Blake Walsh

15 Best Things to Do in North Cascades National Park, WA

  • Published 2023/04/01

The North Cascades National Park may not be as famous as Yellowstone and Yosemite, but that doesn’t mean it’s not as gorgeous.

Within its 505,000-acre area are a vast unspoiled wilderness, ancient glaciers, massive lakes, and conifer-laden mountains.

As many outdoor experts say, the North Cascades National Park is an underrated travel destination, especially for nature lovers, hikers, and outdoor enthusiasts.

Adding fascination to this national park are over 300 lakes and 300 glaciers, most millions of years old.

Plenty of outdoor recreational activities exist in its wild, remote, and rugged but gorgeous terrain.

You can enjoy wildlife viewing, hiking, canoeing, kayaking, camping, mountain climbing, stargazing, and more at this national park.

Since it’s a two-hour drive from Seattle in Washington, this park isn’t that far.

Here’s a curated list of the things to do in the North Cascades National Park to excite you:

Admire the Gorge Lake Overlook

Aerial view of the Gorge Lake Overlook

RonaldL /

The Gorge Lake Overlook is one of the first attractions you’ll come across at the North Cascades National Park.

You can visit this famous overlook a few hundred meters from the North Cascades Highway.

The overlook lets you get a bird’s eye view of the gorgeous Gorge Dam and Skagit Gorge after a 400-meter hike.

Below is a massive lake with turquoise blue water and towering mountains.

You can descend to the lake and the dam to further explore the area.

Watching the stunning scenery of the Gorge Lake Overlook is a worthwhile experience you mustn’t miss at North Cascades National Park.

Drive along the Breathtaking North Cascades Highway

The road of North Cascades Highway

Danita Delimont /

The North Cascades Highway is a stretch of road that passes through the middle of the national park.

It shows motorists and visitors its natural beauty.

The highway starts between milepost 178 and 134 from Ross Dam to Early Winters Gate, which spans over 30 miles.

If you have a tight schedule, drive along this gorgeous highway.

It takes you to unspoiled natural beauty from its overlooks, hiking trails, and lakes a few meters from the highway.

Driving along the North Cascades Highway offers a unique vantage point of the North Cascades National Park.

Explore Thunder Knob

Thunder Knob is a short but scenic trail that takes you to various attractions around the national park.

You can visit this trail east of Highway 20, just outside Newhalem.

The trail follows the shores of Diablo Lake.

As you hike, you’ll reach the Colonial Creek campground, where you can set up a tent to rest.

The terrain on this trail is relatively easy, making it friendly for hikers at all levels.

Thunder Knob Trail is a recommended outdoor attraction because of its scenic location.

It’s where you can see the stunning vistas and shorelines of Diablo Lake.

Traverse the Sterling Munro Trail

Boardwalk of Sterling Munro Trail

Joe Mabel, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Sterling Munro Trail is a beautiful place to explore further to North Cascades.

You can start hiking on this trail at the North Cascades Visitor Center in Newhalem.

Your hike usually starts at its 300-foot boardwalk leading to the Picket Range viewpoint.

Although the trail has a jagged and rocky terrain, you’ll see beautiful mountain ranges, wooded areas, streams, and hills teeming with local flora and fauna.

Scenic view from Sterling Munro Trail

Joe Mabel, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Also, you’ll notice some of the remnants of the 2015 Goodell Fire from the slopes of Mount Ross.

Sterling Munro Trail has recovered from that calamity and regained its natural beauty.

Also, it’s been a haven for migratory and local birds, making it an excellent birdwatching area.

Embrace the Picturesque View of Ross Lake Overlook

Ross Lake Overlook is one of the several gorgeous viewing areas of the national park’s massive lakes.

You can visit this overlook beside the North Cascades Highway east of Diablo Lake.

This overlook gives you a picturesque view of Ross Lake, which spans through the border of Canada in the north.

Unlike other overlooks in the park, this one has two designated sections where you can get different perspectives of Ross Lake.

You won’t regret visiting Ross Lake Overlook as you’ll appreciate its mesmerizing deep turquoise waters.

Of course, remember to take photos and pose with the lake as your backdrop for souvenirs.

Set Up Camp at North Cascades National Park

A tent at North Cascades National Park

Edmund Lowe Photography /

Camping in the North Cascades National Park is one of its best activities, which you must experience there.

There are plenty of campgrounds in the park you can choose from, each with unique camping opportunities.

The park has numerous camping experiences from its eight designated front country campgrounds.

These campgrounds are Gorge Lake Campground, Newhalem Creek Campground, and Goodell Creek Campground.

You can also visit the Lower Goodell Creek Campground, Colonial Creek North Campground, Hozomeen, and Colonial Creek South Campground.

A hiker beside a tent at North Cascades National Park

Andrew Bertino /

Finally, you can also head to the town of Stehekin.

Most campgrounds have varied amenities.

Still, all campgrounds offer you gorgeous natural views of the park’s surroundings.

One of the most convenient campgrounds you can set up is in Stehekin.

This small town has nearby stores to make your stay cozy.

Pack your tent and other camping essentials and find the best spot at the North Cascades National Park.

Spot the Famous Mountain Goats

Mountain Goats playing at North Cascades National Park

Kelly vanDellen /

The most famous animals residing in the North Cascades National Park are mountain goats.

These free-roaming animals are usually seen on the Canadian border to the Oregon border.

When exploring the national park, you’ll likely encounter one of these creatures with a particular thick white coat and shiny black horns.

Close view of Mountain Goats

Danita Delimont /

More than 3,200 mountain goats thrive in the national park; most are often friendly to hikers and mountain climbers.

