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The Perfect North Cascades National Park Travel Itinerary | How to Spend 2 Days Adventuring

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North Cascades National Park Travel Itineraries

EXPLORE OUR 1 DAY, 2 DAY AND 3 DAY TRAVEL ITINERARIES FOR BEAUTIFUL NORTH CASCADES NATIONAL PARK IN WASHINGTON STATE. SAVE THESE TRAVEL ITINERARIES FOR WHEN YOU START PLANNING YOUR EPIC ADVENTURE.

 



North Cascades National Park is a special hidden gem way up in the northern half of the state of Washington. The park - which is actually made up of three different "sections" (Ross Lake National Recreation Area, Lake Chelan National Recreation Area and North Cascades National Park) - is home to the most expansive glacial system in the USA outside of Alaska as well as the highest degree of flora biodiversity of any American national park. All of this put together, 100% makes North Cascades National Park worth visiting!


It is also just incredibly beautiful - the rivers and creeks are a vibrant turquoise color due to them being primarily fed from glacier run-off, the forests are healthy and large due to the lack of logging (historically, the landscape was too rugged to make logging an economically viable option), and the animal life is thriving (this includes even a small resident grizzly bear population).


If you are looking for an amazing alpine adventure and are considering exploring North Cascades National Park for yourself, then make sure to check out our 1 Day, 2 Day and 3 Day Travel Itineraries below for all your planning needs.



► You can find even more information on the national park in our comprehensive North Cascades National Park Adventure Guide!






NORTH CASCADES NATIONAL PARK PARK MAP

Map of North Cascades National Park in Washington






 

3 PERFECT NORTH CASCADES NATIONAL PARK TRAVEL ITINERARIES

 






Due to North Cascades National Park's size (504,654 acres), we suggest splitting up your days into exploring just the west side and then just the east side.


While there isn't really a clear split between each side, we consider the edge of Ross Lake to be the divider. This division is in our opinion a more efficient way to see the park, for it is quite large and you can spend a good deal of time just simply driving across it.


We suggest starting on the west side and then heading over to the east side, since the west side is closer to Seattle and the coast (and Interstate 5, the main north-south corridor across the state), has the main park visitor center and all four of the park campgrounds.


❔ GOOD TO KNOW: the closest grocery store to the park is going to be in the town of Concrete (which is located along Highway 20 and only 35 minutes from the park's west entrance). Otherwise, if you need any big box stores your best bet is to stock up in the town of Burlington, which is right at the intersection of Interstate 5 and Highway 20. There you have a Walmart, Fred Meyer, and Costco.






NORTH CASCADES NATIONAL PARK 1 DAY ITINERARY


If you only have one day in North Cascades National Park then your best bet is to head out on a nice hike in the morning and then try to check out either Ross or Diablo Lakes (or both) in the afternoon and into the evening (its a great sunset spot).


Below are some of the top hikes in North Cascades National Park.



CASCADE PASS AND SAHALE ARM

One of the more well-known areas to explore within North Cascades National Park is the stunning Cascade Pass/Sahale Arm area. In fact, the Cascade Pass Trail is the most popular hiking trail in the entire national park complex - aka it gets really busy on summer weekends - due to its amazing views and the fact that it is the shortest and "easiest" access to the park's beautiful alpine environment.

If you are looking for a tough but super rewarding hike, then definitely try to get up to the Cascade Pass Trailhead in the early morning and start hiking out before it gets too busy. The whole trail (out to Sahale Mountain) is 12.1 miles round-trip with just over 5,000 feet of elevation gain.




HIDDEN LAKE LOOKOUT

Another great option if you are someone who wants to combine great views - some say the best in the entire park - with a bit of history, is to hike up to the Hidden Lake Lookout, which was built in 1932 and decommissioned by the Forest Service sometime around 1953. The hiking trail measures roughly 8 miles round trip with around 3,300 feet of elevation gain. If you are someone who wants those epic mountain top views, then this is definitely the trail to do.




MAPLE PASS LOOP

Another popular trail in North Cascades National Park is this 7.4 mile loop that takes you up and over a pass (Maple Pass) and along some ridgelines - which affords you amazing views of various mountain peaks as well as two alpine lakes. This is an A+ trail to hike along during the fall for there are tons of larch trees along the route.





Other recommended hikes to explore (depending on your location within the park and how far you want to go) are: Thornton Lakes Trail (10.9 miles total, west side of the park), Lake Ann Trail (3.4 miles total, east side of the park) and Blue Lake Trail (4.6 miles total, east side of the park).









Once you are done hiking, head over to either Ross Lake or Diablo Lake (or both since they are so close to each other) for a chance to check out the turquoise water.


