North Cascades National Park is a U.S. National Park located in the state of Washington. The park is the largest of the three National Park Service units that comprise the North Cascades National Park Service Complex. Several national wilderness areas and British Columbia parkland adjoin the National Park. The park features rugged mountain peaks and protects portions of the North Cascades range.
With glacier-clad peaks rising almost vertically from thickly forested valleys, North Cascades are often called the American Alps. The national park forms one unit of the North Cascades National Park Service Complex. The two other units Ross Lake National Recreation Area and Lake Chelan National Recreation Area contain most visitor facilities.
The park complex preserves virgin forests, fragile subalpine meadows, and hundreds of glaciers. Mule deer and black-tailed deer graze the high meadows, where black bears gorge on berries and hoary marmots sunbathe. Mountain goats clamber on rock faces. Mountain lions and bobcats, seldom seen, help keep other wildlife populations in balance.
North Cascades National Park Hiking
The wildness and ruggedness of the park especially lure hikers, backpackers, and mountaineers. “A more difficult route to travel never fell to man’s lot,” complained trapper Alexander Ross, who came here in 1814. But today the main road (through Ross Lake NRA) and easy access into the park on some of its nearly 400 miles of trails also allow more casual visitors to experience the peaceful forests and the drama of the mountains.
The region forms part of the Cascade Range, named for its innumerable waterfalls. The range extends from British Columbia to northern California. A geological theory proposes that the mountains began as a micro-continent several hundred miles out in the Pacific Ocean. Over the eons a series of islands floated on their plate toward North America. About a hundred million years ago, the plate smashed into the North American continent, folding and crumpling into a mountain range as it lodged against the landmass. Those mountains eroded; the North Cascades you see today rose only five or six million years ago.
The western part of the park differs markedly from the east. Moisture blows in from Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It hits the western slopes and rises, condensing to rain and snow. Western red cedars, hemlocks, and Douglas firs luxuriate on slopes that receive 110 inches of precipitation a year. When the winds reach the east, they are mostly wrung dry: Only 35 inches of precipitation fall in Stehekin at the head of Lake Chelan. Arid-dwelling sagebrush and ponderosa pine grow in the peaks’ rain shadow.
What to Do at North Cascades
The Desolation Peak Trail is 6.8 miles one way and has a 4,400-foot elevation gain, but serious hikers willing to make the climb will be rewarded with grand vistas, open meadows, and a fire lookout where writer Jack Kerouac stayed during his time in North Cascades.
Many of the most scenic, rewarding hikes are off the beaten track, giving backpackers the opportunity to make the most of the remote trails. Backcountry campers will enjoy the moderately steep 3.7-mile Cascade Pass Trail, which passes through Horseshoe Basin and by numerous waterfalls and has spectacular glacier and mountain views. Serious hikers can continue along the more strenuous, six-mile Sehale Arm Trail. The trailhead is 23.1 miles from the highway, and backcountry camping permits are required for overnight stays.
Campers, backpackers, and rafters wanting to reach a more secluded area of the park should overnight at Hannegan Camp in the park’s Copper Ridge area. The 13.9-mile Copper Ridge Trail affords jaw-dropping views of the North Cascades.
Lake Chelan is the third deepest lake in the United States and the largest natural lake in Washington state. About 10,000 people live year-round in the Chelan Valley area, which is comprised of Chelan, Manson, and Stehekin. Its central location (three hours from both Seattle and Spokane) makes the region a popular vacation spot among Washingtonians. Chelan has plenty of places to stay, dine, and shop, and a host of outfitters give visitors the chance to hike, horseback ride, golf, fish, and partake in a multitude of water activities, such as kayaking, river-rafting, scuba-diving, and boating.