Whenever you see one of these famous animals in the North Cascades National Park, remember to take photos as your souvenir.

However, keep your distance to protect yourself and these majestic animals.

Climb the Double Summits of Hozomeen Mountain

Hozomeen Mountain is known throughout the national park for its double-summitted rock peak.

Those who want to climb this mountain can quickly locate it on Ross Lake’s eastern side.

The mountain’s terrain is characterized by modest elevation.

At the same time, it has massive steep drops from both summits, challenging climbers all around.

Despite that, this mountain remains a famous destination for climbers.

Meanwhile, its surrounding area below is a famous outdoor destination for hiking, camping, boating, swimming, and fishing.

With all that in mind, Hozomeen Mountain is a beautiful part of the national park you mustn’t miss visiting.

Paddle through the Lakes of North Cascades National Park

Paddling along Ross Lake

SoisudaS /

Boating is one of the top activities in North Cascades National Park.

The park has several massive lakes you can enjoy boating.

These are Diablo Lake, Gorge Lake, Ross Lake, and Lake Chelan.

Each of these lakes boasts unique beauty, offering you unique boating experiences.

If you don’t have a canoe or a kayak, you can still rent boats at these lakes for a specific fee from shops and campgrounds.

Besides kayaks and canoes, you can also rent motorboats for a more convenient boating experience.

You can also stay at one of its campgrounds near the lakeshores for a more convenient boating experience.

Enjoy Fishing in North Cascades National Park

Fishing is one of the most enjoyable activities to experience at this national park.

You can enjoy a top-notch fishing experience at the park’s lakes, tributaries, and rivers.

Anyone can fish at this park, but you must bring a Washington fishing license before casting their line.

The three leading lakes at the national park, Gorge Lake, Ross Lake, and Diablo Lake, abound in eastern brook trout, rainbow trout, and cutthroat trout.

Meanwhile, Skagit River has steelhead and golden trout, while Lake Chelan is known for its smallmouth and largemouth bass.

Enjoy a splendid fishing experience while admiring gorgeous surrounding views.

Visit the Scenic Town of Stehekin

Boats at the Town of Stehekin

Amehime /

Stehekin lies in the middle of the North Cascades National Park.

Although it’s not entirely isolated, this town is known by many for its sleepy appeal amidst the breathtaking views of Lake Chelan.

Visiting this small town is an ideal jump-off base to explore the vast national park.

At the same time, you can resupply before proceeding to the rest of the national park.

Stehekin is an attraction within the North Cascades National Park, a recommended destination for your itinerary.

Dock of the Town of Stehekin

Amehime /

Climb Sourdough Mountain

Scenic view of Sourdough Mountain

Dmitry Kovba /

Sourdough Mountain is known as a fire lookout that became a tourist attraction within the national park.

You can reach this mountain 20 miles east of Marble Mount.

The mountain’s fire lookout was constructed near the summit by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933.

It was eventually included in the National Register of Historic Places in 1989.

Hiking trail at Sourdough Mountain

Dmitry Kovba /

Climbing this mountain, standing at 1,863 meters tall, rewards you with a breathtaking view of the national park.

The climb up Sourdough Mountain might be grueling.

Still, the experience is utterly priceless because of its beauty, especially once you reach its summit and the fire lookout.

Enjoy Stargazing

The North Cascades National Park is also an excellent stargazing destination.

You can visit several camping spots known as stargazing locations throughout the national park.

You can choose from Heather Pass, Sauk Mountain, and Lake Ann, to name a few.

Also, you can hook up with local stargazing groups offering sidelights such as sunset viewing, bonfire dinners, and hiking.

If you have your telescope and camera, head straight to the best spots for stargazing.

Remember to bring your friends or family for a more fun experience.

Hike through the Scenic Cascade Pass

Scenic view of Cascade Pass

Pat Tr /

Cascade Pass is a high-altitude mountain pass famous for its stunning views of the national park’s mountains, glaciers, and valleys.

You can begin your hike by driving to the Cascade River Road, which leads you to the Cascade Pass Trailhead.

Also, you can ascend to the mountain pass south in the Pelton Basin campground.

The pass is above a 5,392-foot mountain and is a vital connection from Lake Chelan to the Cascade River.

It is accessible only through hiking.

A person along Cascade Pass

Tobin Akehurst /

Once you start hiking, you’ll be rewarded with beautiful sweeping national park views.

At the same time, you should come across local wildlife, such as the famous mountain goats, deer, and birds.

The hike through Cascade Pass is about four miles.

Frequent stopovers are expected while hiking because of the mesmerizing view of the snowcapped mountains, vast green valleys, and lakes below.

Ride the Skagit River

Whitewater rafting through the Upper Skagit River is popular for those who want an adrenaline-pumping experience.

Since it’s the third largest river in terms of volume in the Western United States, it constantly creates excellent whitewater conditions.

Various whitewater rafting companies offer a ride on the Skagit River, such as the Orion River Expeditions, Cascadia Rafting, Alpine Adventures, and Triad River Tours.

If you don’t want whitewater rafting on the Skagit River, you can always enjoy kayaking or canoeing on its calmer parts.

Final Thoughts

North Cascades National Park is an underrated outdoor destination that isn’t as crowded as the Yellowstone and Yosemite National Parks.

Seize the opportunity to explore the unspoiled beauty of this national park and bring out your spirit of adventure.

It’s entirely up to you how you’ll direct your outdoor adventure in this gorgeous place.

Pin this travel post about the best things to do in North Cascade National Park as your handy itinerary.

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