Hiking in North Cascades National Park
Black bears are often sighted along trails in the summer; DO NOT approach them! Back away carefully, and report sightings to the Golden West Visitor Center. Cougars, which are shy of humans and well aware of their presence, are rarely sighted in this region. Still, keep kids close and don't let them run ahead too far or lag behind on a trail. If you do spot a cougar, pick up children, have the whole group stand close together, and make yourself look as large as possible.
Outfitters and Expeditions
Alpine Ascents. Seattle-based Alpine Ascents makes Mt. Baker in the North Cascades National Park one of its prime climbing destinations. 206/378–1927. www.alpineascents.com.
American Alpine Institute. Based in Bellingham, WA, the American Alpine Institute conducts training trips and guided tours of the park. 360/671–1505. www.alpineinstitute.com.
North Cascades Mountain Guides. This outfitter provides training and tours at Mazama, one of the towns closest to the park and a hiking and mountaineering hub. 48 Lost River Rd., Mazama, WA, 98833. 509/996–3194. www.ncmountainguides.com.
Pacific Crest Trail Association. This organization provides maps, route advice, and tour suggestions for the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. 916/285–1846. www.pcta.org.
Pacific Northwest Trail Association. Access all sorts of resources here, including advice on tours and independent travel, for hiking the 60 miles of magnificent Pacific Northwest Trail (which links Glacier National Park in Montana to Cape Alava on the Washington coast of Olympic National Park) as it passes right through North Cascades National Park and the Ross Lake National Recreation Area. Sights along the way include Ross Lake, Big Beaver Trail, and the Whatcom and Hannegan passes. 877/854–9415. www.pnt.org.
Happy Creek Forest Walk. Old-growth forests are the focus of this kid-friendly boardwalk route, which loops just 0.3 miles through the trees right off the North Cascades Highway. Interpretive signs provide details about flora along the way. Easy. Trailhead at milepost 135, North Cascades Hwy., North Cascades National Park, WA, 98283. www.nps.gov/noca.
Rainy Pass. An easy and accessible 1-mile paved trail leads to Rainy Lake, a waterfall, and glacier-view platform. Easy. Trailhead off Hwy. 20, 38 mi east of visitor center at Newhalem, North Cascades National Park, WA, 98283. www.nps.gov/noca.
Rock Shelter Trail. This short trail—partly boardwalk—leads to a campsite used 1,400 years ago by Native Americans; interpretive signs tell the history of human presence in the region. Easy. Trailhead off Hwy. 20 near Newhalem Creek Campground, North Cascades National Park, WA, 98283. www.nps.gov/noca/planyourvisit/newhalem-area-trails.htm.
River Loop Trail. Take this flat and easy, 1.8-mile, wheelchair-accessible trail down through stands of huge, old-growth firs and cedars toward the Skagit River. Easy. Trailhead near North Cascades Visitor Center, North Cascades National Park, WA, 98267. www.nps.gov/noca/planyourvisit/newhalem-area-trails.htm.
Sterling Munro Trail. Starting from the North Cascades Visitor Center, this popular introductory stroll follows a short 300-foot path over a boardwalk to a lookout above the forested Picket Range peaks. Easy. Milepost 120, near Newhalem Creek Campground, North Cascades National Park, WA, 98283.
Trail of the Cedars. Only 0.3 miles long, this trail winds its way through one of the finest surviving stands of old-growth western red cedar in Washington. Some of the trees on the path are more than 1,000 years old. Easy. Trailhead near North Cascades Visitor Center, milepost 120, Hwy. 20, Newhalem, WA, 98283. www.nps.gov/noca/planyourvisit/newhalem-area-trails.htm.
Cascade Pass. This extremely popular 3.7-mile, four-hour trail is known for stunning panoramas from the great mountain divide. Dozens of peaks line the horizon as you make your way up the fairly flat, hairpin-turn track, the scene fronted by a blanket of alpine wildflowers from July to mid-August. Arrive before noon if you want a parking spot at the trailhead. Moderate. Trailhead at end of Cascade River Rd., 14 miles from Marblemount, North Cascades National Park, WA, 98267. www.nps.gov/noca/planyourvisit/cascade-pass-trail.htm.
Diablo Lake Trail. Explore nearly 4 miles of waterside terrain on this route, which is accessed from the Sourdough Creek parking lot. An excellent alternative for parties with small hikers is to take the Seattle City Light Ferry one way. Moderate. Trailhead at milepost 135, Hwy. 20, North Cascades National Park, WA, 98283. www.nps.gov/noca.
Thornton Lakes Trail. A 5-mile climb into an alpine basin with three pretty lakes, this steep and strenuous hike takes about five to six hours round-trip. Difficult. Trailhead off Hwy. 20, 3 mi west of Newhalem, Thornton Lake Rd. and Hwy. 20, North Cascades National Park, WA, 98283. www.nps.gov/noca/planyourvisit/thornton-lake-trail.htm.
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