North Cascades National Park


North Cascades is a park I have been thinking about from the beginning. Not only is it in my home state, but I was reading a lot of Kerouac at the same time that I was becoming interested in National Parks and he spent time in the North Cascades as a fire lookout in 1953.

I had no idea what to expect, but I had seen pictures of the Cascades and the beautiful green-blue water. I was surprised when I arrived to see dams and power lines inside the park boundaries. Because of all the fires in the Northwest this Summer, the air quality was very bad. You can the smoke in all of my pictures.

I stopped at the visitor center and then set up camp in Colonial Creek Campground. I had a private lot to myself, but all of the sites on the water were on top of each other. Unlike Yosemite where they enforce quiet hours starting at 10pm, the people across from me never seemed to stop playing music. Lucky my site was private enough that I hardly noticed.

You can see that my first impression of the park was not a good one and it left me feeling uncertain of what to do with my time there. I regret not going on a long hike and wish now that I had done the Diablo Lake trail as planned. Instead I explored several of the vantage points off of the highway. Some of the best views I found were at the Diablo Lake overlook. There was a ranger there who talked about the effect of the fires and the impending rain they were hoping would improve the air quality.

Despite the smoke in the air, you can see how beautiful the water is. I spent the rest of the afternoon sitting by Diablo Lake.

The challenge of North Cascades is that several of the best hikes require multiple-day backpacking trips and many areas of the park are accessible only by ferry. I do plan to hike up to Kerouac’s fire lookout some day, but I was not prepared for the hike to Desolation Peak on this trip. I’ll keep reading for now.

The park took a while to win me over, but it eventually did. I only had another half-day to spend there, so I decided on the Thunder Knob Trail. It is a short trail through the trees that leads to more views of Diablo Lake. It was cloudy and smoky, but you could see the water through the trees because it has an almost unnatural color.

There was a lot to appreciate in the area of Diablo Lake that I saw, but on future trips I want to experience the park more from the trail. Despite being only three hours from my hometown, the North Cascades for so long seemed inaccessible to me. I am grateful for what I learned on this trip and how it will help me to better experience the park next time. North Cascades was the last of the Washington parks I had to see and also the last on the West Coast. I never get to cross any off my list without immediately adding it to the list of parks to revisit.