cascades National Park
- 810 State Route 20, Sedro-Woolley, WA
North Cascades National Park is in the northwestern region of the United States, in the northern part of Washington State. The park is about two hours northeast of Seattle (just over 100 miles), while it is an hour and 45 minutes to the Washington-Canadian border town, Sumas. The northernmost border of the park itself falls along the Canadian-United States border.
About two and half hours northeast of North Cascades US National Park is the large Canadian city of Vancouver. The small town of Newhalem is just a mile east of the park’s visitor center, while approximately eight miles further east of the center is the town of Diablo.
How Big is North Cascades National Park?
The park is large, encompassing 504,654 square acres. The boundaries of the park sprawl across three counties, including Chelan, Skagit, and Whatcom. An interesting physical feature of the park is the fact that it is divided into two sections, both a northern and a southern section. These sections are divided by the Skagit River, a 150-mile body of water that flows from British Columbia and empties into the Skagit Bay on Washington’s west coast.
North Cascades National Park Weather
The weather in the park varies depending on which region you are in, such as the eastern or western side. In general, the park remains on the cooler side throughout the year and receives an average of 633 inches of snowfall annually. The east side of the Cascade Mountains tend to be the warmest area of the park, and the National Park Service website cites temperatures of 90 degrees for certain parts like Stehekin.
Average temperatures for the park range from a low of eight degrees in December through February, while the warmest average temperature occurs in August, typically reaching just 54 degrees during this summer month. Rain is less common in the summer, but heavy rainfall is common in both winter and spring.
When Did North Cascades Become a National Park?
North Cascades National Park didn’t officially come into existence until October 2, 1968. Originally designated an official United States Forest Reserve in the late nineteenth century, many environmentalists wanted the area to be further protected through national park status. However, due to disagreements among nearby locals, along with Congress rejecting multiple proposals in the early 1900s, plans for park status were pushed off for several years. In the 1960s, John F. Kennedy renewed interest in the area and helped pass the North Cascades National Part Act in 1968.
Things to Do in North Cascades National Park
Our National Park Visitors Guide discusses below the many activities to explore in North Cascades National Park.
The park boasts more than 300 glaciers, a higher number than any other park in the United States outside of Alaska. With global warming threatening the existence of glaciers, you won’t want to miss the chance to see them during your visit.
Animals such as black bears, mountain goats, and bobcats frequent the park. Over 1,600 species of plants and animals have been identified in the park, according to the NationalParks.org. Very rarely, grizzly bears are also seen in the area. More defensive than black bears, it is especially important to learn proper grizzly bear safety before venturing into the park.
While bicycles are not allowed on any of the hiking trails, cyclists are welcome to enjoy paved roads that are open to vehicles. The North Cascades Highway, also known as State Route 20, is a relatively quiet road that can be safer for cyclists in terms of on-coming traffic. However, before taking your bike out, you will want to confirm you have a bicycle repair pack with you, as the isolated road doesn’t see many travelers. Cyclists also have two specially designated campsites to choose from.
Camping in the park is very popular, and the first-come, first-served sites are often filled quickly early in the day. Reservations are recommended when possible to prevent disappointment when arriving. Be sure to bring all of your supplies like firewood and ice with you as they are not available within the park itself.
Horseback Riding and Stock Trails
Horseback riding is permitted in much of the park, and some of the most well-traveled trails include the Bridge Creek Trail, East Bank Trail, and Thunder Creek Trail. Besides horses, the trails are also open to animals such as llamas, donkeys, and mules. The maximum group size for traveling on the trails is “12 eyes,” which means six individuals (including humans and animals).
Visitors to North Cascades National Park can enjoy a variety of water activities, including canoeing, kayaking, and boating. Ross Lake Resort offers watercraft rentals, and Stehekin at Lake Chelan rents some select equipment. Visitors should be advised that both Diablo and Gorge Lakes do not have any rental facilities nearby.
The park offers ample opportunities for fishing, including five different species of salmon. Other fish include rainbow trout at Ross Lake, largemouth bass at lake Chelan, and cutthroat trout in the Stehekin River.
The Cascade Mountain range is sometimes referred to as the American Alps, and not surprisingly, this range offers wonderful hiking opportunities for adventure seekers. With over 400 miles of trails, there is no shortage of opportunities for enjoying the fresh air. The winter season is usually too snowy and wet for hiking, and hikers will want to plan their trip no earlier than April. Hikers can also choose from a variety of backcountry hiking options and spend the night at campsites away from the crowds.
