“Wilderness is a human concept…an idea about a place and its effect on us. It is a state of mind devoted to an experience and the contemplation of natural places.” ~ Unknown
As we headed northeast towards our next destination, I was reminded of how we once scoffed at tourists who would pull up to the visitor center at Yellowstone NP, saying they had three or four hours to spare, so what should they see. Although we had three or four days to tour North Cascades National Park, I was feeling like one of those tourists trying to see the highlights in such a short time. Smoke from the many fires devastating eastern Washington had moved back our visit so our available days to enjoy this park were shrinking and now we had rain moving into the picture as well…ugh! But we knew that if time and weather permitted only one hike, a special trek was in our future.
With her spectacular craggy peaks, sheer-walled cliffs, spires, and pinnacles, many know North Cascades National Park as the “American Alps”. Few roads lead into the park, so much of the beauty is best seen on her 400 miles of mountain and meadow trails, which could be why she is one of the least visited National Parks, receiving only 21,000 visitors in 2013. The North Cascades National Park Service Complex consists of the National Park, Ross Lake National Recreation Area to the east and Lake Chelan National Recreation Area to the south. Both of the Rec Areas receive more visitors.
As we neared the Visitor Center we were hit with the devastation caused by one of the Washington fires. Had it not been for the road acting as a firebreak and the actions of the brave firefighters, the Visitor Center would have been lost.
After being mesmerized by the glaciers hugging Mt. Rainier’s peaks I was anxious to lay eyes on some in this park. I learned that the North Cascades is home to a whopping 318 moving ice masses. More than 1/3 of all glaciers in the U.S. call this land home. It’s no wonder the streams and creeks are crystal clear, and the rivers and lakes are beautifully colored with glacial runoff.
Although we loved our time in the San Juans, we sorely missed long mountain hikes. A warm-up seemed to be logical before our grand adventure so I chose the 7.5-mile Diablo Lake Trail. With not too much elevation gain, it seemed like a great precursor hike. However, a very narrow, winding road stood between the trailhead and us so we parked further away and elected to hike the Diablo Dam Trail to our trailhead.
As we came off the final switchback, on our way back to the truck, my “finance hubby” started to add up the numbers. It seems our warm-up hike topped off at over 10 miles and Terry is now thinking I have adopted our friend Pam’s approach to hiking. I wouldn’t have it any other way. 😉
If I had one complaint about North Cascades National Park, this would be it. I struggle with the many dams that have been carved out of the wild rivers and bedrock. When the dams turned Skagit River into tamer lakes, it dramatically altered the life of the gorge, wildlife in both water and on land bearing the greatest suffering. It is difficult to take a photo without capturing many power lines running across the frame. I reflected on something I had read recently – “if the wilderness disappears, will the wildness remain”?
The next day the dreaded storm front arrived. Although we basked in early autumn sun at the Lone Fir Campground, the mountains towering above us told a different tale, shrouded with gray clouds. A road trip to Mazama was added to the agenda as we waited out the mountain storm. This teeny little village is a cross-country skier haven, with many already taking to the roads on roller blades and poles in hand, practicing for a much-anticipated winter of groomed trails.
Unfortunately the storm refused to move on quickly so we were faced with another day of rain and cloud cover. Although hiking in the rain is never out of the question, the cloud cover was worrisome as mountain views could be obliterated. We opted to hang back one more day. Another road trip took us to Diablo Lake Overlook, where many brochure photos I had seen were taken, as well as Washington Pass, a must-see in our opinion for gorgeous mountain peak views. Winthrop, a quaint little mountain town, became our lunch stop at the Old Schoolhouse Brewery.
Thank goodness we woke to blue skies the next day, as our time in the North Cascades was dwindling. We arrived at the trailhead by 8:00 am to a brisk 38º for our much-anticipated hike on the Maple Pass trail . With so few roads in the park, many of the mountain passes much be seen and traversed on foot, and Maple Pass is one of those.
If time limits you to one hike in the North Cascades Complex, this should be the one. We’d heard this from friends Jim and Gayle and had it reinforced by many since then.
The views are drop-dead gorgeous, with low clouds draping the mountains, stunning views of glaciers from just above the pass, glacier-kissed mountain lakes, and brilliant fall colors that took my breath away. Well, maybe the 7.5 miles and 2100’ elevation gain had a bit to do with that.
Standing looking out over the glorious mountain peaks, I couldn’t help but feel a connectedness with the entire Universe. What a remarkable feeling!
Next Up: Idaho Visit with Friends
40 thoughts on “The American Alps ~ North Cascades National Park”
Truly beautiful country. And can’t wait to see your pics of Idaho, another state we love!
Thanks! The North Cascades NP is really beautiful right now. 🙂
Your photos are so gorgeous!
Thanks so much Gale!
Beautiful country up there. I need to get back that way soon.
It is definitely that Andrew! 🙂
Stunning photos, LuAnn! What a beautiful place to be.
It is really gorgeous country! 🙂
That was our favorite trail in the North Cascades. How nice you got to do it in the fall with all those beautiful colors!
