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Off The Beaten Path: Is It Worth Visiting North Cascades National Park?

Washington State is full of beautiful destinations. The Pacific Northwest provides tons of lush green forests and towering snowy mountain peaks. Washington is well known for Mount Rainier and Olympic National Parks, each bringing their unique landscapes as two of the most popular parks in the National Park Service. However, the state has a third park worth visiting, North Cascades National Park.

Surprisingly, the Cascades don’t even see a fraction of the visitors of Washington’s other two parks. It’s a decent drive from downtown Seattle but not worse than the other parks. So, what keeps this park quiet?

Many believe it has to do with access. There are few roadways into the park, leaving the North Cascades more popular with the true adventurers. 

However, if you can get out there, it’s worth it. Here’s why North Cascades National Park is worth visiting.

north cascades national park
(Source: Alex Moliski)

1. Explore Multiple Lakes

While the park is known for its lack of roadways, there’s a lot to explore by boat. Multiple lakes are the perfect outings for canoes. Occasionally, the waters turn a shade of turquoise, providing even more beauty to this unique place. The National Park Service says this color is a result of “suspended fine rock particles refracting sunlight.” Just know that sometimes you must carry your boat to get access to the water.

worth visiting North Cascades
(Source: NPS)

2. North Cascades Highway

When it comes to roads, the park has one of the most scenic routes in the country, the North Cascades Highway. Along the way, visitors pass by mountains and waterfalls while traveling through an old-growth forest. The views are endless. Thanks to the park’s lack of popularity, this scenic route won’t bring too much traffic compared to other West Coast parks. 

visiting north cascades for the glaciers
(Source: NPS)

3. Explore the Glaciers and Snowfields

While the Pacific Northwest is known for its rain, the North Cascades sees much more snow. The National Park Service says the area is one of the snowiest on the planet. All this snow melts yearly and compacts into ice, forming glaciers. The park has more than 300 glaciers, with some unique areas to visit, especially in the summer, making the ice and snow an extra exciting attraction. 

4. They’re VERY Rare, but There Are Grizzlies in the North Cascades Mountains

While most people associate Alaska, Yellowstone, and Glacier National Parks with grizzly bears, they were once found more often in North Cascades National Park. However, it is extremely rare that you may see one now. A few have been documented in the mountains just north of the border in Canada, but officials say it’s been about two decades since a confirmed sighting within the park. Conservationists are making efforts to bring these brown bears back to the park in more plentiful numbers.

5. Enjoy the Solitude

When we say that few people visit the North Cascades, we mean it. In 2022, just 30,000 people stopped by the park for the entire year. It ranks 58th out of the 63 national parks by visitor numbers. Compare that to Yellowstone National Park, which averages more than 60,000 people in a week, and you get a better picture of how quiet the Cascades truly are. The area is a true wilderness.

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