Visiting the North Cascades – What you need to know

I have said it before and I will say it again, there is nowhere more beautiful than Washington State in August. I drove cross-country to get there and I would do it again! (But if you think somewhere is better drop me a comment, I’d love to visit!). Washington has it all, coastline, dormant volcanoes, mountains, beautiful rugged forests, and bustling cities.

One of the gems of Washington is North Cascades National Park. Home to Diablo Lake, Sahale Glacier, numerous peaks, and magnificent wildflowers, nature lovers everywhere will rejoice here.

Here is what you need to know to visit this wonderful national park

Getting There

There are two options to enter into North Cascades National Park. One accessible by road and one exclusively accessible via hiking or boat!

By Road

With the entrance of the park located just a 2-3 hour drive from Seattle or a 1.5 hour drive from Bellingham, this National Park is relatively accessible. Whether you want a day trip or a weekend getaway, visiting this park is within reach!

Like many National Parks, though, there will be more driving time than what is listed on Google Maps. Once you enter the park, if you are interested in just driving through, it will likely take you several hours to make your way along the 1, yes, just 1, paved road in the park!

Map of the North Cascades NP from

With just one paved road in the park, and mountainous terrain to navigate through, you’ll need to wear your patient cap as you may end up behind people driving slowly and sight-seeing. Alternatively, if you are the one driving slow and sight-seeing, be aware that there are pulloff sights along the side of the road. USE THEM. Pull off and allow faster cars to pass. It’s better for everyone 🙂

Also pro tip – make sure to fill up on gas before entering the park! I always try to have a completely full tank to fuel my explorations.

By Ferry

At the souther tip of the park lies Lake Chelan, a long and narrow lake 50.5 miles long. There are several options (Lady of the Lake, Stehekin Ferry) for you to make your way from one of the towns around Lake Chelan into the beautiful Cascades via boat.

At the end of a mesmerising trip across the lake, you will find yourself in Stehekini, an area completely inaccessible by road.

Both options will put the beauty of the North Cascades in full view. Take a look at both options and what you can do in the park based on where you go. This may help you decide what works best for you.

Lady of the Lake Charters

What to do

Hiking, biking, swimming, kayaking, boating, picture taking, running, pick-nicking and more! The possibilities for what to do in the North Cascades National Park is endless. Let’s take some of the highlights:

Hiking, Backpacking, and Camping

Hiking and backpacking in the North Cascades National Park will reward you with picturesque, glacier topped mountain views, sprawling fields of wildflowers, a uniquely blue lake and much more.

What’s great about the North Cascades is that there are really trails for everyone. Whether you are interested in a casual stroll for only less than an hour or a multi-day immersive nature experience (like my hike over “not so” Easy Pass), you can find what you are looking for here. The National Park System has put together this awesome wilderness trip planner to help you out.

When it comes to multi-day backpacking and camping, you will likely need a permit. New this year, you can now make online reservations up to 2 days before your desired start date! While this may not seem like a big deal, previously in order to obtain a permit, you would need to visit the ranger’s office either the day of or the day before your desired start date.

This was really inconvenient if you couldn’t go the day before your trek because your desired camping locations may have been permitted the day before. The new process has three possibilities to acquire a reservation: the early-access lottery, the general on-sale, and walk up permits. Here are the dates for 2022 (no more early access). You can check for future year dates when they become available here:

Take note also that there are some “Boat-In” campsites. For these, you will still need to reserve a backcountry permit.

Swimming and Kayaking

When it comes to swimming and Kayaking in North Cascades National Park you have quite a few options between all the lakes and creeks. If you feel yourself overheating on a hot summer day, just take a quick dive into one of the snowmelt lakes and you will cool right off!

One of the undisputed coolest features of North Cascades National Park is Diablo Lake. Not sure you want to swim in the devil’s lake? Rest assured it is absolutely safe albeit just a teenyy bit cold. *Disclaimer: Generally the temperature of the lake doesn’t go above 50 degrees Fahrenheit, even in Summer!

The name of the brilliantly blue-green lake comes from the origin of it’s water. The reservoir is created by Diablo Dam which is situated in Diablo canyon, a canyon with solid granite walls 160 feet high! What about the strange, stark blue-green color? Is it safe to swim? YES! The distinct blue color of Diablo Lake is due to glacial flour. Glacial flour is rock that glaciers grind into the waterways.

Diablo Lake

Cameras Ready 📸

North Cascades National Park is full of incredible photo spots. Say cheese –>

Round Up

If you are sold on visiting North Cascades National Park, here is a complete and organized list of all the links that I referenced in the article plus more!

General Information:
National Park System Website

Getting to Stehekin By Ferry:
Lady of the Lake
Stehekin Ferry

Camping: to make a reservation
Permit System
Trail Map to help you plan your route

Alltrails North Cascades National Park

Happy Exploring!


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