Despite the fact that the North Cascades National Park is one of the least visited national parks, this park has a lot to offer and is often underrated. Made up of countless mountains and nearly 500 lakes, it offers spectacular scenery. Whether you want to go on a few mile hike, or prefer not to walk more than a few hundred feet from the car; North Cascades offers something for everyone.
What you need to know
- It is free to go. However some of the trailheads do require a day pass. You can use your America the Beautiful pass if you have one.
- Eat before you get there and bring snacks. Unfortunately there really aren’t any good food options within the national park, so you need to plan ahead. Fill your car with gas before as well.
- We spent a day here and had plenty of time to see everything and go on small hikes. If you want to do the longer hikes, you will probably need at least 2 days.
- Driving along Highway 20, you will see all of the top spots. There are long hikes for those wanting more exercise, but this is one park where you can see most everything with short walks from the car. Drive back the same way because you will see things you missed the first time going the other direction.
- As the drive takes you through mountains, North Cascades unfortunately closes during the winter. Always check here at the NPS website to make sure the roads are all open. Most people plan their trips for July-September. Typically the highway closes around November and reopens sometime in May.
Where is it located?
North Cascades National Park is located about 3 hours Northeast of Seattle and 3 hours Southeast of Vancouver, BC. You can easily visit it when visiting either city. The nearest airports are going to be in Seattle or Vancouver.
My recommendation would be to fly into Vancouver and explore Vancouver for a few days. Make the drive down and spend a day in North Cascades National Park. After you have got your fill of the beautiful mountains and emerald green lakes, drive down to Seattle and explore this city. We did a similar trip and had a lot of fun.
Where to Stay?
There are places to camp within North Cascades National Park, click here for the available options.
There are several smaller hotels that are located nearer to the park entrance, however since we were going between Seattle and Vancouver, we decided to stay in Burlington, WA which is right off of I-5. We stayed at the Fairfield Inn and Suites by Marriott and it was great. I highly recommend if you stay there going to Railroad Pub and Pizza for dinner and Billy’s Cafe for breakfast. Billy’s Cafe was filled with locals when we were there, all just getting ready to start the day. The portion sizes are huge; great to fill you up before you enter the North Cascades National Park.
Diablo Lake Overlook
Diablo Lake overlook is probably the most iconic view of the North Cascades. You have a spectacular view of the emerald lake with the mountains in the background.
Washington Pass Overlook
To see the view, you have to walk about 1/4 mile that is nice and paved. It leads you to an amazing view of the Liberty Bell Mountain Overlook. If you don’t have balance issues, take the full loop that goes over some rocks and you will get to see some more of the area. Otherwise just go back the same way on the paved road.
Gorge Creek Falls
Short 0.5 mile loop trail leads you to see Gorge Lake and Gorge Dam. You can also see the Gorge Creek Falls.