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North Cascades National Park - Washington

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 Page 2: Cascade River Rd. | Stehekin Valley
Backcountry Hikes | Pacific Crest Trail | To Hotel Guide

North Cascades Park Features

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.

Cascade River Road

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 by trailers.

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.

Stehekin Valley

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 vacation here.

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 mine tunnel.

Backcountry Hiking

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 information.

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 Chelan.

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.

Pacific Crest Trail

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.

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