To reach either, simply drive out on Highway 20/North Cascades Highway until you start to see the beautiful water below you. You can check out either of the lake's dams (they were both built in the 1930s in order to bring power to Seattle) or just pull over at one of the many viewpoints to get a better view of the colorful water and the rugged mountain valleys.


💬 INSIDER TIP: we definitely recommend stopping off at the Diablo Lake Overlook for one of the best views in the park (especially during sunrise or sunset).






NORTH CASCADES NATIONAL PARK 2 DAY ITINERARY


As mentioned above, if you have two days to spend in the national park then we suggest splitting it up into spending day one on the west side and then the second day on the east side. This makes it super easy to see the main points of interest - including the two lakes and the visitor center - without adding a lot of excess driving time.




DAY 1


Start your first day by hiking along one of the trails located on the west side of the park - namely the Cascade Pass or Ross and Diablo Lakes area.


We recommend checking out the Cascade Pass Trail if you are looking for amazing alpine views, or the Lookout Mountain Lookout if you want to combine great views, history and a bit of solitude.


Both of those trails are located off of Cascade River Road, which you can reach from the town of Marblemount (which is roughly 6.5 miles from the west side entrance). This scenic road has numerous other hiking trails along it, so don't worry about finding a spot to adventure.


Closer to Ross and Diablo Lakes you can find many other hiking trails to explore - including the East Bank Trail which follows the east side of Ross Lake and goes for miles and miles (all the way to Canada actually), the Pyramid Lake Trail, which is roughly 4 miles round-trip and takes you to a super clear blue lake; or the Thunder Knob Trail, which heads out towards the water and affords you with amazing views of Diablo Lake.


Once done hiking, and if time permits, stop in at the North Cascades National Park Visitor Center (located in Newhalem) to learn more about the park's glacier system - there are 310 glaciers, the most of any place in the lower 48 states - and the 8 diverse ecosystems. You can also talk to a ranger, watch a short film and purchase national park postcards and stickers.


As for sleeping, we recommend trying to reserve a campsite at one of the four national park campgrounds (all are located near the visitor center or the two lakes). The four campgrounds come with various amenities, though none of them have electrical hook-ups (some also don't have drinking water, so do your research ahead of time). If you are planning to visit during the park's busy season - May to early September - you will need to make a reservation beforehand.


➳ Make your camping reservations here.







DAY 2


On the second day, we suggest getting up decently early, making a nice breakfast and heading out for another day on the trail. If on Day 1 you stayed on the west side of the park then on Day 2 head on over to the east side for some even more epic mountain views.


There are numerous hiking options along Highway 20, but we recommend either starting at Easy Pass or Rainy Pass.


💬 INSIDER TIP: we definitely suggest checking out and following North Cascade National Park's Instagram page for that is where they post all of the latest park updates (including road closures and fire risks).




HIKES AT EASY PASS TRAILHEAD


| Easy Pass Trail: the synonymous trail at the pass is this 7.7 mile round-trip hike that heads out into the forest and along a creek before climbing up for some great high mountain views.




| Fisher Creek to Thunder Creek: usually done as a backpacking route or a trail run, this 22.6 mile hike heads over Easy Pass and down along Thunder Creek and back north towards the lakes. If you have the gumption and are looking to combine forest hiking and alpine views, then this could be a really great choice. Do know that unless you have two cars (to shuttle) you will need to hitchhike back up to the Easy Pass Trailhead.





Wide view of the mountain ranges in North Cascades National Park



HIKES AT RAINY PASS TRAILHEAD


| Maple Pass Loop: as mentioned in the 1 Day Itinerary, this is an excellent hike to do if you want mountain views, beautiful forests (especially in the fall when the leaves change colors), and alpine lakes all packaged into one trail.




| Cutthroat Pass: a great 10(ish) mile trail to head out on is this gorgeous section of the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail). From Cutthroat Pass, you can continue hiking as long as you want on the PCT or head down some switchbacks to Cutthroat Lake. This is a great trail to day hike or backpack, especially in the fall when the larch trees and plants are changing colors. The pass sits at 6,798 feet above sea level.




| Wing Lake and Black Peak: the Rainy Pass Trailhead can get pretty busy, so if you are looking to check out some alpine lakes and get high up for some epic mountain views - all without hordes of people - then this 11.1 mile trail might just be perfect. The hike starts from the same trail as the Maple Pass Loop trail before splitting off at Heather Pass to head more northwest towards Lewis Lake and Wing Lake (the trail split will be named Wing Lake).


