North Cascades National Park
Guide

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Introduction

Located in the state of Washington, North Cascades National Park is a great choice for your next RV getaway destination. This magnificent national park is only three hours away from Seattle, but if feels like a whole different world, in part to the glorious mountains that are topped with jagged peaks. Known as the "American Alps," North Cascades National Park is a treasure trove of towering mountains, breathtaking glaciers, and pristine lakes. In fact, North Cascades has about 300 glaciers, which is the most of any national park in the Lower 48.

Long before North Cascades was transformed into a national park, the area was home to Paleo-Indian Native Americans and later the Skagit tribes. By the early 19th century there were many British and American companies trying to control the fur trade but it wasn't until the 1920s when several dams were around the Skagit River valley to make hydroelectric power. Archaeological artifacts in and around the park have also been found that date back to be over 8,500 years old.

There are so many great recreational activities available to visitors of North Cascades National Park, including guided tours, mountaineering, hiking, boating, fishing, horseback riding, and wildlife viewing. The best time to visit North Cascades National Park is from mid-June to late September when most of the snow is gone, although fall and spring are beginning to rise in popularity. 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 and you have many different options for staying the night. What better way is there to experience all that this park offers than to pack up your own or rented rig and camp out under all of its magnificence? There are five RV-friendly campgrounds that vary between offering reservations or being available on a first-come, first-served basis. Some of the campgrounds are also open during the winter months but they will not have any facilities open.

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RV Rentals in North Cascades National Park

Transportation in North Cascades National Park

Driving

Driving to and from North Cascades National Park is mostly done by taking a car, although you should have no issues navigating the park with your RV. The only road that will take you to the park is WA-20, which is kept in great condition. Keep in mind that this area is mountainous, meaning at times the road will be steep, winding, and narrow. Use caution and drive slow if you are driving a big rig or hauling a trailer.

Once you enter the park all roads should be accessible beside Cascade River Road. This road is made of gravel, making it challenging for large RVs. During the wintertime, there will be heavy snowfalls that influx the park. Because of this, many of the roads within North Cascades National Park will be inaccessible during the winter.

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 is 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 in and around the area, 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

Newhalem Creek Campground

For RV campers looking for a forested campground that offers you privacy and easy access to hiking trails, you can't beat Newhalem Creek Campground. The campground is one of better places for those traveling with larger rigs as well as it can accommodate vehicles up to 45 feet in length.

There are three main loops at the campground that combine for a total of 111 campsites. None of the sites at Newhalem Creek Campground have electrical, sewer, or water hookups so you will be staying at a primitive site during your visit. Despite this, there are some great shred amenities, including drinking water, a dump station, garbage and recycling service, and flush toilets. If you are traveling with a large group there are also two group sites available that can house up to 25 people.

If you are planning on staying at Newhalem Creek Campground, you should book a reservation in advance in order to guarantee that you will have a site upon arrival. Newhalem Creek Campground is open all year round.

Colonial Creek Campground South Loop

The Colonial Creek Campground South Loop in North Cascades National Park is quite unique as it is split up into different sections that vary in scheduling. The campground is quite remote, yet it is very busy thanks to it being surrounded by lovely old-growth forest and right next to Diablo Lake.

In total there are here are 94 campsites that are surrounded by forest and located on Diablo Lake. The sites here are on the smaller side you won't be able to bring in any larger rigs. All of the sites are also primitive so there are no electrical, water, or sewer hookups available. Despite this, there are some other great amenities, including flush toilets, garbage and recycling services, a dump station, and potable water. Most sites are smaller and can accommodate a rig up to 25 or 30 feet long.

Unlike the north loop, the south loop at Colonial Creek Campground does take reservations. You'll likely want to book a reservation in advance in order to guarantee that you will have a site upon arrival. Colonial Creek Campground is open all year round.

Burlington / Anacortes KOA

Another option for reservation camping outside of the park is available at the Burlington / Anacortes KOA. This campground features over 100 sites that vary between having full hookups or being electric only. Along with having electric hookups, there are plenty of activities to enjoy within the campground, including a dog park, playground, jumping pad, kids rock climbing course, basketball and volleyball courts. Other amenities include toilets, showers, a dump station, and a dumpster.

There are also many great activities to do near the small town of Burlington. Nearby activities include whale-watching tours, scenic drives, and trekking through vast outdoor playgrounds like Diablo Lake Adventure and Deception Pass.

Campsites at Burlington/Anacortes KOA are available all year round and can accommodate rigs up to 80 feet. We recommend reserving a site before you reach the campground to ensure that you will have a place to stay.

Concrete / Grandy Creek KOA

Considering staying at a campground outside of North Cascade National Park? In the shadow of Mount Baker, Concrete/Grandy Creek KOA is the perfect base camp for accessing nearby outdoor scenery and adventures. There are a total of 123 sites at the Concrete / Grandy Creek KOA with full hookup sites available for both back-in and pull-through sites.

Along with having a wide variety of sites the campground also has some great amenities, including a swimming pool, mini-golf course, a jumping pillow, showers, toilets, a dump station, and a dumpster. Pets are allowed and WiFi is available at the Family Center. The campground also has breakfast on offer (we recommend the pancakes).

If you want to explore other places around the area cities like Bellingham and Vancouver, British Columbia are within an easy day-trip range. Make sure that you reserve a site prior to your arrival so that you know you will have a place to check-in and stay at.

Gorge Lake Campground

Located on the banks of the Gorge, Gorge Lake is a very primitive campground that offers the least services to RV lovers visiting North Cascades National Park. Within this primitive campground, there is no water, electric hookups, sewer connections, water collection points, or dumpsters. The only major amenity available is vault toilets.

