North Cascades National Park is a mere 2-hour drive from Seattle but feels worlds away. North Cascades is just one of three national parks in Washington and is often overlooked in favor of Mount Ranier National Park and the Olympic National Park. North Cascades National Park sits near the state’s northern border and is home to jagged mountain peaks, countless alpine lakes, and over 300 glaciers. The park is home to the highest concentration of glaciers in the United States outside of Alaska. In this itinerary, your journey begins at our Seattle location and then high into the mountains of North Cascades National Park.
Seattle to North Cascades National Park
The best way to get to North Cascades National Park is from our Seattle location. It will take you about 4 hours round trip from our hub.
Why rent a campervan for a trip to North Cascades National Park?
Benefits of renting a campervan vs RV
A campervan gives you unrivaled mobility and comfort. While an RV may have a similar level of comfort, you’re limited on where you can park. A camper van offers the best of both worlds– camping made comfortable and easy.
An Escape Campervan rental includes many of the same amenities as an RV but in a cooler, more agile package. Like an RV, a campervan offers a working kitchen, a table and seating, and a queen-size bed. However, it’s all more compact, so it’s easier to drive, and the bed and kitchen only unfold when you need them to.
When you get a camper van rental, your adventure isn’t confined to the main roads or those crowded RV campsites. Camper vans can easily use more secluded tent sites. And camper vans don’t require the electric or sewer hookups like an RV does. Also, camper vans are a great option for dispersed camping!
Preparing for a Trip to North Cascades National Park
Rain Gear: When you travel in the Pacific Northwest, you never know what the weather will do. This is especially true in the mountains. Come prepared for the rain, sun, and everything in between. Bring a rain jacket, waterproof layers, and plenty of dry clothes.
Sun Protection: Washington may be in the northern reaches of the country, but during the summer, the sun is powerful. Bring sunscreen and a hat for the long summer days.
Layers: The nights and cloudy days in the mountains can be chilly, so bring plenty of layers. Temperatures drop to freezing even in the summer in North Cascades.
Water & Food: A Campervan allows you to take everything you need on the road. Add a kitchen kit to your campervan to plan your meals during your journey.
Dispersed camping vs. campsites: Summer is the perfect time to camp in Washington. A van makes dispersed camping easy. You can disperse camp for free on federal and BLM land. There are plenty of apps to help you find a dispersed camping site on your route.
- Dispersed camping is not allowed in North Cascades National Park, but can be found in the nearby Ross Lake National Recreational Area and on other nearby federal land.
- If you’re considering booking a campsite, either in a national/state park or a private campsite, make sure you book at least two months before your trip.
- If you plan to tackle any multiday hikes in the park, Backcountry Camping Permits are required.
Phones & Chargers: Navigation is integral to your trip’s success. Make sure you bring a smartphone or GPS device and a charger.
Printed Maps: You never know when you’ll lose service in the mountains. Take a printed road map of the park in case you lose service.
Which Camper Van is Best for Washington?
Escape Campervans Seattle location offers a variety of van models to suit your travel needs, group size, and desired destination. These vans are equipped with all the bells and whistles to provide the ultimate mix of comfort and ease of travel. With a built-in kitchenette, solar panels, and a comfortable queen bed, there’s no better way to hit the road. You can choose between the spacious Big Sur, Del Mar, and Mavericks model from our Seattle pickup location. Each van sleeps up to 5 people (with a rooftop sleeper). Browse our selection of vans to find the perfect model for your Washington road trip, and make sure it’s stocked with everything you need for an epic adventure.
North Cascades Hikes & Activities
The Cascade Loop National Scenic Byway is one of the country’s most enchanting drives that takes you deep through the Washington Wilderness.
This drive covers a 30-mile stretch of road that bisects the park and takes you around towering mountains, through old-growth forests, and to electric blue alpine lakes.
The overlook is located at mile 136 near the Happy Creek Nature Trail.
From the Ross Lake Overlook, visitors can look out across the park’s largest lake system and spy its terminus across the Canadian border.
This difficult 9-mile out-and-back hike climbs 3,000 feet to one of the park’s most pristine mountain lakes. Thornton Lake Trail is popular as both a day hike and for backpacking. Register with the park if you plan to camp overnight.
Bring plenty of drinking water, hike with poles if needed, and make sure to set out early to give yourself ample daylight to complete this challenging route.
Stargaze in North Cascades National Park
North Cascades’ remote location makes it the perfect destination for stargazers and amateur astronomers.
The farther east you venture into the park, the farther removed you are from civilization or light pollution, which makes for great stargazing.
Spend your day on the Water in North Cascades.
There are over 500 lakes and ponds within North Cascades park boundaries. So, if you’re an avid paddler, angler, or boater, you have options.
For boaters, head to Lake Chelan, Diablo Lake, and Ross Lake. Check out kayak, SUP, and Boat rentals near the park here.
This 3.4 mile out and back is a moderately easy hike with only 675 feet of elevation gain. At the end of the trail, hikers are rewarded with views of a stunning alpine lake that has to be seen to be believed.