❔ GOOD TO KNOW: the final push up to the top of Black Peak does require a bit of mountaineering gear and some skill/comfort with Class 3/4 climbing and scrambling. The peak tops out at 8,970 feet above sea level.




 


After your hiking adventure, consider stopping off at the Washington Pass Overlook (just down the highway from both trailheads) for even more epic mountain views. Then either turn around and head back west towards the coast and Seattle or east towards the towns of Mazama (home to the delicious Mazama Store) and Winthrop.






NORTH CASCADES NATIONAL PARK 3 DAY ITINERARY


If you happen to have 3 days to spend in North Cascades National Park and you are looking for even more epic adventures, then we cannot recommend backpacking in the rugged wilderness enough.


► Check out our cinematic adventure film on backpacking for 3 days in the park here.


Seriously. We have backpacked in numerous parts of the USA (including in many national parks) and we both agree that North Cascades might just be the prettiest. If you have the knowledge, the gumption and the gear, then definitely, definitely try to spend at least one night in the backcountry.


Just remember that you will need to get a backcountry permit no matter when you are heading out to backpack. You will need to pick up your permits at the Wilderness Information Center in Marblemount (NOT the main park visitor center). There you can also talk to a ranger about any questions or concerns you might have, figure out the best campsites and routes to explore, and just learn more about the national park in general.


➳ Learn more about getting a backcountry permit here.









North Cascades National Park is full of epic adventures and stunning natural scenery. While we always suggest putting aside more time for exploring, we also understand that sometimes it isn't feasible to spend weeks visiting one place.


Hopefully, these 1 Day, 2 Day and 3 Day Travel Itineraries help you plan some amazing adventures in North Cascades National Park. If you have any questions, please leave them below or reach out to us directly.


► Also, make sure to check out and save our Ultimate North Cascades National Park Adventure Guide, which covers everything you need to know about visiting the park.







 

EVEN MORE HELPFUL NORTH CASCADES NATIONAL PARK PLANNING INFORMATION

 






\\ Where to Stay in North Cascades National Park


There are plenty of options to choose from when it comes to staying near North Cascades National Park (or in it). From upscale mountain and lake resorts to beautiful forested campsites, there is the perfect lodging option available depending on what kind of trip you are looking to have.




LODGING IN NORTH CASCADES NATIONAL PARK


If you are hoping to stay within North Cascades National Park then you have a couple of options - both of which require a bit of extra planning. The first is the Ross Lake Resort, which is located on the bank of the massive Ross Lake in the heart of the national park. The second is the North Cascades Lodge in the historic town of Stehekin (located on Lake Chelan). For both, you will need to plan ahead for transportation because you cannot drive to either one.



ROSS LAKE RESORT

Opened back in 1952, the Ross Lake Resort is located in the center of the North Cascade Mountains. The resort includes fifteen floating cabins and a marina. Every cabin is furnished and includes a small kitchen, bathroom, electricity, and hot and cold running water. Likewise, towels, bedding, tableware, and cooking ware are also included. Do know that you will need to bring your own food for there is no restaurant or store on-site.


The best way to reach the resort is to park at the Ross Lake/Dam Trailhead (off Highway 20) and then walk down the trail for one mile until you reach the lake's edge (where you will be able to see the resort across the water). Once there, call the resort using the provided phone. They will then send a boat over to pick you up. It costs $3 /person each way.





NORTH CASCADES LODGE AT STEHEKIN

Another awesome lodging option in North Cascades National Park is to book a night (or multiple) at the quaint North Cascades Lodge in the small lake town of Stehekin. Like the Ross Lake Resort, you will not be able to drive to the lodge. Instead, you will either need to boat in on the Lady of the Lake Ferry or the Stehekin Ferry from the town of Chelan, or hike in on one of the many trails available (including the PCT).


The lodge has many different rooms and styles to choose from depending on your party size and preferences. There is also a small restaurant and store onsite, easy access to Lake Chelan and surrounding hiking trails, bike and kayak rentals and guided trips.





Reflection of mountain on lake in Stehekin, Washington




LODGING NEAR NORTH CASCADES NATIONAL PARK


As mentioned above, the closest towns to North Cascades National Park with any type of lodging are going to be Marblemount and Concrete on the west side and Winthrop and Mazama on the east side. Below are a couple of great lodging options if you are looking to base yourself close to the national park.



