North Cascades Overview

North Cascades National Park, situated in the northern part of Washington State, USA, is a strikingly beautiful wilderness area known for its jagged peaks, deep valleys, cascading waterfalls, and more than 300 glaciers. Encompassing approximately 504,781 acres (2,042 square kilometers), this expansive park is part of the North Cascades National Park Complex, which also includes the Ross Lake and Lake Chelan National Recreation Areas. Established in 1968, the park aims to protect a portion of the North Cascades Range, a region celebrated for its breathtaking landscapes and ecological diversity.

The park’s terrain is a dramatic showcase of the power of glacial and volcanic activity, with its landscape sculpted by ice and fire over millions of years. It is home to a diverse range of ecosystems, from wet western rainforests to dry ponderosa pine forests and alpine tundra, supporting a wide variety of plant and animal life. The park’s isolation and rugged terrain have helped preserve its pristine condition, offering a sanctuary for wildlife such as grizzly bears, gray wolves, lynx, and wolverines, as well as countless species of birds and fish.

North Cascades National Park is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts and adventure seekers. It offers a wealth of recreational activities, including hiking, backpacking, climbing, and boating. The park’s extensive trail system provides access to its remote wilderness areas, offering visitors the chance to explore its natural beauty up close. The North Cascades Highway (State Route 20), the park’s main access road, offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains and valleys, making it a popular route for scenic drives.

Despite its rugged beauty, North Cascades National Park remains one of the least visited national parks in the United States, offering a sense of solitude and escape from the hustle and bustle of modern life. Its breathtaking scenery and untouched wilderness make it a must-visit destination for those seeking to experience the wild heart of the Pacific Northwest.

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Park Map
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North Cascades National Park Highlights


North Cascades National Park, a landscape of rugged peaks and pristine forests in Washington State, is a refuge for a myriad of wildlife, each species adding to the park’s natural majesty and offering visitors a chance to immerse themselves in the biodiversity of the Pacific Northwest.

Black Bear Frequently spotted in both forested areas and alpine meadows, Black Bears are an iconic presence, foraging for berries and fish across the park’s vast wilderness.

Gray Wolf Elusive and majestic, Gray Wolves roam the deeper wilderness of the park, playing a critical role in the ecological balance through their predatory habits.

Mountain Goat Adapted to the park’s steep terrain, Mountain Goats are often seen on rocky outcrops, their white coats making them a striking sight against the rugged landscape.

Mule Deer Mule Deer, with their large ears and graceful movements, are a common sight in meadows and along riverbanks, browsing on the park’s abundant vegetation.

Bald Eagle Soaring above rivers and lakes, Bald Eagles epitomize the wild spirit of the North Cascades, their impressive wingspan a symbol of freedom and strength.

Pika The tiny, industrious Pika is a delight to observe among rocky areas, where it collects vegetation for winter, its high-pitched calls echoing in the air.

Hoary Marmot Known for their distinctive whistles, Hoary Marmots are social animals, often spotted sunning themselves on rocks in alpine zones, adding charm to the landscape.

Northwestern Salamander In the park’s moist habitats, the Northwestern Salamander is a fascinating amphibian, its presence indicative of the health of aquatic ecosystems.

Osprey Circling the park’s water bodies, Ospreys dive spectacularly for fish, showcasing their hunting prowess and contributing to the dynamic avian life of the park.

Coyote Versatile and adaptable, Coyotes can be heard and sometimes seen throughout the park, their presence a testament to the adaptability of nature in the Cascades.

North Cascades National Park’s diverse inhabitants, from the foraging Black Bear to the elusive Gray Wolf, offer visitors a profound connection to the wild, underscoring the importance of conservation and the beauty of untamed nature.

North Cascades National Park Pictures

Engaging North Cascades

Explore the breathtaking landscapes of North Cascades National Park on its extensive network of hiking trails. Trek through lush forests, alpine meadows, and rugged mountain terrain as you discover hidden waterfalls, pristine lakes, and panoramic viewpoints.

Choose from a variety of trails suited for all skill levels, from easy nature walks to challenging backcountry treks. Highlights include the Cascade Pass Trail, which offers stunning views of glaciers and peaks, and the Diablo Lake Trail, which winds along the shores of a turquoise reservoir.

