Overview of Washington's North Cascades National Park

Lake Diablo in North Cascades National Park, Washington
••• ChiKurt / Flickr

Adorned with jagged peaks, deep valleys, cascading waterfalls, and over 300 glaciers, North Cascades National Park in Washington state is a stunning place to visit. Three park units in this region are managed as one and include North Cascades National Park, Ross Lake, and Lake Chelan National Recreation Areas, all of which were established by Act of Congress on October 2, 1968. 

This park has something for everyone.

Activities include camping, hiking, climbing, boating, fishing, birding, wildlife viewing, horseback riding, and educational programs. Learn more about planning your trip to this park with the tips and recommendations below.

Major Attractions

  • Stehekin: The valley offers many lodging alternatives, as well as backcountry camping without the backpacking. A shuttle will drop you off where you can stake your claim.
  • Horseshoe Basin Trail: This moderate hike passes more than 15 waterfalls and includes glacier and mountain views.
  • Washington Pass Overlook: The highest point on the North Cascades Highway offers stunning views of Liberty Bell Mountain. If you have binoculars you may spot climbers and mountain goats!
  • Buckner Homestead: Home to the Buckner family from 1911 to 1970, it offers a look at the challenges of frontier life.

Activities for Kids

Kids can enjoy a dynamic new Junior Ranger Program which includes four age-appropriate booklets that introduce the unique cultural history of the North Cascades through a series of fun activities.

Each booklet also has a “totem animal” that helps guide kids and families through the activities and offers exciting ways they can explore the park.

When to Visit

Summer gives visitors the best access, though snow can block high trails into July. Winter is also a great time to visit as the park is less traveled and offers chances for solitude and cross-country skiing.

Where to Stay

The North Cascades Area offers a full range of camping experiences, including those accessible from a car or RV to those requiring a strenuous trek into the wilderness.

Five car-accessible campgrounds (plus several group camps) are located along State Route 20, the main road through the park, except one campground that sits on the north end of Ross Lake and is accessed via Canada Highway 1. Facilities and prices vary to accommodate a variety of visitors. Campgrounds include Goodell Creek Campground, Upper and Lower Goodell Creek, Newhalem Creek Campground, Gorge Lake Campground, Colonial Creek Campground, and Hozomeen Campground.

Lodging is also available in Ross Lake National Recreation Area and Lake Chelan National Recreation Area. For accommodations in Chelan, contact the Chamber of Commerce at (800) 424-3526 or (509) 682-3503.

Getting There

Major airports that serve the area are located in Seattle and Bellingham.

The park is located about 115 miles from Seattle. Take I-5 to Wash. 20, also known as North Cascades Highway.

Primary access to the North Cascades National Park and Ross Lake National Recreation Area is off of State Route 20, which connects to I-5 (Exit 230) at Burlington.

From November through April, State Route 20 is closed from Ross Dam Trailhead to Lone Fir. The only road access to the shore of Ross Lake is via the Silver-Skagit Road (gravel) from near Hope, British Columbia.

Pet Information

Dogs and other pets are not allowed within the national park except on a leash on the Pacific Crest Trail, and within 50 feet of roads. Service animals are allowed for those with disabilities.

Pets are allowed on a leash within the Ross Lake and Lake Chelan National Recreation Areas and are also allowed on most surrounding national forest lands.

If you are not sure where you can hike with your pet, call the Wilderness Information Center at (360) 854-7245 for trip suggestions.

Admissions Information

There are no entrance fees to the park.

For visitors camping, sites are available on a first come, first served basis.

Some campgrounds are free as is backcountry camping, though a fee for backcountry hiking is required. Check the website for the most up-to-date information on admissions fees. 

Northwest Forest Pass is required at many trailheads on adjacent U.S. Forest Service land with trails that lead into the national park. You may also use the Federal Land Passes.

Contact Information
North Cascades National Park Complex
810 State Route 20
Sedro-Woolley, WA 98284