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.