North Cascades National Park has a northern and a southern district or unit, separated by Ross Lake National Recreation Area. Of the three parks that make up the North Cascades National Park Complex, the national park is the largest but least visited. Several national wilderness areas and British Columbia parkland also adjoin the national park making a huge protected area north of Seattle.
Things to do in the North Cascades
Outdoor activities, scenic vistas and educational opportunities abound. Watch birds and wildlife. Go for a horseback ride. Learn from an expert at a ranger talk or walk, or take a class at the North Cascades Institute’s Environmental Learning Center.
One of the most popular activities is hiking. From accessible trails and short, scenic strolls to steep, grueling hikes that will make your legs burn but your heart sing, there is a trail here that will suit your mood. The extreme gradients of climate and topography contribute to an impressive diversity of habitat and species. To navigate the incredibly steep terrain, the nearly 400 miles of trails often follow the long, forested, valley bottoms, then switchback up to the steep passes or ridges. (Hiking Guide on NPS Website)
Of course going out on the water on the large lakes is also a popular activity. Kayaking, canoeing and motor boating are options, but pulling an inner tube or skier is prohibited. The Ross Lake Resort rents motorboats, kayaks, canoes and other equipment for Ross Lake and limited paddle rentals are available at Stehekin on Lake Chelan. Ramps and launches are located at Gorge Lake, Diablo Lake, Lake Chelan and the north end of Ross Lake at Hozomeen.
Remote Village of Stehekin
Those seeking a peaceful vacation home base can ride the Lady of the Lake boat to the historic and unique town of Stehekin. The town’s name is aptly based on a Salish word meaning “the way through” and you can only reach it by foot, boat or plane. Stehekin offers visitors an escape from the hustle of the modern day world. Nestled at the headwaters of Lake Chelan, the third deepest lake in America, the Stehekin community lives life a little slower.
Getting to North Cascades National Park from Olympic
It’s a four-hour drive northeast from Olympic’s north or south entrances.
The vast majority of visitors come to Ross Lake National Recreation Area which is easily accessible on Washington State Route 20, also known as the North Cascades Highway, and the only road which bisects the park complex.
Or from Olympic National Park, take our Island Hopping Pacific Northwest Road Trip including North Cascades.
Need a Map of North Cascades National Park? Buy the National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map Pack for Washington National Parks including Olympic, Mount Rainier and North Cascades at REI.com. The map includes clearly marked trails and points of interest such as scenic views, campgrounds, trailheads, boat launches, picnic sites, ranger stations and more printed on waterproof, tear-resistant material.