North Cascades National Park

“The mountains
are calling
and I must go.”
—John Muir

The North Cascades are often called the American Alps, due to their dramatic peaks. In fact, the town of Leavenworth owes its revival to that fact (see below). As indicated by its name, this park is part of the Cascade Range that extends from northern California to British Columbia. This was not the first of Washington’s three national parks that I expected to see, but on a recent visit to my college roommate outside of Seattle, she was willing and able to humor me and make the trek, family in tow.

For a quick tour, travel along the North Cascades Highway (Route 20), which runs through the center of the park to the Ross Lake National Recreation Area. [Note: As is the case with Lassen Volcanic and Crater Lake, this road closes for a good part of the year due to snow, so be sure to time your trip appropriately and check conditions.]

Ross Lake (from the appropriately named Ross Lake Overlook)

At Ross Lake, there are a number of trailheads for short (or long) explorations of the interior.

Diablo Lake (from the appropriately named Diablo Lake Overlook)

Despite their natural beauty, these are not natural lakes. Both Ross and Diablo lakes, along with Gorge Lake, were created by dams built by Seattle City Light, which together generate one-quarter of Seattle’s peak-time electricity.

Diablo Lake Dam

The drive to Ross Lake could be completed as a day trip out from Seattle, but I would recommend taking in the whole loop, including the Okanogan National Forest along Route 20 and the Wenatchee National Forest along Route 2, with an overnight stay in either Winthrop or Leavenworth.

Okanogan National Forest, just to the east of the park, is where you’ll find the highest point on the North Cascades Highway, at the Washington Pass Overlook (5477 feet).

View from Washington Pass Overlook
Early Winter Spires and Liberty Bell from Washington Pass Overlook

Okanogan National Forest is also where we hiked the Cutthroat Lake Trail, which leads to Cutthroat Lake if you want an easy ramble through woods, or up to Cutthroat Pass and the Pacific Crest Trail for those more ambitious. [Note: Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, read it!]

Along the Cutthroat Lake Trail
Pheasant in the house!
Along the Cutthroat Lake Trail
Along the Cutthroat Lake Trail

Two towns along the way that merit a stop are Western-themed Winthrop on Route 20 and Bavarian-dream Leavenworth (a Solvang of the north as it were) on Route 2. On US 97 between the two were seemingly endless miles of apple and pear orchards. You won’t be disappointed you decided to take the long way around!

Leavenworth, a dying logging town revitalized by reinventing itself as a Bavarian village, rolls out the Willkommen Wagon.
Font is everything in Leavenworth.
Schweinshaxe at King Ludwig’s. Also, polka!
Font is everything in Winthrop too. It is not sans sheriff.
They both use it, how could you not?
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2 thoughts on “North Cascades National Park”

  1. Outstanding! Thank you, Sylvie – brought back great memories – in 1993, I spent 21 days there as part of an Outward Bound mountaineering course. Certainly one of the most spectacular places I’ve ever been!

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