What to Do in a Day at North Cascades National Park
National Parks, Traveling With Kids, Trip Ideas & Guides
By Carrie Willink
At more than 500,000 acres, North Cascades National Park is just massive! So much to see, so little time. And it’s only 2 – 2.5 hours from our Seattle and Vancouver campervan rental locations.
We are guilty of something I suspect many visitors to the state of Washington are, setting our sights on Olympic National Park and almost completely overlooking North Cascades! Thankfully on our trip out there, we did visit, albeit for a short time (just two days), and managed to find some amazing spots.
Here are some tips for adventuring in NCNP based on firsthand experience and also some things we picked up on from locals that we’ll tackle the next we are out there.
North Cascades National Park Service Complex is open year-round. The park operational season is late May-late September, with limited services outside the operational season. The North Cascades Visitor Center in Newhalem, and the Golden West Visitor Center in Stehekin, are open late-May-September.
North Cascades National Park Service Complex
Where is it?
This park is located about 2 hours northeast of Seattle. Just the drive out there on Cascade Highway will have you wide-eyed and excited for the adventures ahead! Lots of wildlife on the drive out. Look for elk, deer, bobcats, eagles, maybe even a bear! As you round each mountain be ready for another « wow » view!
Our favorite destination! Driving up there was a large parking area for one of the most famous vistas in North Cascades National Park. The weather was absolutely beautiful so we opened the back of our camper van, made quesadillas and took in the incredible view of this reservoir. It is known for its distinct turquoise color which is caused by the surrounding glaciers.
Something as simple as cooking and eating at this viewpoint is one of our favorite memories of all time. We hiked around a bit and found the perfect spot away from people and with just the lake in the background. We took some pictures and videos but also just sat… and soaked it in! The sites were mind-blowing!
As we drove away, we knew this was going on the « must come back soon » list.
Diablo Lake Trail
7.5 miles in and out hike rated Moderate. The turquoise lake is the goal but the towering mountains and trees are so worth the hike!
Hidden Lake Trail
4.1 miles in and out. This trail is moderate and has a view of a beautiful lake with lily pads, towering trees, and rolling mountains. Some have complained about it being hard to find. Be sure to scope out where the trailhead is ahead of time.
Cascade Pass Trail
15.9 miles in and out. This trail is hard and is one of the most popular hiking trails in the park! This isn’t a surprise as its views are the kind that take your breath away! The road to get to the trailhead can be closed at times and is pretty rough so check conditions ahead of time.
Another thing that looks like such a blast is Mt. Baker Ski Area. This is a ski resort at the end of State Route 542. The base elevation is at 3,500 feet, while the peak of the resort is at 5,089 feet!
There are so many campgrounds around North Cascades National Park that you should be fine finding an opening. However, be safe and book ahead if you can!
Horseshoe Cove Campground
This campground is actually located south of the park. No hookups or running water. This is where we camped the evening before heading into the park. It was about an hour and a half from our destination, Diablo Lake.
We got there in time to be able and enjoy Baker Lake which is nestled in the mountains and has boat docks. This would be a perfect, serene lake to bring some kayaks. They even have a swimming area. We got there at dusk so we skipped some stones, made dinner and admired the beautiful sunset over the mountains
Gorge Lake Campground
Also no hookups or running water. Outhouse style bathroom. Beautiful campsites! Most of them have a lake view.
Start Your Adventure Today
I hope this helps get you started as you plan your North Cascades Park adventure with your campervan rental. Who knows, maybe we will see you on the trails! Book your trip today.