When a good friend suggested a camping trip in the North Cascades, it seemed like a great idea at the time. With my proposed departure date weeks in the future, I was excited about my first camping trip! As the trip got closer, I became increasingly anxious and unsure of my decision. What about bears? Would I really be able to live without electricity and showers?
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I boarded my flight to Seattle with a massive backpack in tow. Not only was I nervous about the camping trip, but I’m also not a fan of flying – especially from the Southeastern US to the Pacific Northwest.
Like most things in life, the flight wasn’t nearly as unpleasant as I anticipated. On the contrary, it was actually quite enjoyable. I scored first class updates on both my flights and woke up from my bloody mary infused nap just in time to take in some scenic aerial views before landing.
The beautiful views continued after the flight. Once I touched down in Seattle, my friend and I made our way north to the North Cascades Scenic Highway. As someone who grew up in a rather flat region of North Carolina, I was blown away by the landscape. The 140-mile scenic byway is adorned with various lookout points offering a glimpse into what some refer to as the American Alps. My favorite vantage points were those overlooking Ross and Diablo Lakes (Ross is teal; Diablo is turquoise).
There are several campgrounds within the North Cascades National Park. After scouring through Tripadvisor reviews and trying to determine availability, we settled on Newhalem Campground.
Unlike most of the other park campgrounds, Newhalem Campground has communal bathrooms with plumbing and running water. There is also a general store within walking distance, so we were not roughing it by any means. Colonial Creek Campground was actually our first choice, but the lakefront spots are available only on a first-come-first-serve basis. When we reached the campsite, it was packed! The campground’s lake backdrop was stunning, but the tents were basically an arms-length apart. While the lake views would have been nice, I appreciated that our campsite was more low-key.
For the more adventurous folks, backcountry camping sites are free and offer the best views if you’re up for the trek!
North Cascades National Park has a variety of trails for all levels of hikers. If you want to challenge yourself, the park offers several intense, high-incline hikes with some of the most rewarding views in the Pacific Northwest.
I have to admit that our weekend consisted mostly of s’mores and beer with a bit of hiking and cycling thrown in. Still, we manage to check out most of the trails near Newhalem Campground, which mostly edge the Skagit River.As a novice hiker, I enjoyed the Cascade Pass Trail. The 3.4-mile trek isn’t strenuous but the rewarding vistas are normally associated with more rigorous hikes!The park also offers several launch points for kayaking, canoeing, and paddling. For a full list of trails and more information on the park’s recreational offerings, refer to this guide from the National Park Service.
My friend and I planned on returning later this summer to further explore North Cascades National Park, as well as its scenic bypass. Unfortunately, this is no longer possible this year due to uncontained wildfires blazing throughout the park.
This trip was (embarrassingly) my first visit to a US National Park…better late than never! I left with a newfound appreciation for nature and for what I can accomplish with only my two feet. While I’m disappointed I won’t be able to return to North Cascades National Park this season, I look forward to exploring more of the US national parks.