North Cascades National Park is a more remote park. This park is only a few hours from Seattle, but it is tricky to technically step foot in North Cascades National Park. This national park consists of three different parks all connected together: Ross Lake National Recreation Area, Lake Chelan National Recreation Area, and North Cascades National Park.
Most of the hikes and things to see are in the Ross Lake National Recreation Area. This is where we spent most of our time. We put together this North Cascades National Park Family Guide to help you as you explore this unique national park.
Ross Lake National Recreation Area
We stayed in the small town of Marblemount outside the west end of the park. This was a great jumping off point for the area we came to do. We drove north out of town and entered the park. Our first stop was at the Visitor Center, which is across a one lane bridge on the right side of the road. We were able to pick up the Junior Ranger booklets and ask about a few of our upcoming adventures. There are also a few short hikes near the Visitor Center. We recommend the walk to the overlook behind the building and especially the Trail of the Cedars.
Our trip mainly consisted of a drive along Highway 20 in the Ross Lake area. There are lots of stops right along the main road to enjoy North Cascades National Park. Below are the stops that we enjoyed in the Ross Lake National Recreation Area.
- Gorge Creek Falls. This is an easy 30 minute stop that has a bridge, waterfall, and short hike to overlook the dam and beautiful jade water of the Skagit River.
- Diablo Lake Overlook. This is also an easy roadside stop that allows you to overlook the river. The parking area is large and busy, but the overlook is really beautiful.
- Thunder Creek. We walked a mile out to the suspension bridge. The hike starts at the Colonial Creek Campground and is mostly flat and easy.
- Ross Lakes overlook isn’t nearly as nice, but there is a nice nature walk nearby. This trail is called the Happy Creek Forest Trail. It is short, flat and easy. There is also an optional waterfall hike, but we don’t recommend it. Read more about that here.
- Rainy Lake. This hike was really pretty and is definitely one of the most popular trails in the area. It has it’s own large parking area with picnic tables. The hike runs just 2 miles down to a lake that beautifully reflects some of the North Cascade peaks. This trail is paved, but we did run into some fallen logs across the trail, so it might not be wheel-friendly.
- Washington Pass. Make sure to make the drive all the way to this pass. We thought the views at this far end of the area were the most gorgeous of any overlook on Hwy 20. It seems like a long drive out to the end, but we really liked it.
North Cascades National Park
To actually step into North Cascades National Park boundaries, the most popular trail is Hidden Lake Trail. This trail is 7.0 miles long and hikes up to an overlook at the beautiful Cascade mountains. It is a climb, so it might not be for every family. Unfortunately when we visited, the road out to this trail was closed. We drove as far as could, took a picture by the National Park sign, and enjoyed a few overlooks. We hope to enjoy this trail on another visit.
Lake Chelan National Recreation Area
As the Lake Chelan area is only accessible by overnight hike or boat, we were unable to visit on this trip. This area requires some extra planing since you will need to schedule a boat ride out through the lake. You can read more about visiting this area on Dirt in My Shoes website. She shares some great information about this park.
We really enjoyed our visit to the North Cascades National Park Complex. There were no crowds and the mountains are beautiful. For full information, visit the National Park website. We also visited Mount Rainier and Olympic National Parks which are near Seattle while we were in Washington. Click on the links for our family guides for those parks.