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Neighboring Parks

North Cascades National Park in Washington

Hiking, boating and scenic drives abound at this national park in remote central Washington.

This stunning mountain landscape is one of Washington’s best kept secrets. Home to snowcapped peaks, dense old growth forests and shockingly blue lakes and waterfalls, less visited North Cascades National Park is a gem worth exploring.

North Cascades National Park has a northern and a southern district or unit, separated by Ross Lake National Recreation Area. Of the three areas 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 North Cascades National Park

From gorgeous scenic drives to hiking to boating, this park offers something for everyone.

Drive the North Cascades Highway

One of the easiest and most popular ways to visit the park is by driving the scenic North Cascades Highway (State Route 20). Stunning from either direction, you’ll see some of the park’s most iconic sites on this 30-mile drive. From west to east start at the North Cascades Visitor Center to learn more about the park before continuing on. Gorge Creek Falls at Mile 123.4 is a short and easy trail where you can see views of of the falls and dam. The most photographed spot in the park is Diablo Lake. Stop at the overlook at Mile 123.4 to see this Gatorade-blue lake from above. At Mile 136, Ross Lake comes into view with gorgeous overlooks and opportunities for recreation.

Gorge Creek falls precipitously along the North Cascades National Park highway
Gorge Creek falls precipitously along the North Cascades National Park highway (Photo: Getty Images)

Go Hiking in North Cascades

The majority of North Cascades National Park is not accessible by car, so a great way to get out and see more of the park is by hiking. With more than 400 miles of trails, there’s something for every skill level from peaceful nature walks to summits that will get your blood pumping.

Families with small kids will want to head to the Newhalem Area to stroll short and forested trails. Thunder Creek Trail is another good one for kids. You can hike 4 miles roundtrip to a beautiful bridge overlooking Thunder Creek. The trail weaves through an old growth forest.

For a longer outing, hike to Pyramid Lake, a small body of water dotted with fallen logs. This hike is 4.2 miles roundtrip and gains 1,500 feet in elevation. Diablo Lake Trail is another good moderate option. At 7.6 mile roundtrip, this trail offers great views of the turquoise waters of Diablo Lake with a little more than 2,000 feet of elevation gain. You can take a ferry back to the trailhead from Diablo Dock in the summer for $10 per person, cutting the mileage and elevation gain in half.

If you’re up for a challenge, one of the most beautiful trails in the park is Cascade Pass Trail. This popular trail climbs 1,700 feet to the summit of its namesake pass with expansive views of the surrounding peaks and glaciers and is 7.4 miles roundtrip.

Boat on North Cascades’ Lakes

North Cascades’ many lakes make it a great place to enjoy time out on the water. Motor and human-powered boats are allowed on Gorge Lake, Diablo Lake, Ross Lake and Lake Chelan. Boat rentals are available at Ross Lake Resort for motorboats, kayaks and canoes. Some paddle crafts are available for rent in the tiny town of 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.

Visit the Remote Village of Stehekin

Those seeking a peaceful vacation can ride a boat to the historic and unique town of Stehekin through the Lake Chelan Boat Company or Stehekin Ferry. 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.

The North Cascades Lodge at Stehekin, as well as a number of private lodges, offer overnight stays in the village and campgrounds are also available. Many lodging options also offer food, but you won’t want to miss the Stehekin Pastry Company which sells all sorts of delicious pastries as well as quiche and egg sandwiches for breakfast. At lunch, they have pizza, soup and sandwiches. Once you’re in Stehekin, hiking, water recreation and other outdoor opportunities await.

The Lake Chelan dock for the remote town of Stehekin
The Lake Chelan dock for the remote town of Stehekin (Photo: NPS/Deby Dixon)

Where to Stay in North Cascades

The only lodging in the national park is the North Cascades Lodge at Stehekin (see above.) In the recreation area, Ross Lake Resort offers unique floating cabins ( Both lodging options fill up far in advance so book as early as possible.

Camping is a popular way to stay in North Cascades. Five campgrounds, Newhalem Creek, Gorge Lake, Goodell Creek and Colonial Creek North and South campgrounds are all located along North Cascades Highway and are accessible by car. They can be reserved on Hozomeen and Stehekin also have campgrounds, but these are only accessible by boat or foot. All backcountry camping requires a permit.

Is North Cascades Open in the Winter?

While the park doesn’t technically close for the winter, a 44-mile stretch of North Cascades Highway is usually closed late November through April or early May, making much of the park inaccessible by car. The closure occurs between mileposts 134 (Ross Dam Trailhead) and 178.

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. Be prepared for winter driving conditions and always check avalanche forecasts before setting out on winter trails. Snowshoeing is a popular winter activity in the park.

Snowshoeing at Blue Lake in North Cascades National Park
Snowshoeing at Blue Lake in North Cascades National Park (Photo: Depositphotos)

Getting to North Cascades National Park from Olympic National Park

To get to North Cascades National Park from Olympic National Park, it’s a four-hour drive northeast.

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? Download the free PDF Map of North Cascades National Park Complex or buy the National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map Pack for Washington National Parks including Olympic, Mount Rainier and North Cascades at 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.