For the more daring visitors, the park offers abundant opportunities for mountain climbing of all difficulty levels. Climbers need to obtain a free backcountry permit before beginning any climbs. Climbing reports are available for some sites, and these reports are compiled from rangers, other visiting climbers, and the climbing register.
Ranger programs are available for several different activities, including children’s programs, guided nature walks, and bus tours to take in the gorgeous scenery the park is known for. Visitors can check at the visitor center for upcoming ranger programs, including dates and times for each activity.
When to Go to North Cascades National Park
The best months to visit the park typically range from June through September, although snow can remain on trails at high elevations even through July. Caution should be exercised when visiting the park in either the winter or the spring, as avalanches are fairly frequent in the area due to the incline of the mountains. Avalanches have even been known to affect the North Cascades Highway, so drivers should be alert even when in the car. Storms are common at all times of year, and as with all mountain weather, temperatures can fluctuate quickly throughout the day.
Fall is particularly a favorite time to travel for tourists due to the changing colors in the mountain valleys. This time of year, offers scenic views and decent weather for both camping and hiking.
Must-Have Things to Bring to North Cascades National Park
The items below are advised by List of Parks to bring along on your adventures to North Cascades National Park.
North Cascades National Park is home to both black bears and grizzly bears. While black bears are much more common than grizzly bears in the area, both of these species can be dangerous. Although humans are typically more harmful to bears than bears are to humans, a defensive bear can severely injure or even kill a human. Bear spray is advised when traveling anywhere in the park.
Bicycling is a great way to get exercise and burn some calories while taking in the stunning views the Cascade Mountains have to offer. Be sure to cycle with a friend as some of the roads can be desolate, meaning a flat tire can leave you stranded if you don’t have the right equipment.
Weather can change both quickly and drastically in the mountains. Wearing layered clothing can help you be prepared for all types of weather and can prevent you from overheating or getting dangerously cold while in the outdoors.
Fasten a kayak onto your car before heading into the park. Kayaking on one of the many lakes in the park offers beautiful sites while giving you a more secluded visit to the park. Be sure to pack proper safety equipment including a close-fitting safety jacket along with a whistle and cell phone in case of an emergency.
If you are planning to fish within the park, be aware that you need a valid Washington State fishing license in order to do so. You must purchase the license ahead of time as there is nowhere within the park limits that sells the licenses, and without it, you could be facing hefty fines for illegal fishing.
The park is home to many species of birds that live in the abundant trees on the mountainside. A pair of binocular helps you get an up-close view of these birds while not disturbing wildlife in its natural habitat. If you are lucky, you may see a bobcat or even a black bear from a distance, although if you do cross one of these animals, you will want to give them ample space to pass.
Campfires are prohibited in many parts of the park. Packing a camp stove can help you have warm meals while in the cold outdoors. Remember to clean up your campsite appropriately to prevent wildlife (including bears) from being lured to your site unintentionally.
In addition to cleaning up your campsite, a bear box is a necessity when camping in bear country. A bear box is a sturdy container that you should place all of your food and other scented items in when sleeping and when leaving your campsite for a period of time. Items like baby wipes, toothpaste, and deodorant can all smell enticing to bears, so make sure to include these items in your bear box.
Avalanches are frequent in the area during winter. Climbers should never venture out without making sure they have appropriate avalanche gear in the event that one should occur while they are on the mountain.
Climbing gear is essential for anyone choosing to climb in the park. Inspect your gear before each use to make sure your gear is in appropriate condition for your climb. Discard any equipment that shows any sign of wear and tear.
Where to Stay in North Cascades National Park
Ross Lake Resort offers remote lakeside cabins, but availability can be limited. This resort is available only by hiking or ferry. There are also RV parks, Cascade River House, and Buffalo Run Inn just a few miles southwest of the park off of State Route 20. The small towns of Rockport and Birds view also host places to spend the night. Of course, camping is an option in the park during the warmer months.
Food Nearby North Cascades National Park
Rockport is your best bet for finding food near the park. Several of the restaurants in the area offers traditional American fare like burgers and fries, including Mondo Restaurant, Glacier Peak Resort and Winery, and Marblemount Diner. Visitors with dietary restrictions may want to bring their own meals with them as the selection can be limited.
Airports Near North Cascades National Park
The closest major airport to the park is Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, which is two hours southwest of the park. The airport has several rental car agencies on-site, so visitors can easily arrive for their flight and then quickly pick up a rental car. An alternate major airport the same distance away is Vancouver International Airport, but as this airport is in Canada, visitors will want to be sure they meet all the international travel requirements when crossing borders.