North Cascades National Park
The half-million-acre North Cascades National Park is one of the wildest in the Lower 48, and an outdoors lover’s paradise. It has 318 glaciers—more than half of the total number outside Alaska. Few roads spoil this pristine wilderness, where rugged peaks, mountain lakes, and waterfalls greet the determined backcountry hiker.
Nearly all of the park lies within the Stephen Mather Wilderness, and it is surrounded by additional wilderness buffers covering well over a million acres: Liberty Bell Primitive Area, Noisy-Diobsud Wilderness Area, Glacier Peak Wilderness Area, Pasayten Wilderness Area, and Mt. Baker Wilderness Area.
North Cascades National Park is actually a complex of three distinct units: the park itself is split into northern and southern units by Ross Lake National Recreation Area (Highway 20 passes along this corridor), while the southern end includes Lake Chelan National Recreation Area. All three sections are managed by the National Park Service, but Ross Lake National Recreation Area contains dams and power plants that are operated by Seattle City Light; these three plants supply nearly all of Seattle’s electrical needs.
If this isn’t confusing enough, look at the maps to find that east-side portions of Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest are administered by Okanogan National Forest.
To most visitors, these distinctions are of little meaning; this is all public land, and although the dams and reservoirs are certainly not natural, almost everything else is wild and undeveloped, providing fantastic opportunities for explorations afoot and afloat.
North Cascades Visitor Center
The elaborate North Cascades Visitor Center (milepost 120 on Hwy. 20, 206/386-4495, daily 9 a.m.–5 p.m. from April through mid-November, extended to 6 p.m. in July and August, Dec.–Mar. weekends only 9 a.m.–4:30 p.m.) is 14 miles east of Marblemount and a half mile south of Highway 20 in Newhalem.
Inside are natural history exhibits, a large relief model of the region, a theater with slide shows, movies, and other presentations, and a gift shop. Ask at the center about borrowing one of the free audiotapes that describe the region’s rich natural and human history. Daily naturalist walks are offered during the summer, with weekend talks in the winter months.
Immediately behind the center is a guaranteed-to-please 330-foot saunter to a view of the precipitous Picket Range, a barrier-free trail ideal to take in the view and to enjoy the sounds of bird calls.
© Ericka Chickowski from Moon Washington, 8th edition