Post Summary: The Best Things To Do In North Cascades National Park
Living in Washington state, Berty and I feel uniquely lucky to have three of the best national parks right at our doorstep.
The Olympic NP provides scenic temperate rainforests and Rainier brings incredible views…
However, some of the most exceptional scenery we’ve ever experienced has been in the northern part of the state, tucked away in the North Cascades National Park.
Berty and I visit this park every year, and there always seems to be a new trail to hike or new sections to explore.
The wanderlust bug is real, and we’ve got you covered with exactly what to do in Washington’s wondrous North Cascades National Park.
We most recently visited in 2022, so we’re bringing you the most up-to-date information too!
Use this North Cascades National Park guide when planning your trip to the Pacific Northwest!
Where are the North Cascades?
North Cascades National Park is found in the upper left (northwest) of Washington State.
Its jagged, snow-covered mountains make the North Cascades unique and rightfully receive the nickname, the “American Alps.”
The North Cascades National Park was established in 1968 to preserve the alpine wilderness, glacial lakes, and gorgeous scenery for future generations of visitors.
Want more details? Here are 34 Fun Facts About Washington State.
What To Expect As You Plan A Visit To North Cascades National Park
Entrance Fees: There isn’t an official “entrance” for the North Cascades, but they are in partnership with many of the surrounding national forest areas. Therefore, come with an American The Beautiful Pass if you have one, or bring your Northwest Forest pass for parking at trailheads.
Gas: Fill up in Mazama (East) or Darrington (West) before entering the park. There’s only one highway through the park so you won’t get lost, but it’s nice to have the reassurance of a full tank.
Sunscreen: While in the mountains, it’s important to protect your skin and wear sunscreen! Not only are you higher in elevation, but snow reflects UV radiation, which can also cause sunburns (don’t forget under your nose!).
Grab a Map: You can get a map at the Visitors Center if you show your National Park Pass.
No Cell Service: Like many remote locations, there is no cell service in North Cascades National Park, so plan accordingly!
Wear Plenty of Layers: The North Cascades are known for having shifting temperatures throughout the day, so plan to wear many layers for the warm afternoons and cool evenings. If you’re visiting a place in the North Cascades where there is snow, be sure to bring an insulated jacket and warm pants, too!
Food Options Around the North Cascades National Park
Marblemount Diner ($$): Craving a burger while driving through the North Cascades? The Marblemount Diner is the place to go! This local American diner is known for their friendly staff, pies, and specialty burgers.
Mondo Restaurant ($$): This restaurant combines Korean and American food. Take a stop at the Mondo Restaurant in Marblemount after driving the Washington Cascade Loop and get yourself some chicken teriyaki, a burger, or some fried rice.
Heather Meadows Cafe ($-$$): Found on Mount Baker, the Heather Meadows Cafe is a beautiful stop to have a quick meal while in the North Cascades. Here, you’ll find an excellent view and many vegan/vegetarian options.
Where To Stay Around North Cascades National Park
Are you hoping to soak up the beauty of the North Cascades a little bit longer? Here are some suggestions for where to stay near North Cascades National Park.
East side of the Park (Near Winthrop, Mazama)
River Run Inn (~$340 for two nights): Just 0.7 miles from historic Winthrop, this rustic hotel has a great location and gorgeous views. You can rent a room, cabin, or guest house at the River Run Inn! This hotel has a minimum stay of two nights.
Observatory Inn (~$120 a night): Located within walking distance to downtown Winthrop, the Observatory Inn is an overall great deal! This inn offers contactless check-in and features comfortable rustic rooms.
West Side of the Park (Near Bellingham, Sedro-Wooly)
Wild Iris Inn (~$140 a night): This boutique inn is at the crossroads of nearby Seattle, La Conner, Washington, San Juan Islands, Vancouver and Victoria, and the North Cascades! From here, you can easily get to the west entrance to the North Cascades.
MorningGlory Inn & Suites (~$135 a night): If you’re looking for a more traditional hotel stay, this is a great deal in Bellingham, Washington. Relax in the hot tub after a long day trip to the North Cascades or check out what unique adventures Bellingham has to offer!
