North Cascades National Park
Guide

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Introduction

Located in the state of Washington, this magnificent national park is only three hours away from Seattle. When you visit North Cascades, you’ll see powerful mountains topped with jagged peaks, along with impressive glaciers and elegant cascades that fill your ears with calming sounds. Long before North Cascades was turned into a park, it was home to Native Americans. Archaeological artifacts found here date back 8,500 years.

The best time to visit is from mid-June to late September, when most of the snow is gone, although fall and spring are beginning to rise in popularity lately. During the fall and spring, you can expect to see more emerging wildlife and the pretty colors of nature starting to show through. However, visitors should expect more rain and storms than in summer. Depending on which part of the park you decide to go to, the weather can be vastly different, so keep this in mind when planning your trip.

North Cascades is an incredible spot to journey to in your RV--a beautiful place where you can hike, bike, boat, and so much more. It’s also a fantastic place to just relax. What better way is there to experience all that this park offers than to pack up your rig and camp out under all of its magnificence?

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RV Rentals in North Cascades National Park

Transportation in North Cascades National Park

Driving

Taking a car is the most popular and common method of travel within the park, but you should have no issues navigating with your RV. The only place you might run into trouble is if you plan to ride on Cascade River Road in the park. This road is gravel, making it challenging for large RVs. The best way to get general access to the park is to take State Route 20. From there, the roads branch off as Silver-Skagit Road and State Route 542 and can be used to reach places like Hozomeen, Copper Ridge, and Mount Shuksan. There are lots of roadways within the park, so a map or GPS could come in handy.

Parking

When you visit the park, you should have no problem finding parking, regardless of the size of your vehicle. The only times you might have to plan ahead is during busy weekends and holidays. The most RV-friendly campground in the entire park is Newhalem. This campground is very welcoming to RVs of all sizes and has lots of sites to choose from. Other campgrounds in the park do allow smaller RVs such as Colonial Creek and Goodell Creek Campgrounds, but are not as comfortable as the spots you’ll find at Newhalem Campground. The spots can fill up fast though, so making reservations to guarantee a spot is important.

Public Transport

Bicycling through the park is another common way of getting around. It may be favored not only because it’s a great way to get some exercise, but also because it’s a much greener way of traveling, helping to lessen our environmental impact. Public transportation is limited, with none available within the park itself. If you want new ways of seeing the park though, you can rent a boat, kayak, or canoe and head out onto one of the many lakes.

Campgrounds and parking in North Cascades National Park

Campsites in North Cascades National Park

Reservations camping

Concrete / Grandy Creek KOA

In the shadow of Mount Baker, Concrete/Grandy Creek KOA is the perfect base camp for accessing nearby outdoor scenery and adventures. Cities like Bellingham and Vancouver, British Columbia are within an easy day-trip range. Back at the pet-friendly Concrete/Grandy Creek KOA, you’re sure to find something fun, from competing in outdoor sports, swimming in the pool, and playing mini golf, to going for hayrides or bouncing on the jumping pillow. Enjoy a great pancake breakfast and afterward, take a morning stroll through one of the campground’s many nature trails.

Burlington / Anacortes KOA

Watch the bald eagles soar over the small town of Burlington, Washington. Nearby activities include whale-watching tours, scenic drives, and trekking through vast outdoor playgrounds like Diablo Lake Adventure and Deception Pass. At year-round Burlington/Anacortes KOA, pull-through sites can accommodate rigs up to 80 feet. On-site amenities include cable tv, Wi-Fi, an indoor swimming pool, and a dog park.

Colonial Creek Campground - South Loop

After being split up into North and South, the south loop is then split into lower, upper and lakefront areas where there is access to sites. Unlike the North Loop, the South Loop takes reservations. These reservation sites allow RVs but are not suitable for larger rigs. When you stay here, you’ll be able to find flush toilets, garbage and recycling services, a dump station, and potable water all available for your convenience, but you won’t find hookups or showers.