WEST SIDE


| Glacier Peak Resort & Eatery: this cute family-run resort is located just outside of Marblemount (and about 8 miles from the west side park entrance). There is an onsite restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, hot tubs, cute cabins, walking trails and laundry services. Pets are also allowed.



| Buffalo Run Inn: located in the heart of Marblemount, this old-timey inn (it began as a meeting place for miners and lumberjacks in 1884) is easy walking distance to the few restaurants and services found in the mountain town. Amenities include free parking, free breakfast, Wi-Fi, and small kitchenettes.



| Mount Baker Hotel: the farthest hotel from the west side entrance to the park is this family run establishment in Concrete that has fast Wi-Fi, small kitchenettes, and free parking. It is also easy walking distance to everything in downtown Concrete - including restaurants, stores, bike trails and cafes.




Sunlight on a snowy mountain in northern Washington



EAST SIDE


| Sun Mountain Lodge: if you want to combine adventure with luxury, then look no further than this stunning mountain lodge located outside of the cute town of Winthrop. Amenities at this outdoorsy resort include an outdoor pool, hot tubs, horseback riding, ski school and rentals, boats, and a spa.



| Methow River Lodge: located in the heart of Winthrop, this lodge includes regular hotel rooms and private cabins. Amenities include free parking, high-speed internet, in-room kitchenettes, and in the winter easy access to local ski trails.



| Brown's Farm: if you are looking for more privacy and space - or if you just want to totally escape the hubbub of people, then consider booking this super cute wooden cabin near the small town of Mazama. The cabin comes with multiple bedrooms, a very well-stocked kitchen and amazing mountain views.



CAMPING IN NORTH CASCADES NATIONAL PARK


There are four campgrounds within the North Cascades National Park Complex. There are also two group campsites: Lower Goodell and Upper Goodell. During the peak season (May 23 - September 10) all campgrounds have a reservation system in place. You will need to visit recreation.gov to reserve your spot.


❔ GOOD TO KNOW: all campgrounds are non-electric (aka there are NO electrical hookups). Similarly, there are no shower facilities available.


GOODELL CREEK CAMPGROUND

This campground is small, yet comfortable and close to the town of Newhalem (and the park visitor center). It is located along the beautiful Skagit River and is surrounded by dense forest.


PRICE: $20 /night

SITES: 19

AMENITIES: drinking water, vault toilets, campfire rings, a boat ramp, pets allowed, picnic tables and food storage lockers (for animals). There are NO electrical hookups.



GORGE LAKE CAMPGROUND

Located on the bank of Gorge Lake and right next to the cascading Stetattle Creek, this small campground is a great place to base yourself if looking to check out Ross and Diablo Lakes.


PRICE: $20 /night

SITES: 8

AMENITIES: vault toilets, boat ramp, fire pits, pets allowed, waterfront sites, and picnic tables. There is NO drinking water available or electrical hook-ups.




Person standing next to a backcountry tent site



NEWHALEM CAMPGROUND

This campground is a comfortable facility close to the town of Newhalem (and the park visitor center) as well as the Skagit River. It is surrounded by forests that can be explored through the area's numerous hiking trails.


PRICE: $24 /night for both the hike-to and standard campsites; $75 / night for the group sites

SITES: 100+ and 2 different group sites

AMENITIES: flush toilets, picnic shelters, drinking water, pets allowed, picnic tables, campfire rings, food storage lockers, accessible sites.


Newhalem Group Sites: the two group sites (upper and lower) are located across the road from the main campground. There is NO water available at either of the group sites (you will need to cross over to the main campground). Each group site can easily fit 10-20 people.



COLONIAL CREEK CAMPGROUND

This sizeable campground is in a remote, yet bustling spot nestled within an old-growth forest. Diablo Lake is within a short walk or drive from both the north and south campgrounds.


PRICE: $24 /night for both the north and south sides

SITES: 41 on the north side and 94 on the south side

AMENITIES: drinking water, flush toilets, food storage lockers, pets allowed, picnic tables, fire rings, tent pads, a boat ramp, and a fishing pier on the south side.

RESERVE A NIGHT (NORTH) or (SOUTH)



➳ Learn more about backcountry camping - including how to get backcountry permits - here.



 


If you are not able to secure a campground within North Cascades National Park - or if you are looking for something with more amenities (like electricity) then your best bet is to stay at the Alpine RV Park and Campground, located on the east side of Marblemount (and only 4 miles from the west side park entrance). This small, locally owned RV park includes sizeable parking spots, water and electricity, decent internet, showers and laundry facilities.



💬 INSIDER TIP: we stayed here for a night after backpacking in North Cascades National Park and while it is very much a no-frills kind of place, it definitely gets the job done. Plus, for $20 a night (for a smaller van, no hook ups) you get access to the showers and laundry facilities, a picnic table and fire grate, and good enough Wi-Fi to work off of.