Things To Do In North Cascades National Park
1. Drive To Diablo Lake Overlook
Diablo Lake is one of the most striking lakes in North Cascades National Park and is not one to miss!
Because of fine rock particles refracting sunlight, or glacial flour, Diablo Lake turns a vibrant turquoise color in the summer.
Stop at Diablo Lake Overlook, take in the stunning views of Diablo Lake and the historic Diablo Dam, or go on the Diablo Lake Trail (a moderate 7.6 mile roundtrip hike) on your next solo or family adventure!
Did you know? This place is included in our list of best photo spots in Washington State.
2. Drive The North Cascades Highway (Highway 20)
Set aside at least two hours to drive this beautiful scenic road from Sedro-Wolley to Winthrop, which is around 250 miles. Add more time for stops along the way to see old-growth forests, waterfalls, and mountain views of the North Cascades.
Note: The road closes seasonally for the winter season, so come in the summertime!
3. Washington Pass Overlook
Washington Pass Overlook is good for kids, is wheelchair accessible, and has stellar views of Liberty Bell Mountain.
To get to Washington Pass Overlook, take an easy, paved quarter-mile pathway to the overlook and spend a few minutes taking in the alpine views!
4. Go Hiking in the North Cascades
Want to get outside and take on some Washington hiking trails? Plan your next North Cascades National Park day trip (or overnighter) with these trail suggestions:
- Maple Pass Loop: Moderate/hard 7.2 miles, roundtrip; 2,000” elevation gain
- Blue Lake Trail: Moderate 4.4 miles, roundtrip; 1,050” elevation gain
- Trail of the Cedars Nature Walk: Easy 0.3 miles, roundtrip; 0” elevation gain
- Thunder Knob: Easy/moderate 3.6 miles, roundtrip; 635” elevation gain
- Desolation Peak: Hard 9.4 miles, roundtrip; 4,400” elevation gain
- Rainy Lake Trail: Easy 2 miles, roundtrip; 70” elevation gain
- Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm: Hard 12 miles, roundtrip; 4,000” elevation gain
- A portion of the Pacific Crest Trail: 18 miles pass through the South Unit of North Cascades National Park
Make It an Overnight: The Ultimate Guide to Sahale Glacier Camp in the North Cascades
5. See North Cascade Waterfalls
With over 300 glaciers and countless snowfields in the North Cascades National Park, water run-off creates stunning Washington waterfalls that can be seen by anyone!
6. Stop at the North Cascades Visitor Center
Want to learn more about North Cascades National Park? Make a stop at the Visitor Center!
Here you’ll find an information desk, maps, exhibits on the park’s natural and cultural history, a theater, and a store!
7. Visit The Ross Lake Dam
Take the short and easy 1.6-mile, roundtrip Ross Dam Trail to look out over Ross Lake and Ross Dam, which supplies approximately 20% of Seattle’s power requirements!
Ross Dam Trail is great for kids and dogs are allowed on leash.
8. See The Gorge Lake Overlook
You can reach the Gorge Lake Overlook from a short, easy 0.53-mile walk.
At the Gorge Lake Overlook, you’ll see where the Skagit River once was and the Gorge Dam that provides electricity to Seattle!
9. Hike To Hidden Lake Lookout
To reach Hidden Lake Lookout, take Hidden Lake Peak Trail (a difficult, 8-mile roundtrip hike with 3,300 feet elevation gain) and end up at the Hidden Lake Fire Lookout, which has breathtaking views of the North Cascades.
One of the coolest things about Hidden Lake Lookout is that you can stay overnight in the lookout (suggested donation of $15-25 per night)!
The lookout overnight stay is on a first-come-first-serve basis. There is no formal reservation system.
10. Visit Stehekin
A little more planning is necessary for a trip to Stehekin, but it’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
At the heart of the Cascades, Stehekin is only accessible by foot, boat, or plane!
What are some of your favorite things to do in North Cascades National Park? Tell us in the comments below!