North Cascades National Park is located in upper Washington state and boasts glacier-topped peaks, booming waterfalls, deep valleys, and lush forest. Over 99% of the park is considered wilderness, which means you’ll have to get out and hike along the 400 miles of trails in order to experience it all. But, if you just have an afternoon to spend, you can drive along Route 20 to some of the best views this park has to offer.
The Pacific Northwest is known for its gloomy skies and a light drizzle of rain and a thick layer of fog give the park an eerie vibe. The first thing you’ll notice is just how fresh and crisp the air feels. The thick, lush forest keeps the air cool and even in August, it was only 60 degrees. If you can make it to the park on a sunny day, you’re going to be privy to some stunning views of the surrounding mountains, but even on an overcast day, the park is gorgeous.
Gorge Overlook Trail & Waterfalls
A short hike on the Gorge Overlook Trail from the parking lot brings you right to the viewpoint where you are looking over the gorge. Here you get a beautiful view of the waterfalls off in the distance. While not the largest of waterfalls, the hike is still worth it because of the colors of the trees and moss surrounding you give you the feeling that you’re in a forest that is very much alive and thriving. The trail is paved and is a quick .8 miles round trip.
Perhaps one of the most well-known areas of North Cascades National Park is Diablo Lake. With its piercing turquoise waters set against the verdant valley floor, it is a spectacle to behold. The intense color of the lake is due to the surrounding glaciers, which grinds up the rock into sediment and deposits it into the water. The overlook gives you a stunning 180-degree view of the lake and surrounding valleys and is located right in the parking lot, so it’s easily accessible.
Washington and Rainy Passes
Washington Pass is the tallest point on the North Cascades Highway and has stunning views of Liberty Bell Mountain. The trail is unpaved and includes walking upstairs, but a quick walk up to the viewpoint is not to be missed. Nearby Rainy Pass, four miles west of Washington Pass, is where the Pacific Crest Trail crosses through the area. A short one-mile paved trail deposits you right in front of Rainy Lake, waterfalls, and glaciers. This section of route 20 is traditionally closed between November and April so make sure to take that into account when planning your trip.
Glaciers at Cascade Pass
If you head back to Marblemount and cross over the bridge to the south-east, you’ll begin the long journey up to Cascade Pass. This drive is slow going as it turns into gravel and becomes a one-lane road for a good portion of it, so it’s not for the faint of heart. But once you get up towards the top, you start to see massive glacial waterfalls and, of course, the mighty glaciers themselves. Given that you are so high up in elevation, it’s very easy to experience a full white out as the mist rolls into the mountainside. If you do experience that, give it some time as it is constantly moving and it can roll out just as quickly as it came in. If you’re looking for a fantastic hike, the trailhead for the Cascade Pass Trail is located near the parking lot and is the most popular day hike in the whole park. You don’t have to walk far for gorgeous views in every direction.