If you plan on camping at Gorge Lake Campground, make sure that you bring enough water to last your stay and pack out all trash that you use so it doesn't damage the beautiful environment. Gathering firewood is also prohibited so you will have to bring your own in from outside the park.

The sites at Gorge Lake Campground are available on both a first-come, first-serve basis and as reservations, depending on the season. The campground is open all year round.

First-come first-served

Colonial Creek Campground - North Loop

Unlike the southern loop, the northern loop of the Colonial Creek Campground is only available on a first-come, first-served basis. Inside the northern loop you will find 42 sites that are all primitive, meaning you will have no electric, water, or sewer hookups available. Other amenities within the north loop of Colonial Creek Campground are water collection points, flush toilets, along with garbage and recycling services.

Like the South Loop, large RVs are not recommended, but small RVs are welcome. Since this is a first-come, first-served campground you will need to just arrive at the campground and hope that there are some sites still available. The north loop at Colonial Creek Campground is open from May until September.

Goodell Creek Campground - Main

Located within a lush, old-growth forest on the banks of the Skagit River, Goodell Creek Campground - Main is a great place to stay if you have a small RV or are tent camping. There are a total of 19 sites at the campground, and all of them are primitive. This means you will have no water, electric, or sewer hookups to your RV. Despite this, the campground does have some other great amenities, including vault toilets, a garbage service, a picnic at each site and drinking water collection points.

The campground also has group sites available within the upper and lower Goodell Group Camps. The 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 at Goodell Creek has sites available only on a first-come, first-served basis.

Hozomeen Campground

While offering many of the same things as the others, Hozomeen Campground is different than the rest at the park due to the entrance to it being on the Canadian border. This is due to the fact that Hozomeen Campground lies on the US-Canadian Border.

Be careful when driving to the Hozomeen Campground 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. You will have to bring in your own firewood to the campground and make sure that you have enough food and water to last your trip.

Please note that 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 to October, so keep this in mind before heading out.

Alternate camping

Wilderness Camping

If you are willing to leave the RV behind there are many wilderness sites available for you to enjoy. These sites are much more secluded and private than the marked campgrounds and. some even have to be reached by boat. Many of these sites are fairly new, giving even more options to experience the park.

If you do plan on going wilderness camping within the park, it is vital that you take your own food, water supplies, and firewood so that you can look after yourself. It's recommended that you camp with a buddy, or, if you are camping solo, inform the park staff of where you are planning to camp and how long you will be there for.

Wilderness camping can be done throughout the year and is available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Seasonal activities in North Cascades National Park

Spring

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! Wildlife Watching can be done throughout the year but is the best during the spring months.

Horseback Riding

North Cascades National Park is a great place to go horseback riding if you are an experienced rider. 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 on your horse.

Evening Programs

While there are many great ranger programs held at the park, one of the most popular is held 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.

Boat-In Camping

Another great boating activity to do at North Cascades National Park is to go on a boat-in camping adventure. 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.

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 will have the chance to see many other species, including various songbirds and migrating waterfowl.

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 if you climb at certain areas of the park.

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.
The Thornton Lake Trail is a five-mile trek which rewards you with incredible views of a subalpine lake. If you're looking for a nice day hike, try the first three miles through the enchanting forest on the Thunder Creek Trail. If you want to see a spectacular gorge and waterfall, try the 2.5-mile Agnes Gorge Trail.

Boating

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

Kayaking and Canoeing

There are many lakes to choose from to go kayaking and canoeing at, and you can find rentals at the resort on Ross Lake. 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

Thanks to the pristine lake waters, 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 five 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

Ranger Talks

Ranger talks are a great way to learn something new during your motorhome visit to North Cascades National Park. 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.

Wilderness Camping

If you are looking for something different to RV camping, you should give wilderness camping a go. 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.

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

Skiing

As you could imagine, Cascades National Park offers a huge variety of skiing, and there is something for every skill level. You can ski for a few hours, a whole day, or even multi-day traverses with private guided tours. Some of the more popular trails are found at Eldorado, Sahale, the Forbidden Tour, the Inspiration Traverse, and Isolation Traverse. If you plan to go skiing during your stay, make sure you have your own equipment or reserve a rental before you arrive.

Bus Tours

While there are no bus tours that are run by staff at North Cascades National Park but there is one particular special private tour that is quite out of the ordinary. These tours are done in “heritage style” buses 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. The bus tour is an especially great way to experience the park if you’re visiting during the winter and looking to avoid the outside winter chill.

Get Cozy Inside Your RV

Another great way to chill out, relax and beat the cold weather is to stay in your RV for some quiet time. There is nothing more quieting and calming than North Cascades National Park in the winter time. Many visitors choose to hole up in their RV with warm blankets, comforting hot chocolate, and a good book. If you decide to stay in for the day, make sure that you are stocked up with food so you don't need to interrupt your day with a cold trip outside! Just kick back and relax in the tranquility of it all.

Snowshoeing

A great way to get out and experience the winter wonderland of North Cascades National Park is to throw on some snow shoes and hit the trails. Most of the trails within the park are open for snow show exploration but you should check out the park alerts to make sure that you are exploring an area that you are allowed to. If you want to go snowshoeing, remember to bring your own shoes as there is no guarantee that there will be any available for you to rent.

Winter Recreation

Although services are limited during the winter, North Cascades remains open and turns into a beautiful winter wonderland. Some of the popular activities that you can do in the winter including snowshoeing, building a snowman, trying to make an igloo, or making snow angels. Feeling like being a prankster? You can also see how many times you can sneak up on your family and friends with snowball attacks when you are outside in the winter conditions.

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