North Cascades National Park, Washington

I won’t beat around the bush. North Cascades is probably the least deserving site I’ve visited in the US to have a national park designation.

The primary feature of the park is a dam. Almost everywhere you go in the park you find high voltage electrical lines. It really should be designated as a National Recreation Area, and given that there are two such areas adjacent to the park, Ross Lake and Lake Chelan, I don’t think my assessment is too far from the mark. (In fact, the Ross Lake National Recreation Area splits the park in two!) The three areas are gerrymandered in such a way that you have to wonder why it was split into 3 units and why they bothered to designate parts of it a national park.

There are many mountainous areas in the United States. It is hard to see what sets this particular patch of mountains apart from others, especially considering the amount of development inside the park.

North Cascades National Park

It is a pleasant enough place to visit, I just don’t think it is on a par with other sites to wear the national park label.

North Cascades is easy to reach from Seattle, Bellingham or Vancouver. It is approximately a 60-90 drive from Seattle with clear signage from the interstate.

Top Attractions in North Cascades National Park

If you are going to visit the North Cascades National Park, these are some of the attractions that you include in your itinerary:

Ross Lake National Recreation Area: This area is located along Route 20 and is near the entrance to the park. This recreational area is centered on Ross Lake, which measures 12,000-acre in size. It is one of the major recreation destinations within the North Cascades National Park. It attracts visitors who are interested in hunting, fishing, kayaking, canoeing, hiking, and climbing.

North Cascades National ParkStephen Mather Wilderness: This wilderness area is another major tourist attraction inside the North Cascades National Park. It was named after Stephen Mather, who was the first director of the US National Park Service. It is known for being the habitat of wildlife species and a venue for many recreational activities including wildlife watching, camping, hunting, and backpacking.

North Cascades Institute: The North Cascades Institute is the best place to go for those who are interested to learn more about what you can find in the national park. This is an interactive space that comes with hands-on learning programs and exhibits.

Lake Chelan National Recreation Area: This area is hard to reach as it cannot be accessed via road; instead, visitors who want to explore the site must travel via ferry. It encompasses nearly 62,000 acres of land area. It is home to Lake Chelan, which is among the deepest lake in the country with a depth of 1,500 feet. It is popular among tourists for fishing, boating, and lakeshore camping.

View the complete list of North American National Parks I visited.

9 thoughts on “North Cascades National Park, Washington”

  1. The park has some of the most stunning scenery in the lower 48. I would strongly urge you to go back and try some backpacking in the area. This is not a park which you can drive around and see.

  2. You my good sir are very wrong.

    North Cascades National Park is the greatest concentration of glaciers in the Lower 48. If anything it should be named “Glacier National Park”. Additionally it has some of the steepest peaks anywhere in the United States outside of Alaska.

    The whole point of North Cascades National Park is to keep it as pristine as possible!! In order to enjoy the park you have to get out of your car and hike a little bit. Just something to keep in mind.

    The primary attraction of the park, is NOT the dam. IT is the rugged mountains and glaciated peaks that you must hike to in order to enjoy.

  3. Here’s a radical idea. Tak a look at a map of North Cascades National Park to find out what is actually included in it. Read a guidebook about the park. Then find someone to lead you by the hand into the heart of the park, since you’re obviously not up to the challenge on your own. Then come back and feel free to either admit your error or justify your assertion:

    • I’ve read the backstory of the park and I still maintain that there are other park service designations which would be a better fit.

      The fact that it is gerrymandered with not one, but two, recreation areas sort of hammers the point home.

      There are many non-national parks which are very beautiful and worth preserving.

  4. There’s a very long story behind this common (mis)perception. This Park is unique in that it was created to keep as much of the N. Cascades pristine as possible, AFTER the dams and highway were built. Yes, those who worked to create the park were a little too late to save it before it was roaded and dammed, but thank GOD they saved what they did, or the whole place would have been a maze of logging roads and at LEAST 3 more dams would have been built (planned in ’68 when the Park was designated). Want the whole story? is the place to go. There’s also an initiative to expand the Park and add more frontcountry trails and amenities which would make it seem more like other Parks: … check ’em out! Also Seattle Times just ran a good story about the virtues of N. Cascades:

    • OK, but why couldn’t they do the same thing by putting it in control of the park service and then designating it a national monument, recreation area or preserve?

      While I understand there are no hard and fast rules regarding a park designation (see Hot Spring National Park), it seems it would be a better if designated as something else.

  5. The dam isn’t in the park. It is in the recreation area. You need to get out of your car and hike into the mountains. The you will see how incredible it is. And did u not stop at the Washington Pass overlook? Which isn’t in the park either but is surrounded by it and is incredible

    • The fact that you can’t really tell what is or isn’t in the park easily sort of just supports my point that it would be better classified as a recreation area.

      There are plenty of non-national parks in the National Parks System. Recreation areas, monuments, wilderness areas, etc. It has more in common with sites classified as any of those other things than it does with a national park.

  6. The way understand the park, the best areas require hiking. Did you visit the Baker Lake area or just the main highway?

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