Photo above: Mountain goat in the North Cascades. Courtesy National Park Service/Brumond-Smith. Photo right: Pelton Peak, Yawning Glacier, and Magic Mountain north of Cascade Pass. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons.
North Cascades National Park
It's three parks in one. North Cascades includes the national park of the same name, plus Ross Lake National Recreation Area and Lake Chelan National Recreation Area. From defined campgrounds to lakes for fishing, boating, and frolic, the three areas of North Cascades National Park Complex hold a wide array of opportunities for your recreation and tourist desires. And as you can see from the attendance, particularly in the Ross Lake portion, there's plenty of public input to convince you that traveling three hours east of Seattle is well worth the trip, even though you may not be as aware of this park as you are of Olympic National Park or Mount Rainier National Park. And as an added bonus, right now at least, it's free to enter and enjoy.
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Although most visitors to the three areas of North Cascades will access the park off the Route 20 corridor, there's so much to do inland. But it requires planning and knowledge of the whens and wheres. Access to Ross Lake for boating, or Lake Chelan for that matter, takes planning. Hozomeen is the only road access location on Ross Lake and it can only be gotten to from Canada. You can access the lake from a southern point, but that requires portage of your canoe, kayak, or other water craft around Ross Dam to camps and boat access. For the more hardy and experienced, yes, but worth the trouble if you like to carry and have an adventure. Visiting the history here also takes some doing; much of it surrounds Stehekin, including the remnants of the Old Stehekin School, House that Jack Built, or Rainbow Falls. But there's also a good deal in Newhalem, which can be driven to off Route 20.
Photo above: Climbing by the hardy during winter at Sahale Peak. Courtesy National Park Service.
North Cascades Then
Lots of history abounds in the park from two hundred and sixty prehistoric sites to Indian heritage to white settlement historic mines and long lost hotels. Some more recent and unique lodgings are still there.
Indian Heritage - Due to the rugged nature of the mountains, two cultures emerged. One, east of the mountains in the Columbia River Basin, and two, in the Pacific Northwest/Puget Lowlands. Each would trade through the mountain passes such as Cascade, which the natives called Stehekin, meaning the Way Through. Today there are pictographs by the Chelan people on the cliffs around the lake; a representation of that pictograph can be seen in the North Cascades Visitor Center. Skagit area tribes have inhabited the area for over eight thousand years. When white settlement came, about one thousand tribe members lived in the region.
Miners and Builders - Miners began searching for treasure in the 1850s, but found little. A small strike in the late 1870's along Ruby Creek led to a boom, but it fizzled by 1880. In 1892, a silver streak was found near Thunder Creek, causing a second mineral boom. That lasted twenty years, but yielded less value due to the cost of getting the ore out, than the mining companies wished. Due to the remote location and lack of roads, settlement of the region, as well as logging and other pursuits, lagged behind other areas. It was not until 1972 that the North Cascades Highway, Route 20, was built, the first modern road through the passes. Even now, that highway is not passable in winter.
North Cascades Now
The origin of the national park and recreation areas in the North Cascades region began in 1897 when it was designated a Forest Reserve. Arguments about creating a national park began with a petition prior to the Reserve in 1892, but it took over seventy years before environmentalists and other advocates would win the battle. North Cascades was designated a national park on October 2, 1968. The act to create the park also created the Ross Lake and Lake Chelan National Recreation Areas.
Today ninety-three percent of the park is designated wilderness, named for Stephen Mather, first director of the National Park Service, with built facilities concentrated around the Route 20 corridor and the Lake Chelan area. Some interesting facts. The park reaches to the Canadian border. Its high point is Goode Mountain at nine thousand two hundred and twenty feet above sea level. There are three hundred glaciers within its boundaries.
Photo above: The Nlaka'pamux Tribe, 1914, by James Alexander Teit. Courtesy Canadian Museum of Civilization, Library of Congress. The tribe lived in the eastern section of the North Cascades.
North Cascades National Park
Things You Should Not Miss
1. Take a park ranger tour. Check at a visitor center during the summer season for the schedule of hikes and talks around the Skagit District (Highway 20), Hozomeen, or Stehekin. If you're on the Stehekin Shuttle, stop by and check out the Stehekin School. It's history of education in the backcountry with likely unavailable school choice options. There are evening programs and Newhalem town tours as well.
2. Visit a Visitor Center. Almost imperative for first time visitors, especially at large parks like North Cascades with regions that are hard to get to. Coming in from the west, stop first at the North Cascades Visitor Center and let a ranger give you options for the day or week, whether you're there to hike, camp, or just drive. A drive along the Route 20 corridor will take you to many, but of course not all, of the most interesting sites.
3. Hike. So many options here, it's hard to describe. Short interpretive trails, some with boardwalks, from the North Cascades Visitor Center and other trailheads for the less long walk inclined to one of the four hundred miles of accessible, or perhaps limited access, walks through a wilderness so vast, there's one hundred and twenty-seven lakes. Boy, there's a tough to do list. For those that want to backpack hike, there are one hundred and forty campsites along the trails of North Cascades where you can pitch your tent.
Photo above: Steheken School, North Cascades. Photo by Jet Lowe, 1987, Historic American Buildings Survey. Courtesy Library of Congress.
T-Shirts and Souvenirs
North Cascades National Park T-Shirts and Souvenirs from the official souvenirs of America's Best History. Great for nature, national park, and heritage history fans.