Gorge Lake Campground

Gorge Creek is a fairly primitive campground, especially compared to the others. If you’re looking for that wilderness, you’ll find it at the six sites here. There are no hookups, water, or any other service. All sites are first-come, first-serve as of current, but reservations will also be allowed.

Newhalem Creek Campground

This campground is great for those that want to bring their RV into the park for camping since the sites here can accommodate vehicles up to 45 feet in length. No matter how big your RV is, you can rest assured that you’ll be able to come to this campground and have an easy time doing so. All three loops at the main campground provide drinking water, a dump station, garbage and recycling service, and flush toilets. They do not have hookups or showers available, but they do have 111 sites to choose from. There are also group sites available, if you’re bringing a team of people with you. You can pick from two sites here and bring up to 25 people.

First-come first-served

Colonial Creek Campground - North Loop

This part of Colonial Creek Campground consists of 42 sites, all of which are first-come, first-served. Like the South Loop, large RVs are not recommended, but small RVs are welcome. There are no hookups or showers, but there is potable water available, along with garbage and recycling services and flush toilets.

Goodell Creek Campground - Main

This campground is ideal for camping in tents and small RVs, but there are no hookups or showers. There are vault toilets, a garbage service, and drinking water available here though. You can choose from up to 19 different sites, and you’ll even have conveniently close picnic tables to eat at. During your stay at Goodell Creek Campground, you’ll be situated under the relaxing shade of the old forest and surrounded by the tranquility of nature. The campground also has group sites available - the Upper and Lower Goodell Group Camps. Lower group sites have a maximum of up to 50 people and 25 vehicles. Upper group sites can hold up to 30 people and 10 vehicles. All group sites are reservation only, but the main campground is first-come, first-served.

Hozomeen Campground

This campground, while offering many of the same things as the others, is different than the rest in one way--there is no entrance to the campground in the US, so you must arrive from Canada. This is due to the fact that Hozomeen Campground lies on the US-Canadian Border. Be careful when driving here, as the roads can be pretty rough. In fact, it’s recommended that you bring a spare tire just in case. Once you arrive, you’ll find 75 designated sites to choose from, plus a few more areas that aren’t so designated. All camping in this area is primitive, so the only services you’ll find are potable water and vault toilets. Hozomeen Campground is only open from May 25th to October 31st, so keep this in mind before heading out.

Alternate camping

Wilderness Camping

If you are willing to leave the RV behind, you can go camping at other spots throughout the park. These places are much more secluded and private. Some even have to be reached by boat. Many of these sites are fairly new, giving even more options to experience the park.

Seasonal activities in North Cascades National Park

Spring

Boat-In Camping

Boat-in camping is relatively new to this park, which means the campsites you’ll find for it are new and better too. Just be sure to get a backcountry permit before heading out to one of these sites located by the lakes. This can be a great way to find peace in nature.

Evening Programs

One great Ranger Program that you can check out takes place at the amphitheater in the Hozomeen area of the park. Here you can listen to one of the greatest stories told about the North Cascades. This is a great form of entertainment for everyone if you bring the whole family.

Horseback Riding

This park is a great place to go horseback riding, and you can take up to 12 people at a time. Some of the best and most popular trails can be found along Bridge Creek. Other well-known trails include East Bank Trail, Big Beaver Trail, and Thunder Creek Trail. Be sure to check trail conditions and regulations before heading out.

Wildlife Watching

Considered to be one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world, you can be sure to see many different kinds of wildlife here at North Cascades. If you’re lucky, you might be able to see a gray wolf or wolverine, but you’re even more likely to see plenty of deer and squirrels. You can even venture out to see how many different kinds of insects you can find.

Bird Watching

North Cascades National Park is home to over 300 species of birds that can be categorized into 38 different families. The park is also protecting two bird species that are on the “threatened” list: the spotted owl and the marbled murrelet. While you may not be able to easily spot these rare birds, you can smile knowing that you helped by leaving no trace when you ventured out.

Summer

Climbing

North Cascade is well known for all of the unique climbing options that the mountains and glaciers give. With rugged mountain sides, towering peaks, and over 300 glaciers, this is the place to be for anyone that enjoys rock climbing and mountaineering. Be aware that these climbs can be very challenging in many ways, and you may need to get a backcountry license.

