Travel time from Seattle: 2.5 hours
National park since: 1968
Area: 504,781 acres
Major peaks: Mount Baker and the Cascade Mountains
Visit for: Ample wildlife, hiking trails, and alpine lakes
For more: nps.gov/noca
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It’s home to more than a third of the glaciers in the Lower 48 states and stars accessible waterfall hikes, alpine meadows, and a range of furry critters come summer. What’s more, some of its towering peaks and broad lakes are visible from the scenic byway Highway 20.
The west side of the Cascade range is lush, populated by Douglas fir evergreens. Ross and Diablo Lakes, both a fantastic turquoise blue, meet near Colonial Creek campground, with Ross stretching far north to the Canadian border. Boats carry guests to remote Ross Lake Resort cabins—or even farther to a trail that climbs to a fire lookout once manned by Jack Kerouac. Directions are available at the visitor center in Newhalem, a picturesque settlement built to run the dams that harness the park’s mighty waterpower. Seattle City Light also offers boat tours out onto Diablo’s smooth surface for day-trippers.
Farther east, where the park’s green wilderness turns to drier, rocky crags of the Okanogan National Forest, trails wind through the park, including the scenic Pacific Crest Trail. Hikers get the best of the North Cascades, such as on the Cascade Pass Trail, which cuts through old-growth forest and meadows. Chipmunks, marmots, and pikas abound here, and hikers can often hear them chirping away.
One pocket of the national park is also accessible by ferry from the town of Chelan. Stehekin includes the Golden West Visitor Center, the North Cascades Lodge, and a national park bus that carries visitors into a remote valley full of hikes, orchards, and a charming local bakery. Like all corners of North Cascades National Park, discoveries require a little bit of effort but deliver substantial reward.