Take on the Rapids in the Skagit River
The Skagit River is Washington’s premier whitewater river. This mighty river is fed by over 3,000 mountain streams, making it the Western US’s third largest in terms of volume.
Check out whitewater rafting outfitters near the park here.
In 1965, Jack Kerouac manned the fire tire at Desolation Peak. His time there inspired his novel Desolation Angels.
This strenuous trail climbs for over 4,500 feet over 8.7 miles, but the view from the famed lookout is well worth it.
“I came to a point where I needed solitude and just stop the machine of ‘thinking’ and ‘enjoying’ what they call ‘living,’ I just wanted to lie in the grass and look at the clouds.” -Jack Kerouac
Stehekin is an isolated community located on the shores of Lake Chelan, the third deepest lake in the United States. There are only 75 permanent residents and no road access.
Travelers can visit Stehekin by taking the Stehekin Ferry launches from Field’s Point Landing, backpacking to the town, or seaplane.
There are campgrounds within Stehekin.
Camping in North Cascades National Park
North Cascades National Park boasts over 500,000 with plenty of campsites within the park. The campsites in North Cascades National Park are a mix of first come, first serve, and reservable sites. Reservations can be made through the park website. North Cascades National Park does not allow dispersed camping within park boundaries. However, dispersed camping can be found in the Ross Lake National Recreation Area and nearby on federal land. Check out these apps to help you find dispersed campsites. If you plan to reserve a campsite in the park, do so at least two months in advance.
Accessing the Park
Access the park from the State Route 20 corridor. SR 20 (North Cascades Highway), which connects with Interstate 5 (Exit 230) at Burlington. From the east, the highway intersects with US 97 at Okanogan and with SR 153 at Twisp. Be aware that the State Department of Transportation closes a portion of the road between Ross Dam Trailhead and Lone Fir Campground in winter. The Lake Chelan National Recreation Area (Stehekin) is accessible by ferry or plane from Chelan. Find directions here.
Wildlife in North Cascades National Park
North Cascades National Park is home to a diverse ecosystem with a variety of animals and plants unique to the area. On rare occasions, visitors may spot an elusive gray wolf or wolverine, but sightings are unlikely. Visitors will likely encounter Columbia black-tailed deer, Douglas squirrels, and pikas. Birds of prey like the bald eagle, osprey, or peregrine falcons are common as well. Campers should be aware of the large black bear population and take necessary precautions when storing food. Grizzly bears do call the park home, but sightings are rare.
Where to Camp in North Cascades National Park
Colonial Creek Campground: Located near the shores of the glistening Diablo Lake, Colonial Creek offers creek-side and forested campgrounds by reservation from May to September.
Goodell Creek Campground: Located off the North Cascades Highway on the west side of the park, this campground has 19 first-come, first-serve campsites and two large reservable areas for groups.
The Cascade River Retreat is a private campground in Marblemount, WA, along the Cascade River. This campsite is a Native American Homestead offering riverside camping near the park.
Newhalem Creek Campground is located within the park and offers comfortable facilities near the town of Newhalem, Washington, and the Skagit River.
Gorge Lake Campground offers primitive lakeshore camping on Gorge Lake. There is no access to water or facilities. Reservations are available during the summer only. Sites are first come, first serve in the winter.
Lower Goodell Creek Group Campground is located on the banks of Goodell Creek and offers reservable tent sites, RV sites, fire rings, and vault toilets.
Leave No Trace Principles
Whenever traveling in a national park or out in nature, utilize Leave No Trace Principles, meaning pack out everything you packed in, including food waste, trash, camping gear, and anything else you may have brought.
When is the best time to visit North Cascades National Park?
Seasonal considerations for a planned trip to North Cascades National Park:
The best weather window for visiting North Cascades is from mid-June to late September.
Best Time to Camp in North Cascades National Park
Summer is the best time to visit and camp in North Cascades National Park. Temperatures reach the mid-50s and drop into the low 30s and even high 20s at night.
Spring in the North Cascades is an increasingly popular time to visit, but temperatures range from the high 20s to the low 40s during the day and drop as low as 11° F at night.
Fall is becoming more popular with visitors. Weather in the park in early Fall is similar to the Summer. In the Fall, daytime temperatures reach the high 40s but can drop as low as 12° later in the season.
Winter can be brutal in the North Cascades National Park. With extreme temperatures and severe winter weather, it is not encouraged to camp during this time. In the winter, temperatures range from the high teens to single digits at night.
The North Cascades Visitor Center is closed in the winter, but you can still access trailheads and overlooks along North Cascades Highway up until the Mile 134 closure in the winter like Gorge Creek Falls and Diablo Lake.
Reserve with Escape Campervans for your trip to North Cascades National Park
A campervan is the ultimate adventure vehicle for a trip to North Cascades National Park. An Escape Campervan makes camping comfortable while giving travelers the mobility to explore the far reaches of the park with ease. Pick your campervan up at Escape Campervans Seattle for your North Cascades National Park Adventure. Now that you’re armed with everything you need to know to have the ultimate adventure in Washington’s Northern Cascades, book your campervan to start your journey.