North Cascades National Park is one of my favorite places to explore. Rugged mountains, jade-green water, few roads, autumn colors – all these things and more draw visitors to the park. North Cascades is smaller than Mt. Rainier or Olympic NP, and gets far fewer visitors. It’s still possible to find solitude in the North Cascades.
Families will find there is lots to do in the North Cascades. There are still some corners of the park I haven’t visited, so I’ll have to just tell you about the places we are familiar with. One of the busiest areas is around Newhalem. Two campgrounds are along the river: Goodell Creek and Newhalem. We’ve stayed at the larger Newhalem Campground, which has decent privacy, flush toilets and running water, and a nice interpretive center. We’ve enjoyed the ranger programs that we’ve been able to attend. There are many trails around the Newhalem area, including the Rock Shelter Trail and Trail of the Cedars Nature Walk. Across the river in the small town of Newhalem is Ladder Creek Falls, which can be viewed from a short trail behind the Gorge Powerhouse.
Driving farther east from Newhalem, you’ll come to the Gorge Overlook. There is a waterfall tucked off to the north, which you can see from the bridge over the chasm. There is also a short, paved trail that heads out to a viewpoint where you can see a bit of the dam below.
Past Diablo is the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center. I’ve taken a class there, and would love to take more from them. They have various offerings for families as well, including Base Camp (where you can stay on the campus and explore on your own during the day) and Family Getaway Weekends, full of adventures for all ages.
Just a little farther up the road is Colonial Creek Campground. This large camping area is on Thunder Arm, and has several shady spots on the water. You can access two trails from here, the Thunder Knob trail and the Thunder Creek trail. Just around the corner is the Diablo Lookout, which is always worth a stop to view Diablo Lake and the surrounding mountains.
Further east, the highway starts to climb. You’ll find access to Ross Lake (we haven’t explored around there yet) and many other hiking trails. Children will enjoy stretching their legs on the Happy Creek Nature Walk, a short shady loop along a rushing creek.
I will mention that if you continue on up the highway, you’ll leave the park and be back onto Forest Service land. There are some amazing hikes around the Rainy Pass area, including Rainy Lake, Lake Ann, and Heather and Maple Pass.
Another access to the North Cascades is through Cascade Pass road – I have yet to go into this area, but I look forward to exploring it.
You can also access North Cascades NP through Stehekin. This is a bit more of a commitment, as you have to ride the Lady of the Lake up to the very northern end or Lake Chelan. You can visit the Golden West Visitor Center, and camp or hike west from there. It’s probably been 15 or 16 years since I’ve been there, so I think it’s time to go back!