I was afraid we were going to miss out given the weather. Glad we waited one more day as we talked to someone who had hiked Maple Pass the day before us and they could see nothing at the top. We would have loved to hike Cutthroat as well but time ran out.
Wow! Absolutely gorgeous and although the weather may not have been the best, it offered some compelling moodiness that you captured beautifully.
Thanks Ingrid. We were lucky to finally have blue skies for our hike up Maple Pass.
That is a park we have yet to visit. The colors from your Maple Pass hike are spectacular!
We didn’t have near enough time. Glad we got to do Maple Pass as everyone we were talking to said it was their favorite hike. I wanted to do Cutthroat as well. Perhaps next time.
Wow wow wow! So incredibly stunning LuAnn! I want to go!
You would love it Nicole.
Yes it is “on the list”. Would be a great family trip!
Oh the colors are outstanding. I am in love with that your last photo. Diablo Lake Overlook is gorgeous!
The lake colors are just amazing Marsha. Even if you don’t get out on the trails, the overlooks are fabulous!
LuAnn those views are breath taking! I am so happy for you that the skies cleared and frankly happy for me so I could see how gorgeous it is.
It’s a pretty special park. I was told today however, that the Canadian parks will just blow me away! 🙂
They will indeed. 🙂
I’m so glad you posted this — we’ve tried to go to North Cascades NP several times, but have been thwarted by mud slides/smoke/bad weather. Your beautiful photos and narrative really make us want to try again, though. I understand what you mean about being ready for some serious hiking after spending time in the islands — but wow, you guys are tough to be able to bust out a 10-miler right away. That Maple Pass trail is definitely on our list — and everything else you did!
We had not set out to hike a 10-miler that first day but adding the Diablo Dam Trail to the Diablo Lake Trail seemed better than attempting another narrow winding road. 😉
Oh boy, did you just add one more to our list. This is so beautiful and you captured all the vivid colors of the cascades. Nothing beats a mountains hike with gorgeous sceneries, it makes one forget how hard it is to hike 🙂
This is one hike that should not be missed MonaLiza!
We are headed there today as I type! Can’t believe we missed you, we of course are headed in the opposite direction towards the San Juan Islands. We will not be doing the gorgeous hike you did, but hopefully can see some beautiful sights on shorter jaunts.
I’m sorry we missed one another! You will see beautiful vistas even if you don’t do Maple Pass hike. Diablo Lake Overlook and Washington Pass are breathtaking if you are in the area. 🙂
I agree with MonaLiza – this is another place to put on our “list”, at the top of that list actually! Thanks for taking us along and showing us the glory of it. Its hard to believe the colors are real! Sometimes the inclement weather forces you into new experiences, one’s that you’d otherwise overlook. Every day is a good one in this life…
That it is Sue! The North Cascades had some amazing fall colors. 🙂
First, I must apologize for my delayed comment. I read the post on the phone but wanted to reread it on the computer so I could see the gorgeous photos better and time got away from me. This is such a beautiful area. We rode it on a motorcycle trip one June. It was breath taking to ride through with that wide open view and all the snow in the mountains still. As a matter of fact, I have an 18 carat gold hoop earing from Egypt along the side of one of those roads!! It was a cold ride, as you can imagine, and I had my ear flaps on my helmet. Well, a bee flew in between the flap and my face. In my furry to get it out (it stung me three times), I caught the earing on my finger and it went rolling across the road. By the time I got John to stop, it was hard to remember exactly where it rolled across the road. I walked the road for awhile but there wasn’t much berm and lots of tall grass. So, no luck! I was sick. To replace it here in the states would have cost a small fortune because the hoop was fairly large and the earrings were very heavy. Gold in Egypt is a fraction of the cost and all the gold is 18 carat.
But I LOVE that last hike you did!! I have this area on my near future radar and this hike is now at the top. What amazingly beautiful mountains and rocks. The fall colors surrounding the trail are so pretty. And, of course, there is nothing like the color of the glacial lakes:) Even though you had some clouds that is a gorgeous photo from the Daiblo Lake Overlook:) I really enjoyed reading through this post and so loved the color in your photos:) Tell Terry I am sorry I am such a poor influence…haha!
I would have been devastated had I lost that earring. I know you and John would love the Maple Pass trail. I wanted to do Cutthroat as well but we ran out of time. Terry knows I feel pretty good about being associated with you Pam. 🙂
Beautiful, jaw dropping, awesome! What more can I say? What a stunning scenery. Love the blue waters and the fall colours. Your photos are stunning, crisp and clear with wonderful colours. Thanks for a lovely post!
My pleasure Inger. It is a stunningly beautiful park.
Wonderful scenery, LuAnn. The lakes and mountains are breathtakingly beautiful.
That they are!
just lovely, wonderful photos!!
Thanks so much!
Hello LuAnn. Glad to have you back. ~James
It is good to be back. We are heading out for a road trip this Sunday for several weeks, so I guess you can say I will officially be back then. I look forward to catching up on your adventures.