Best Hiking Trails in North Cascades National Park
Celebrating its 50-year anniversary in 2018, the North Cascades National Park is a backpacker's and mountain climber's dream with craggy peaks, old-growth forests, more than 125 alpine lakes, and 300-plus glaciers. The park is protected as the Stephen Mather Wilderness and includes two national recreational areas.
With only one major road running through the park, you'll have more luck exploring by foot with 400 miles of trails. The Pacific Northwest Trail (PNT) connects Olympic National Park to Glacier National Park (in Montana) with 63 miles passing through the park. Eighteen miles of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) pass through the North Cascades National Park boundaries before exiting the park for a final stretch to the U.S.-Canada border.
Running along the Skagit River, State Route WA-20 provides access from both the east and the west. Diablo and Ross Lakes are reservoirs formed from two dams on the Skagit River, which provide hydroelectric power to Seattle and surrounding areas. Hike the Diablo Lake Trail for an up-close view of the lake's colors. Nearby glaciers contribute to the vibrant turquoise and blue hues of the two lakes, which attract visitors and provide outdoor recreation for hikers, paddlers, fishers, and boaters. Learn more about boating and fishing here.
Before starting, check the road status, as unexpected road closures can happen.
As the name suggests, the park is located in the northern region of Washington state and is a subset of the Cascade Mountain Range that continues north to Canada's border. Its distance from large airports make this Washington park more remote and less trafficked, unlike Mount Rainier and Olympic National Parks.
The national park has few towns within the park but towns surrounding the east and the west are staffed with visitor and wilderness information centers, along with ranger stations. Check out a complete list here.
When to Go
May through October is the best time to go as most of the facilities and offices are open. Check out a complete list of operating hours here. The driest time to visit is mid-June through September, though snow on the high trails can linger well into July.
Highway 20 closes as the snow begins to cover the roads in late November and doesn't reopen until April or May when highway crews clear a path. During the winter months, travelers coming from Seattle can only reach as far as Diablo Lake at milepost 134, making some if not most of the park inaccessible due to high avalanche risk and deep snowpack.
Unlike some national parks, North Cascades National Park doesn't staff entrances, making it free to visitors. However, for day-hiking and trailheads, a Northwest Forest Pass (daily or annual) or an Interagency Annual Pass is required in all vehicles where indicated. Learn more about permits and fees here.
All backcountry access requires a permit, and most can be obtained at the Wilderness Information Center near Marblemount.
Pets are not allowed on any trails except for the Pacific Crest Trail, though they are permitted in parking areas, campgrounds, and on paved roads within 50 feet. In these areas, they must be on a leash at all times. Owners are required to pick up after their pets.
Pets on leash are permitted within the Ross Lake and Lake Chelan National Recreation Areas, along with surrounding national forests.