Hiking

Hiking season in this park usually lasts from April to October, but you can still sometimes find snow all the way into August. For many, this does not stop them from enjoying a wonderful hike through North Cascades. There are trails ranging in difficulty and length, allowing for lots of variety to choose from.

Boating

Like kayaking and canoeing, motor boat rentals can be found at Ross Lake Resort, making Ross Lake the most popular spot to go boating at. Be aware that there are no boat rental options at Diablo or Gorge Lakes. Going boating can be a great way to relax and maybe even catch a few fish while you’re on the water.

Kayaking & Canoeing

There are many lakes to choose from to go kayaking and canoeing at, and you can find rentals at Ross Lake Resort. These fun water activities are most popular at Lake Chelan and Ross, Diablo, and Gorge Lakes. Paddling is a great way to get out and enjoy all the pleasant views around the lakes.

Fishing

There are many spots to choose from to go fishing inside the park, including Ross Lake, Diablo Lake, Lake Chelan, Stehekin River, and Skagit River. At Skagit River, you’ll find 5 different species of salmon and two different species of trout, making for an exciting fishing trip. Lake Chelan and Stehekin River offer other varieties of fish as well.

Fall

Wilderness Camping

Wilderness camping can be a great way to get out and enjoy all the great things that this park has to give. In order to do this, you’ll need a backcountry license, but the experience will be worth it. The tranquility you’ll find in the wild is sure to last a long time, even after you leave.

Ranger Talks

Ranger talks are a great way to learn something new. At the visitor center, you can meet up with a ranger for a 20-minute session to listen to some great stories about the North Cascades. There is also a program called “Ranger on Deck” that takes place on the deck of the Stehekin Landing. Here, you can learn even more about the history of the area.

Buckner Orchard

Buckner Orchard is a beautiful place to take a casual stroll, and a great way to experience the valleys of the area. You can get a feel for the history here, and see all the beautiful sights that nature has to offer. The walk is easy and self-guided, and you’ll be able to find peace of mind as you go along.

Bicycling

There are lots of options for those that prefer to get around by bicycle. Two common places that you’ll find bikers is on North Cascades Highway, also known as State Route 20, and Stehekin Valley Road. Whatever you decide and wherever you go, be sure to be aware of your surroundings and stay safe.

Junior Ranger Program

If you’ve brought kids along with you to visit the park, they can become a Junior Ranger. There is a booklet for each age group, so the fun is not limited to only kids of a certain age. Your kid will get the opportunity to learn all about nature and wildlife through fun activities and guides.

Winter

Snow Play

If snowshoeing isn’t for you, but you still want to get a feel for the snow, just get out there and see where your creativity takes you. Build a snowman or an igloo, or simply make a bunch of snow angels. You can also see how many times you can sneak up on your family and friends with snowball attacks.

Snowshoeing

If you get tired of staying inside the RV, you can still go out on some of the park’s trails. Be sure to bring your snowshoes along when you visit, and enjoy some snowshoeing. This is a great way to get out and experience the winter wonderland of Washington when you come RV camping here in the winter.

Get Cozy

Another great way to beat the cold weather is to just stay in completely. Hole up in your RV with warm blankets, comforting hot chocolate, and a good book. There is nothing more quieting and calming than North Cascades National Park in the winter time. Just kick back and relax in the tranquility of it all.

Red Bus Tour

These are no ordinary bus tours - these buses are “heritage style” and have windows on the ceiling to allow you to see the impressive mountains and views that surround you. This tour takes 50 minutes and you’ll even get to see the Rainbow Falls, which towers to 312 total feet. This is a great was to experience some of the park if you’re looking to avoid the outside winter chill.

Historic Newhalem Walking Tour

This is a great way to discover Historic Newhalem. Through this 45-minute tour, you can get a grasp of what old times were like, hear intriguing stories, and make some new discoveries along the way. This tour can be found in the Skagit district, and is one that you don’t want to miss out on.

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