Person cooking dinner in the backcountry of North Cascades NP





\\ What to Bring With You to North Cascades National Park


Due to the North Cascades National Park's more rugged and northerly location, be prepared for rougher weather year-round. Also, as with any high mountain adventure, be ready for quickly changing weather. Below are a few of the key things to bring with you when adventuring in North Cascades National Park.



HIKING BOOTS

You will want to wear a pair of sturdy boots that can handle all kinds of terrain: from steep rocky scree fields to slick river crossings to just miles upon miles of trail pounding. These hiking boots by Vasque seem to be a jack of all trades and therefore should be able to handle whatever the trails throws at you. Recommended hiking boot.



HIKING SOCKS

These socks can easily go from hitting the trails to hanging out at camp due to their moisture-wicking properties and slightly elastic stretch. Plus, they are made partially of recycled materials - meaning they are good for you and the planet. Recommended hiking socks from Smartwool.



WARM JACKET

This lightweight fleece jacket works great as both a mid-layer for winter hiking adventures or as a solo jacket once the season starts to warm up. Plus, the raglan-style sleeves on this one provide seam-free comfort when you are carrying a backpack. Finally, this fleece jacket is made of recycled fabrics and is Bluesign approved (its sewing was also Fair Trade Certified). Recommended hiking jacket.



RAIN JACKET

While a nice cozy jacket will help keep you nice and warm on those chilly mornings or late-season days, usually the best jacket to have with you while hiking is an easy-to-pack rain jacket. This one by Patagonia checks all of the boxes: it is super lightweight and can pack down into its own little pouch, it has underarm zips that let you vent air even when hiking, it also has an adjustable elastic draw cord hem that allows fine-tuning for the perfect fit, and finally, it is also Bluesign approved and its sewing is Fair Trade Certified. Recommended rain jacket.



SUNSCREEN

While a sun hat definitely helps protect your face from the sun's harmful rays, it is still important to give your skin that extra bit of protection - especially your shoulders, feet and hands. These sunscreens not only protect you against the sun but are also environmentally safe.


❔ GOOD TO KNOW: the sun is incredibly strong in the mountains, especially at higher elevations. Always remember to reapply sunscreen during the entire hike.



HEADLAMP

A handy headlamp is a true adventure necessity - especially when the adventure requires you to start hiking early in the morning or into the late evening. We tend to have about 5 headlamps scattered around our van just in case we lose one or the batteries die (which somehow happens quite often). This headlamp by Black Diamond is a personal favorite because it is relatively affordable, it has multiple light settings and it is rechargeable. Recommended headlamp.



HIKING DAY PACK

By far one of the most important items in your hiking repertoire is going to be your backpack. Because you will be carrying this bag all day on the trail - including sometimes up and down some steep and sketchy sections - you will want to make sure it is really comfortable. This bag by Osprey holds 24 liters of gear, while still having plenty of straps to allow it to fit perfectly to your body. Plus, it is made of a nice Durable nylon construction that can withstand tons of trail abuse. It also has a specific place to attach your trekking poles or ice ax - which will help you free up your hands. Recommended day pack.



Two backpackers posing in front of a alpine meadow.



WATER FILTER

One of the best ways to cut back on your hiking load is to bring along a water filter. This super easy one by Grayl combines a water filter inside an actual water bottle - meaning less gear to carry and less time actually filtering. A true win-win. Recommended water filter.


Or if you want to get an actual water filter system that allows you to filter lots of water at once, we recommend this top-notch Katadyn water filter. This filter has been our go-to for all hiking and backpacking adventures for many years. It takes up very little space, is easy to clean and works pretty darn fast. Recommended Katadyn water filter.



HIKING FIRST AID KIT

This is one of those items that you don't realize you need until it is too late. Luckily, this lightweight pack comes with (almost) everything you could need if an accident does unfortunately occur on the trail. Recommended hiking first aid kit.



BEAR SPRAY

This is another safety thing to have on you just in case something bad happens (the likelihood is very, very low). We carried a can of bear spray with us (for the first time) while backpacking in North Cascades National Park more for the peace of mind than anything else. Find a can of it here.


Another key thing to remember when it comes to hiking in bear country (which the national park definitely is) is to always keep an eye on your food and gear just in case a bear (or another animal, like a squirrel) is around and is a bit hungry. Likewise, when hiking through dense brush, always make noises and keep an eye on your surroundings.


► Read more about hiking and backpacking in bear country in our super handy safety guide.



TREKKING POLES

We personally have never been the type of hikers to use trekking poles, but we have friends who absolutely swear by them. This set by Black Diamond can handle all kinds of terrain, are super lightweight and pack down small enough to be stored easily on the side of your backpack. Recommended trekking poles.




 

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