North Cascades Park
Ross Lake National Recreation Area
Highway 20 is a relatively recent route
through this wild country, completed in 1972. It follows
the narrow recreation area corridor, traverses the route
of the Skagit River, through the little town of
Newhalem (inside the park), and skirts the shore
of Diablo Lake, and then the south shore of Ross
Lake. Diablo is another little town in the
recreation area, bypassed by the highway. The highway is
closed during winter months, from mid-November to
mid-April, usually between Ross Dam and Washington Pass
-- beyond the eastern park boundary in the national
forest. Washington Pass provides unusual views of Liberty
Bell Mountain and the Early Winter Spires, from an
elevation of 5,483 feet.
As you drive east from the park boundary,
Goodell Creek Bridge provides a fine view of the
Picket Range. The three dams on the river are the
property of Seattle City Light, the civic power company
which provides electricity to light the Space Needle and
the rest of Seattle. The towns of Newhalem and Diablo are
also owned by City Light. The company provides an unusual
four-hour Skagit Tour, including a cruise on Diablo Lake.
You can also catch a City Light tugboat cruise between
Diablo and Ross dams. This one-hour trip begins near the
Diablo Lake Resort.
The village of Diablo is off the highway,
at milepost 126. A replica of the original waterwheel,
installed by the pioneering Davis family, is found next
to the Diablo powerhouse. Lucinda Davis and her family
settled here in 1901, establishing a roadhouse to service
the miners who arrived here during two gold rushes. There
was little gold and the mining period was abortive, but
dam-building brought permanent workers and the two
communities, as well as the building of a railway to
transport materials through the mountains for the
creation of Ross Lake.
Farther east along the highway, at milepost
132, Diablo Lake Overlook provides more views: of
Colonial Peak, to the southwest (el. 7,776 feet), and
Sourdough Mountain (to the north, with a lookout tower).
Drive another 22 miles, and you reach Washington
Pass. The lookout is to the north. Ross Lake
Resort is located on the western shore of the lake,
near the dam site. There are 17 boat access and marine
campsite areas, located around Ross Lake. The only
vehicle access to Ross Lake, with a boat launch, is at
the extreme north end of the lake, accessible only
through British Columbia, from an access road near the
town of Hope. Canoeists and kayakers have an easier time,
dipping into the water of Diablo Lake at Colonial Creek
Campground, then portaging around Ross Dam on a one-mile
Jeep trail, and entering Ross Lake.
Ranger stations provide information in
Newhalem, and at Colonial Creek. Campgrounds are located
at Goodall Creek, Newhalem, and Colonial Creek.
Highway 20 Day Hikes
There's a very short nature trail at
Newhalem, offering a view of the mid-mountain forest. The
trail starts at the suspension bridge, at the end of Main
Street. The forest here is in the Canadian Zone, with a
mixture of hemlock and western red cedar.
Thunder Woods Nature Trail begins at
the Colonial Creek Campground. This is a one-mile loop
walk through a cedar grove, with many old-growth western
red cedars, many of them more than 300 years old. For an
extra bit of hiking, walk along the first section of the
Thunder Creek Trail, which runs for 19 miles,
ascending to 6,300 feet.
This is the only road that enters the
park's southern unit from the west, running through the
national forest before reaching the park boundary. The
road leads from Highway 20 at Marblemount (across from
the Log House Inn). The pavement soon disappears, as the
road climbs and winds through the mountains, past camping
areas, to end at a parking lot and picnic area at an
elevation of 3,600 feet. The picnic area is situated
between Johannesburg Mountain (el. 8,200 feet) and Boston
Peak (el. 8,894 feet), to the east. The Park Service does
not recommend the final few miles of this road for travel
The trail to Cascade Pass begins at the
parking lot, leading 3.75 miles to an elevation of 5,384
feet. This is a traditional Native American route, used
by the Chelan and Skagit tribes to traverse the mountains
between Lake Chelan and the Skagit Valley. The trail
begins in the lowland forest and climbs into subalpine
forest and meadows, which have a beautiful display of
wildflowers in the early summer. Most visitors use the
trail only as far as the pass. You may choose to use the
trail as a walking route to the Stehekin Valley, by
hiking to the pass and then descending to the village of
Stehekin and Lake Chelan, via Stehekin Valley Road.
Most people arrive at the north shore of
Lake Chelan by boat (their own), or by taking a
four-hour ferry ride from the south shore of the lake.
Charter seaplane flights are also available.
Stehekin is a tiny pioneer community
inside the Chelan National Recreation Area -- a scenic
tourist hideaway with no access road from the outside. It
was settled in the early years of the 20th century, when
miners came through the area and spread word about the
beauty of the area, attracting tourists who required
hotels to stay in. There are several ways to enjoy a
This is the only national park area in the
state that offers backcountry camping without carrying a
backpack. A shuttle bus takes campers to eight
backcountry campsites, and comes back to transport you
back to Stehekin. There are two developed campgrounds in
the NRA: Harlequin and Purple Point. These campgrounds
have tent sites only, and there are showers near Purple
Point. There are also several places to stay, in relative
comfort, including North Cascades (Stehekin) Lodge,
Silver Bay Inn, and Stehekin Valley Ranch -- an operation
which has ten tent-cabins and shared showers.
Stehekin Day Hikes
There are short trails near the Lake Chelan
landing, including the Imus Creek Nature Trail
(.75 mile), and the McKellar Cabin Historical
Trail, which begins near the post office.
