North Cascades National Park - Washington

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Remote and Beautiful

Sitting on flat land, in the wide valley of the Skagit River, the sleepy little town of Sedro Wooley (a joining together of two villages) serves as the headquarters for North Cascades National Park. It is a half-hour's drive from the town to the park boundary, via the North Cascades Highway, and has some basic motel accommodations.

The park is one of the least visited federal park areas, and while millions visit the Grand Canyon, stumbling over each other in the furious rush to be the first from their bus to peer over the brink, only a few thousand come to the northeastern corner of the nation to take in the equally-stupefying wonders of the northern Cascade Mountains. And if hordes arrived, there would be no place to stay.

Only two small resort operations are found inside the park: at Ross Lake, beside Ross Dam on the North Cascades Highway, and at the south end of the park, Stehekin Lodge. However, there are small towns on each side of the park (via the highway), and there are numerous campsites along the highway, in addition to those along the Cascade River Road, an unpaved route which leads southeast from the village of Marblemount.

Actually, these are not the most northerly of the Cascades. Those are in Canada, immediately north of the international border. If you want to experience the complete series of ranges, you have to drive to Vancouver B.C., take the Trans-Canada Highway (#1) to the town of Hope B.C., then make a right turn, heading east into the Cascades to Manning Provincial Park. Here, a road to a mountaintop will deliver you to a spectacular view of the northernmost Cascades. You can also walk to the Canadian mountains over the northern portion of the Pacific Crest Trail, hiking north from the North Cascades Highway, along the shore of Ross Lake, around the base of Desolation Peak, and across the border into Manning Provincial Park.

Consisting primarily of the Picket Range of the Cascades, the mountains in North Cascades National Park are completely unlike the freestanding volcanoes to the south and west. This is a range of upthrust mountains, with huge vertical walls, jagged peaks, glaciers, and greenish-blue lakes, all contributing to a landscape which has been dubbed the North American Alps. The geology of these mountains is the result of a combination of plate tectonics and volcanism, brought about by the usual culprits: the mainland and Pacific plates, and the rim of fire lying deep underground and escaping long ago to help shape the mountains. Mount Baker, not part of the park, but within the adjacent Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, is the nearest volcano. This beautiful mountain sits immediately west of the park boundary.

The park area is divided into three sec

How to Get There

tions. The large northern and southern portions (called "units") are separated by the Ross Lake National Recreation Area, through which the North Cascades Highway runs. The recreation area is the most-visited portion of the park complex, providing campgrounds, short trails, and recreational facilities on the lake.

From Seattle (115 miles from the park), or from the Canadian border at Blaine, take Interstate 5 to Washington Highway 20, also known as the North Cascades Highway (exit 230). From the east, take Washington Highway 20 south of the community of Mazama.

To get to the south end of the park takes some advance planning. Stehekin Lodge is located north of Lake Chelan, inside the park. If you don't mind some hiking, you can drive southwest on Cascade River Road, from Highway 20 at Marblemount. This route comes to an end, and you have to hike over Cascade Pass to reach Stehekin River Road. Otherwise, you drive to the town of Chelan, at the southern end of Lake Chelan via U.S. Highway 97, and then take a four-hour ferry ride to the north end of the lake. This park section is the Chelan National Recreation Area. You can also take a chartered floatplane from Chelan. No wonder that most motorized visitors use the North Cascades Highway as their axis for visits to the park.

To reach the park headquarters from the north, drive south on Interstate 5, and turn east onto Cook Road, at interstate exit 232. From the south, take I-5 to State Route 20 (Exit 230) and drive through Sedro Wooley on the North Cascades Highway. There is also a park information station at Marblemount, 6.5 miles west of the park boundary.

Park Essentials

Headquarters and main information center:
2105 Highway 20, Sedro Wooley, WA 98284

Phone (360) 856-5700

Other information centers are located at the North Cascades Visitor Center, near Newhalem, and at the Golden West Visitor Center in Stehekin. Both centers have exhibits and audio-visual programs. There are also ranger stations in the park units, offering information on trails and campground facilities.

Campgrounds are located along the North Cascades Highway (#20), and backcountry locations along major trails. There are campgrounds in the Lake Chelan National Recreation Center, south of the south park unit. Ranger-led interpretation walks are available during summer, at Newhalem, Stehekin, and Colonial Creek campgrounds.

Food and lodging are available at Ross Lake Resort, and in Stehekin at North Cascade (Stehekin) Lodge. Food stores are located in Newhalem and Marblemount, both on Highway 20.

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