Hiking in North Cascades offers opportunities to connect with nature and experience the park’s diverse ecosystems up close.

Embark on a scenic drive along the North Cascades Highway, which traverses dramatic mountain passes and offers breathtaking views of snow-capped peaks, glacier-carved valleys, and cascading waterfalls. Stop at designated overlooks and viewpoints to capture photographs of the stunning landscapes and perhaps catch a glimpse of wildlife along the way.

The North Cascades Highway provides a leisurely and immersive way to experience the beauty of North Cascades National Park from the comfort of your vehicle, with opportunities for sightseeing, wildlife viewing, and enjoying the natural splendor of the Pacific Northwest.

North Cascades National Park Trails

Cascade Pass Trail

Rating: Moderate

Distance and Elevation Gain: 7.4 miles round trip with an elevation gain of about 1,800 feet (549 meters)

Description: This trail offers stunning views of glaciated peaks and alpine meadows. Starting from the end of Cascade River Road, it’s a steady ascent to the pass, where hikers are rewarded with panoramic views of the surrounding North Cascades.

The trail is well-maintained, making it accessible for most hikers looking for a rewarding day hike.

Sahale Arm Trail

Rating: Strenuous

Distance and Elevation Gain: 12 miles round trip with an elevation gain of about 4,000 feet (1,219 meters)

Description: Extending from the Cascade Pass Trail, Sahale Arm leads hikers into the heart of the North Cascades with breathtaking views of jagged peaks, glaciers, and alpine meadows bursting with wildflowers. The trail culminates at Sahale Glacier Camp, offering one of the most spectacular camp spots in the park.

Blue Lake Trail

Rating: Moderate

Distance and Elevation Gain: 4.4 miles round trip with an elevation gain of about 1,050 feet (320 meters)

Description: This family-friendly hike leads to the stunning Blue Lake, set against a backdrop of towering peaks and alpine forests. The trail is well-defined, offering scenic views along the way, including wildflower meadows in the summer and colorful larches in the fall.

Maple Pass Loop

Rating: Moderate to Strenuous

Distance and Elevation Gain: 7.2 miles loop with an elevation gain of about 2,000 feet (610 meters)

Description: Circumnavigating Rainy Pass, this loop trail offers diverse views of the North Cascades, including alpine lakes, rugged peaks, and meadows. The hike is especially popular in the fall when the larch trees turn golden, contrasting beautifully against the evergreen landscape.

Thunder Creek Trail

Rating: Easy to Moderate

Distance and Elevation Gain: Up to 12 miles round trip with minimal elevation gain for the first few miles

Description: This trail offers a gentle hike along Thunder Creek, deep within the forested valley. It’s an excellent option for those seeking a less strenuous hike or a multi-day backpacking trip. The trail passes by several campsites and offers beautiful views of the creek and surrounding mountains.


1. What is North Cascades National Park known for?

North Cascades National Park, located in Washington state, is known for its rugged mountain landscapes, pristine wilderness, and abundant biodiversity. The park is home to jagged peaks, cascading waterfalls, and dense forests, making it a haven for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers.

Visitors come to North Cascades to explore its extensive network of hiking trails, which offer access to remote alpine lakes, glacier-capped peaks, and panoramic vistas of the surrounding wilderness.

The park is also renowned for its scenic drives, including the North Cascades Highway, which traverses dramatic mountain passes and offers breathtaking views of snow-capped peaks and turquoise lakes.

Additionally, North Cascades National Park provides opportunities for camping, wildlife viewing, fishing, and backcountry adventure, making it a popular destination for outdoor recreation and wilderness exploration.

  • All Trails in North Cascades National Park,, retrieved April 2024.
  • June 2020. National Geographic, Complete National Parks of the United States, National Geographic Publishing, Washington DC.April 2024.
  • National Geographic, Guide to the National Parks of the United States, National Geographic Society, 2003.
  • National Geographic, Complete National Parks of the United States, National Geographic Publishing, Washington DC.
  • National Geographic, National Parks of North America, Canada-United States-Mexico, National Geographic Society, 1995.
  • National Geographic, Venture Into the Wild ‘American Alps’,, retrieved April 2024.
  • National Park Service, North Cascades,, retrieved April 2024.