North Cascades National Park is located in the northernmost part of central Washington, United States. The park covers an area of 788.4 square miles (2,042 sq km) making it the largest of the three national parks in the state, Mount Olympic National Park and Mount Rainier National Park.
Affectionately known as the “American Alps,” the Cascades features astounding mountains that dramatically rise above the forested valleys below. The park is renowned for the rugged and jagged mountain summits.
The Cascades have the largest glacial system in the lower 48 contiguous United States. This gives way to the headwaters for hundreds of rivers and creeks. There are just over 310 glaciers spread across the park boundaries. Boston Glacier is the largest covering an area of 2.7 square miles (7 sq km). The glacial runoff often turns the rivers and creeks a turquoise color adding to the stunning landscapes.
The valleys and foothills of the range are highly forested. The park features the greatest biodiversity of flora over any other national park in the United States. There are over 500 lakes and ponds across the mountainous terrain.
Good Mountain is the highest point in the park with a summit of 9,220 feet (2,810 m). There are several mountains that reach over or just under 9,000 feet (2,700 m):
- Buckner Mountain – 9,114 feet (2,778 m)
- Mount Logan – 9,087 feet (2,770 m)
- Black Peak – 8,970 feet (2,730 m)
- Boston Peak – 8,894 feet (2,711 m)
- Eldorado Peak – 8,868 feet (2,703 m)
- Forbidden Peak – 8,815 feet (2,687 m)
The Southern Picket Range contains 21 summits that reach heights over 7,500 feet (2,300 m). The North Cascades of the national park is a backpackers and climbers paradise. Most of the exploration requires multiday exploration through pristine wilderness.
The varying forests, meadows, and mountain ecosystems are home to 75 different mammalian species. Some of the popular predator species include black bear, bobcat, cougar, coyote, lynx, mink, river otter, and the timber wolf. Bighorn sheep, elk, moose, and mountain goats are some of the larger species that people really enjoy seeing.
The bald eagle and the golden eagle are two of the most majestic of the 200 plus species of birds that nest or migrate through the park.
North Cascades Highlights
The North Cascades is the epitome of rugged mountainous wilderness. One of the highlights is the ability to experience such splendid nature in the solitude that is not afforded in other national parks in the same way. This solitude along with the ruggedness of these mountains attracts hikers, climbers, and mountaineers from around the world.
Mount Shuksan is the second tallest summit in the park with the peak reaching a height of 9,131 feet (2,783 m). It is one of the easier massive summits to experience and one of the most frequently photographed summits.
Trails of North Cascades National Park
North Cascades features over 400 miles (640 km) of hiking trails within the park boundaries. Parts of the cross country, Pacific Crest Trail and the Pacific Northwest Trail, trails pass through parts of the national park.
All campgrounds must be accessed by hiking and backpacking. There are no roads that access any of the campgrounds which is a unique feature of the park compared to other national parks in the United States.
Cascade Pass Trail: The trail features nearly 30 switchbacks over the 3.7-mile (5.95 km) trail that offers panoramic views of the Johannesburg ridgeline.
Maple Pass Loop Trail: This 7-mile (11.3 km) loop that really allows hikers to experience much of what makes the North Cascades so amazing. Hikers will meander the loop with views of old-growth forests, along panoramic ridgelines, and astounding jagged peaks. It has over 2,000 feet (610 m) of elevation change making it a challenging day hike.
Panther Creek and Fourth of July Camp: This is a strenuous 12-mile (19.3 km) hike with approximately 2,300 feet (701 m) of elevation change. Although the entire trail is filled with picturesque views, the pinnacle vista occurs at Fourth of July Camp with views overlooking Colonia Peak, Snowfield Peak, and the Neve Glacier.
Diablo Lake Trail: The challenging trail features an elevation gain of 1,400 feet (426.7 m) but delivers postcard views of Ross Lake and Diablo Lake which are the epitome of the picturesque nature of the North Cascades. Along the way, hikers will experience old-growth forests, waterfalls, and scenic views all capped off with the exquisite colors and landscape of Diablo Lake.
Rainbow Loop Trail: This is a 4.4-mile (7.08 km) loop trail with striking views of the Stehekin River Valley and the head of Lake Chelan.
North Cascades Highlights
- The rugged mountains of the American Alps
- Pristine wilderness with remote exploration
- Mount Shuksan
- All Trails in North Cascades National Park, https://www.alltrails.com/parks/us/washington/north-cascades-national-park, retrieved June 2020.
- Britannica, North Cascades National Park, https://www.britannica.com/place/North-Cascades-National-Park, retrieved June 2020.
- National Geographic, Complete National Parks of the United States, National Geographic Publishing, Washington DC.
- National Geographic, Guide to the National Parks of the United States, National Geographic Society, 2003.
- National Geographic, National Parks of North America, Canada-United States-Mexico, National Geographic Society, 1995.
- National Geographic, Venture Into the Wild ‘American Alps’, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/national-parks/north-cascades-national-park/, retrieved June 2020.
- National Park Service, North Cascades, https://www.nps.gov/noca/index.htm, retrieved June 2020.
- The Greatest Road Trip, North Cascades National Park, http://www.thegreatestroadtrip.com/north-cascades-national-park, retrieved June 2020.