Making The Most Of A Trip To The North Cascade National Park

January 15, 2020

Making The Most Of A Trip To The North Cascade National Park

The North Cascades National Park, also known as the ‘American Alps’, is in the highlands of the northern Washington state in the USA. Surrounded by a vast array of wildlife, mountainous trails, and lakes, you can plan to spend a full day exploring the park. There are numerous activities and things to see within the park, but the most popular thing to do here is to don your boots and hike. Here, we'll go through a little bit about the North Cascades National Park and how you can make the most of your time hiking there.

About the North Cascades National Park

The Northern Cascades National Park is an alpine paradise just three hours from Seattle. From alpine lakes and glacial mountain peaks to forested valleys and incredible views, the hiking here is spectacular. The park is almost entirely protected as wilderness, and so there are few roads or structures within the park. If you want to get back to nature, exploring the Northern Cascades National Park is a great way to do this.

The Northern Cascades National Park contains just a small part of the Cascade Range, which stretches 700 miles from British Columbia to California. There's plenty to explore in this mountain range and lots of different activities you can take part in in different areas. You can find out more about the range in our Cascades Range post.

When is the best time to visit North Cascades National Park?

The best time to visit the North Cascades National Park is between May to October. The weather is usually mild around this time, making it perfect for hiking. During this time, most of the trails, roads and visitor centres will be open too. However, it is still possible to visit the park at other times.

Checking the weather forecast before visiting the North Cascades National Park is important. During the summer, temperatures can rise to around 32 °Celsius (90 °Fahrenheit), so ensuring you pack appropriate clothing, including a change of clothing and plenty of water for your hike, is essential. As fresh, cold water lakes surround the park, cool down and take a dip on those much warmer days.

Important Note: The main highway leading into the National Park is closed during the winter month and parts of spring.

Trails in the North Cascades National Park

The North Cascades National Park Complex consists of 3 main areas; The Chelan Lake National Recreational Area, Ross Lake National Recreational Area, and North Cascades National Park. With 400 miles of long-distance trails, not only is this park great for hiking, but an extraordinary place for a back-packing adventure. Within the different areas of the North Cascades National Park, there are a variety of different hiking trails; here are some of our favourites:

Blue Lake

At 6,254 feet, Blue Lake is a trail in Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, located on Highway 20. This short and easy level 5-mile hike is perfect for beginners, making it a must on your hike list. Blue Lake trail takes you through the forest as well as being surrounded by towering mountains. The trail ends at Blue Lake, where you can continue to follow the trail around the lake for even more outstanding views.

Maple Pass Loop

Surrounded by panoramic views of the North Cascades, Maple Pass Loop hiking trail offers a range of high alpine views. Located on the North Cascades National Park border, you can experience spectacular views from the highest points on the trail. This 7.2 miles has a moderately difficult hiking level, taking about 3 to 5 hours to complete. The trail appreciates just how vast and breathtakingly picturesque the North Cascades National Park really is.

Rainy Lake

Rainy Lake is a 2-mile hiking trail, taking at least an hour to complete and rated a difficulty of easy, perfect for any level hikers. This trail shares the same trailhead as Maple Pass Loop. Following the flat walk path, you will be able to reach the clear coral-blue Rainy Lake, where beyond the lake sits the North Cascades National Park

Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm

Located along with Cascade River Road, Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm are recommended as the best hikes with high alpine views. This 12-mile hike will have you walking through evergreen forests, past mountains goats, and fields of wildflowers. Despite being labelled as a tough hike, it is absolutely worth the climb, reaching a climbing height of 4,150 feet. With a duration of around 5.5 to 7.5 hours, this hike will complete your hiking experience.

Hidden Lake

Hidden Lake is a 9-mile hike with a difficulty level of moderate to strenuous. This hiking trail offers a beautiful lake and high alpine views along the way, one to add to your list when visiting North Cascades National Park. If you choose to take this hike when visiting the park, 5 to 7 hours is estimated to complete this hiking trail which will be a full day’s plan.

Thornton Lake

Surrounded by a vast range of Rocky Mountains, Thornton Lake covers a 10.4-mile radius, taking around 5 to 8 hours to complete. Rated a moderate to difficult hiking level, the trail starts off relatively flat through thick forest. However, the hiking trail takes a steep climb to reach the high alpine views, followed by a short descent where you end up at the shore of Thornton Lake.

For more hikes, check out our best hiking routes in the Cascades, or why not discover some of the best views in the Cascades.

What to pack for a trip to the North Cascades National Park

To ensure you have a good time on the trails in the North Cascades National Park, having the right gear is essential. As a lot of the park is wilderness, facilities are few. Here is a basic packing list for your trip:

  • Layered Clothing: Having clothing that is suitable for various weather conditions is key; you never know when it might turn! So T-shirts, mid layers and good hiking bottoms are a must. You can browse our full range of hiking clothing that is made from moisture-wicking fabrics to keep you cool on the trail.

  • Waterproofs: You never know when the rain will appear in the mountains, so a waterproof jacket is a must. Browse our range of jackets for women and men's jackets to find a windproof and waterproof coat that'll see you through any weather.
  • Appropriate Footwear: Whether you're doing a small, easy trail or an all-day hike, having the appropriate footwear is essential. Hiking boots will keep your feet supported, warm and dry throughout your hike..
  • Hat: Keep your head warm during winter hikes, or keep your face shaded from the sun in the summer with a hat. You can find comfortable woolly hats in our accessories.
  • Water Bottle: Staying hydrated on the trail is essential, so take a reusable water bottle or hydration pack filled with water to stay hydrated.
  • First-Aid Kit: Plasters, pain relief, antiseptic wipes, and any personal medication will help to keep you healthy on the trail and allow you to deal with any small accidents, such as scrapes and blisters.
  • Snacks: Easily packable food items and snacks will keep your energy up on long trails. Food also gives you a good excuse to sit down and admire the view.
  • Backpack: No matter the size of your hike, a backpack is essential. That way, you can carry your layers and any snacks and water.

Remember, this is just a basic packing list; you will need more with you, depending on when you are going and the hikes you have planned.

Tips for making the most of your trip

When visiting the North Cascades National Park, there are a few things you can do before you arrive and while you are there to ensure you have the best trip:

  • Choose the right trail for your fitness level
  • Regularly train before going to the National Park, especially if you're planning on doing a large hike
  • Make sure to stay hydrated
  • Pack light but pack the essentials
  • Check the weather before the hike
  • Wear appropriate clothing depending on the weather
  • Maintain a safe distance from wildlife
  • Always take a map and compass with you on the trail
  • Remember to leave no trace

Whatever adventure you are planning, ensure you are kitted out with the right gear. Our clothing is designed for the outdoors, sustainable and ethical. Browse our full range of women's adventure clothing and adventure gear for men.