By Michael Lanza
On my first trip to North Cascades National Park, I was sure I’d found heaven. The hard-earned views of a sea of jagged spires and snow- and ice-covered peaks stretching as far as you could see instantly cemented the place as one of my favorite mountain ranges. I’ve returned many times since, backpacking, dayhiking, climbing, ski mountaineering, including with my family.
But not many hikers and backpackers know much about Washington’s North Cascades, a region that includes one of America’s least-visited national parks and surrounding wilderness and national recreation areas that offer a rare combination of stunning beauty and solitude. And the season for heading into the backcountry there is upon us.
The North Cascades National Park complex includes the park itself—nearly 700,000 acres, 93 percent of which is designated as the Stephen Mather Wilderness—as well as the adjoining Ross Lake and Lake Chelan national recreation areas. To the north and south of the park complex are the equally beautiful Pasayten, Glacier Peak, and Alpine Lakes wildernesses. Ecosystems range from virgin rainforest of giant cedars, hemlocks, and Douglas firs, to sub-alpine meadows carpeted in wildflowers, and alpine areas hosting about 60 percent of all the glaciers in the Lower 48. Everywhere, waterfalls pour down cliffs.
Few mountain ranges compare for the ruggedness, raw beauty, and remoteness and solitude of the North Cascades.
North Cascades National Park also has one of the most mind-blowing backcountry campsites in the country at Sahale Glacier camp (the top left image in the gallery below and one of my 25 best backcountry campsites ever).
Check out these photos and scroll past the gallery for links to stories at The Big Outside. I think it will persuade you to put this region and at least some of these trips high on your list.
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See all of my stories about the North Cascades, including “Primal Wild: Backpacking 80 Miles Through the North Cascades,” “Backpacking the Pasayten Wilderness—On and Off the Beaten Track,” “Wild Heart of the Glacier Peak Wilderness: Backpacking the Spider Gap-Buck Creek Pass Loop,” and “Exploring the ‘American Alps:’ The North Cascades.” Like most stories about trips at this blog, anyone can read much of those stories for free, but reading those stories completely, including expert tips on planning those trips, requires a subscription to The Big Outside.
I’ve helped many readers plan a trip in the North Cascades. See my Custom Trip Planning page to learn how I can help you plan any trip you read about at The Big Outside.
6 thoughts on “Photo Gallery: Backpacking in the North Cascades”
Thanks so much for the awesome information and guides to the national parks! My wife and I have used them extensively for lots of trip planning.
Do you have any recommendations for 3- to 5-day backpacking trips in North Cascades? My wife and I will be there in late September this year, and although the 80-mile trip you described is on our bucket list, that may be a bit too long for this trip.
Thanks again for all the great content! Hope you enjoy your upcoming trip.
I’m delighted that you’ve found my downloadable e-guides useful in your trip planning. Thanks for supporting my blog by buying them.
I’ve taken several wonderful backpacking trips in the North Cascades and I have plans to backpack there again in September, too. It’s one of my favorite mountain ranges in the country. The 80-mile hike you mentioned, which I wrote about in this story, really does offer a complete “North Cascades experience,” if you will, going from lush rainforest to high passes with views of jagged peaks and glaciers. The Make It Happen trip-planning tips at the bottom of that story (which require a subscription to read) suggests how this longer trip can be hiked in smaller pieces, too.
If you’d like my help planning your backpacking trip—I could tell you about several I’ve done in the North Cascades—see my Custom Trip Planning page for details.
Thanks for writing and reading my blog, and keep in touch.
Nice article. Just returned a week ago from the North Cascades and your article makes me want to hop on a plane and go right back. It was a fantastic trip! We hiked the Copper Ridge/Chilliwack River loop with a side trip to Whatcom Pass where we spent 2 nights. Great hiking, beautiful views, and couldn’t have asked for better weather.
Thanks for sharing that story, Aaron. I’ve also been on Copper Ridge and at Whatcom Pass, both of them are incredible spots. I’m planning another trip to somewhere in the North Cascades for this September, can’t wait. Keep in touch, I’d love to hear about other trips you’re taking.
I am going to be a lot about our National Parks & Seashores over the next 3 years.
Looking forward to reading about your adventures. I have decided that I will be doing a lengthy adventure of my own. The current concept is to see every National Park & Seashore on the North American continent. Unfortunately, I missed doing this during 2016 (US NPS 100th Anniversary) and 2017 (Canada’s 150 Anniversary-where their NPS was open for free to the public), which would have been perfect match-up.
However, so long as the Parks are still here, I’m planning on hiking, backpacking, kayaking, cross-country skiing or snowshoeing them.
I will be doing a lot of research, planning and prepping over the next 3 years to ensure I get the best memories out of my adventure.
Your blog is at the top of my research list for ideas, info and inspiration. Thank you for going out there and bringing back the stories and imagery!
Hi Callileah, that sounds like a wonderful plan. I hope you make it happen, and I’m glad my blog will be useful in helping you do that. Keep in touch and good luck.