Monday, March 22, 2010

North Cascades National Park

North Cascades National Park in Washington is a difficult park to get to. If you look at a map of Washington, the North Cascades Highway (SR-20) seems to go right through the park. A closer inspection reveals that the park is actually divided into north and south units with Ross Lake National Recreation Area between them. The road goes through Ross Lake NRA. You can see mountains in the National Park from the road, but you are not actually in it. There are some trails from the road that lead into the park, but I was there before the hiking season started. Also, I only had one day at the end of a conference in Seattle.

Luckily, there is one way to drive into the park from SR-20. Just west of the park in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, the Cascade River Road begins. It is a dirt road that more or less parallels the western border of the park until turning into it. That is where I entered North Cascades National Park. Because of the earliness in the season, I was worried that the road would not be open as far as the park, but it was closed about two miles from the end - well inside the National Park. The most exciting thing about this drive, however, was that I had my first complete bear sighting. By complete, I mean a full front view rather than a butt fleeing into the bushes.

Once I got the official business of setting foot in the National Park out of the way, we went back to the main road and drove through Ross Lake NRA and back. The scenery along the road is beautiful, with sharp snow-capped mountains and mountain lakes (actually impoundments). Unfortunately, I don't have much more to say about this park, since it was basically a drive-by visit.

What I would like to have done is enter the park from the south. Adjacent to North Cascades National Park on the south is Lake Chelan National Recreation Area. In the summer, you can take a boat up the long length of Lake Chelan and get a lodge room in the isolated settlement of Stehekin. From there you can take a shuttle bus up the road through Lake Chelan NRA and then hike into North Cascades National Park. I actually had this scheduled as part of a vacation in 2000, but I had to cancel because of forest fires in many of the areas I was going to visit. I still hope to do it some day.

My visit: June 2006

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