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August 22, 2011

National Parks: North Cascades

Filed under: National Parks, Northwest United States, Photography, The List, Travel — anotherheader @ 6:54 am

North Cascades Highway approaches North Cascades National Park

Did you know that North Cascades is one of United States 58 National Parks?  I didn’t, at least I didn’t before we started planning our mission to reach all of the parks.  Perhaps I’m not alone.  North Cascades, established in 1968, recorded 24,659 visits in 2010 ranking 53 out of the 58 National Parks.  In the contiguous 48 states, only Isle Royale National Park on Lake Superior in Michigan records fewer guests.

The low visitor numbers in North Cascades National Park is deceiving.  Official parkland brackets the North Cascades Highway as it crosses through the park.  This road, Washington State Road 20, follows the Skagit River as it flows along the valley floor.  The Skagit feeds a series of historic hydroelectric power plants owned by Seattle City Lights, Seattle’s power company.  Low down in the river valley, the land, the river, and the reservoirs retained by the dams, are part of a National Recreation Area and are not National Parkland.  (The National Park and the National Recreation Area are managed as a cohesive unit.)

To officially visit North Cascades National Park, you need to move off of the main highway.  And thus, unlike most National Parks, there is no grand gate accessible by a convenient road.  To really get to know North Cascades, an excursion into the backcountry is needed.  For us a backcountry jaunt would not happen this year.  Even at the beginning of summer, heavy winter snow left most of the lower trails too wet for use.   At higher altitudes, snow still covers many routes.

In any event, our scenic drive from the tourist town of Winthrop and on to our next base in Bellingham provided us a glimpse of what we might find in this remote and little visited park.  High above the road are rugged snow capped peaks surrounded by a dense wet forest.  Surely the backcountry here offers a pristine wilderness experience; the impact of man is well buffered.

We will mark North Cascades as a place that warrants a return visit and more exploration.  Though we visited the park, barely, we can’t really say that we experienced the park.  That will have to wait for another year and less snow.

Seattle City Light's Gorge Powerplant

Sunset from Washington State Road 11 otherwise known as Chuckanut Drive


  1. wow. i particularly like the image of the powerplant

    Comment by laurahartson — August 22, 2011 @ 2:34 pm

  2. […] of Seattle until you realize that one of the least visited National Parks in the lower 48, North Cascades, is also near Seattle.  Closeness to Seattle is not the only reason for Olympic’s popularity. […]

    Pingback by National Parks: Olympic « Another Header — November 8, 2011 @ 9:43 pm

  3. […] North Cascades (2011) […]

    Pingback by The List « Another Header — March 14, 2012 @ 10:30 pm

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