The beauty of the North Cascades

Take a road trip and drive the scenic highway

A view of the North Cascade mountain range whilst hiking the Maple Loop Pass trail in Washington.

The North Cascades located in Northern Washington is a beauty that can’t be fully explained. With boasting temperate rain forests, turquoise lakes, sub-alpine meadows and hundreds of glaciers, it’s a special place that everybody needs to see at least once.

There are many things that stand out when I reflect back on the North Cascades, the place I enjoyed the most whilst traveling this summer.

One of them being that the North Cascades is, in fact, a national park but, the national park doesn’t encompass all of it. With the rest of the land being taken care of by the forest service, it leaves ample opportunity for less-traveled trails, more parking and true alone time in nature.

According to the National parks service; The mountains formed long ago, “thousands of miles South in the Pacific,” and were carried by an oceanic crust to collide with the North American continent 90 million years ago. In turn, forming the North Cascades (the mountains are still rising).

People have lived in the North Cascades for thousands of years with the first peoples to be Native Americans who traversed the land, up to what is estimated 8,000 years ago. They used the land to hunt, fish, trade and “provide a base for their culture.” With the turn of the nineteenth century came the arrival of the idea of manifest destiny. Fur-trappers and homesteaders soon settled the land and tried to survive in the harsh climate.

Fast forward, the North Cascades National Park was named a national park on October 2, 1968. The park states that the mountains are home to the gray wolf, grizzly bear, Canada lynx and the rivers are home to; the entire Pacific salmon species in the Skagit river which also functions as the largest breeding ground for the bald eagle.

If you’re a pet owner, you’re in luck. The forest service trails usually allow pets giving you the space to roam instead of a national park that usually makes your dog wait in the car.

The North Cascades Scenic highway is a perfect road-trip. The scenic highway stretches 140 miles and if you have more time to drive, it is part of the North Cascade Loop which totals about 440 miles. With hundreds of miles to drive one can only imagine, there are a lot of mountains peaks to gaze at.

I set out on the Maple Loop Pass trail thinking if there was only enough time to hike it all, considering I could only hike a minute distance compared to what could be accomplished if one only had enough time to traverse the 500,000 acres the national park claims.

The Maple Loop pass is a total of eight miles and brings you to the top of the North Cascades National Park boundary. Along the way, you’ll pass glacial lakes, forests, subalpine meadows and once you get to the top you make it to the point where the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) intersects.

If you’re not familiar with the Pacific Crest Trail think of the book Wild, written by Cheryl Strayed and if you’re not familiar with that; The PCT is a long trail that takes hikers on average 4-6 months to finish spanning from the Sierra Nevadas in California to the Canadian border in Washington.

So, if you’re lucky. You’ll get to meet a PCT hiker and he’ll tell you about his time on the trail. The other thing that surprised me id the diversity of the North Cascades.

The mountain range and surrounding area goes from being a gold dry valley (if approaching from the West) and then suddenly, turns into a mountainous area filled with pines, and then if driving even further opens to turquoise lakes and rivers (I’m not kidding look up Diablo Lake).

My time spent in the North Cascades is something that I’ll never forget. If you’re thinking about road tripping this next summer and want to avoid the crowds of other National Parks that get millions of visitors a year, then the North Cascades are calling your name.

Leave a Reply