The Agnes Gorge Trail offers a
five-mile round trip on a level track. Take the shuttle
bus to High Bridge, near the junction with the Pacific
Crest Trail, and walk across the bridge to the Agnes
Gorge trailhead. The gorge has a depth of 210 feet, and
Agnes Mountain (el, 8,115 feet) is a prominent fixture.
The bus returns, on a fixed schedule, to pick up hikers
for the return to Stehekin.
Horseshoe Basin Trail leaves from
the Cascade Pass Trail. This steep walk of 3.75 miles
passes at least 15 waterfalls, with fantastic views all
along the way. At the end of the trail is the old Black
Warrior Mine. You'll need a light in order to enter the
More than 350 miles of trails loop through
the north and south units of the park, and follow the
shore of Lake Ross. Other trails, including the
Pacific Crest Trail, lead through the adjacent
national forests, . The longer national park trails have
campsites every three to four miles. Permits are required
for overnight trips, either from the Park Service or
Forest Service, depending on whose area you're hiking.
Here are several of the many backcountry opportunities
available in this vast wilderness region.
Big Beaver/Little Beaver Trail
Access: The trailhead is at Ross
Dam, where there is a parking lot. The trail passes
through the Ross Lake Resort, on its way north along the
lakeshore. You can also start at the northwestern
trailhead, found on State Route 542, near its end at the
Mount Baker Ski Area. This road leads from Deming, and
Interstate 5 (exit 255).
The Trail: The full length of this
hike is 46 miles, from Ross Dam to Hannegan Campground,
outside the national park boundary in the Mt.
Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. It follows the courses
of Big Beaver Creek, Brush Creek and the Chilliwack
River. The final part of the hike is along the Little
Beaver Trail which has an east-west course through the
northern part of the park.
The Hike: Beginning by skirting the
southern part of Ross Lake, leading along a hill above
the lake, the trail meets Big Beaver Creek and starts
climbing in a northwesterly direction. You'll see huge
beaver dams which are thought to be at least 150 years
old. There is an active beaver family, with dam, at
39-Mile Creek. This area has a fine stand of mature
western red cedars. The trail offers a gentle climb,
following the creek, with great views of the jagged
Picket Range, and Luna Cirque. The trail has a series of
switchbacks while it climbs to Beaver Pass (3,819 feet).
The junction with Little Beaver Trail is found after a
two-mile descent from the pass. Take the Little Beaver
Trail, heading west (more or less), and climbing, as it
curves over Whatcom Pass (5,213 feet). Beyond the pass is
another junction. Take the Hannegan/Chilliwack trail, to
the left. You'll find Hannegan Campground about five
miles into the national forest. The trail comes to an end
at State Route 542&emdash;the road to Mount Baker Ski
Area&emdash;five miles west of the campground.
Thunder Creek-Park Creek Trail
Access: One of the most popular
longer hikes, this trail leads from the Colonial Creek
Campground to the Stehekin Valley. Most hikers begin at
the north end of the route, on Highway 20. There's a
ranger station near the campground, with trail
The Trail: The 26-mile trail leads
south, climbing and dropping several times, finally
reaching its highest point (6,063 feet) at Park Creek
Pass. It ends at Stehekin Valley Road, with access to
several campgrounds and the rustic resorts north of Lake
The Hike: The Thunder Creek Trail
offers several fine views of notable mountain sights in
the first few miles, including Snowfield Peak, Boston
Glacier (sitting under Forbidden Peak), Buckner Mountain,
and Boston Peak. The trail almost meets the toe of Boston
Glacier. Park Creek Pass often has snow through July, and
the path is marked by cairns. The trail descends to
Stehekin River Road, providing access to Bridge Creek
Campground, among several others.
Access: Several park and recreation
area trails make up parts of the Pacific Crest Trail,
which extends from Canada to Mexico, down the spine of
the Cascades and then south along the Sierra Nevada. The
northern entry point is in Manning Provincial Park,
northeast of the north shore of Ross Lake. The trail does
not pass through the national park, but stays to the
east, in Okanogan National Forest, meeting Highway 20
near Rainy Pass.
The Trail: From north to south, the
trail crosses the border from Manning Park and leads
south, to the west of Ross Lake, skirting Desolation
Peak, then moving through the Pasayten Wilderness. The
trail heads farther south, past Majestic Mountain, with
two backcountry campgrounds available for an overnight
stay, and connects with Highway 20 near Rainy Pass (west
of Washington Pass). It then heads south into the Lake
Chelan National Recreation Area, with access to several
campgrounds, before heading farther west, following the
Cascade ridges, through the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National
Forest. The northern portion of the trail, from Manning
Park to the western edge of the Lake Chelan National
recreation Area, will involve a solid four-day hike.
The Hike: Our recommended hike
involves the Bridge Creek Trail, a short portion of the
Pacific Crest Trail, running between the North Cascades
Highway and the upper Stehekin Valley. The hike shouldn't
take longer than three or four hours, even if you dally.
It begins near Rainy Pass, beside Highway 20, with the
trail paralleling the highway for about two miles, and
then turning south and west to follow the flow of Bridge
Creek. The trail provides access to several other trails,
including Twisp Pass, Rainbow Lake, and McAlester.
The Walker Park Trail is farther to
the south, leading north from the Bridge Creek Trail,
following the North Fork of Bridge Creek to a vantage
point between Mount Logan and Goode Mountain.
The main Bridge Creek (Pacific Crest)
Trail continues southward through the forest, into
the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area, to Stehekin
Valley Road and Bridge Creek Campground.