A Visit to North Cascades National Park
North Cascades National Park is known to be one of the quieter national parks in the US. It is around the sixth least-visited national park, which is mostly due to the remoteness and ruggedness of the Cascades. The park is more inviting than it seems, with a scenic highway providing a variety of views and stopping points. North Cascades seems to be another world… bright teal water and some amazing views that you just can’t stop staring at.
We took the “scenic drive” option that was recommended in the Visitor Center. They also had a page of day hikes available, which highlighted several of the shorter trails. We started at the North Cascades National Park Visitor Center and chatted with a ranger, and got our passport stamp. From there, we hit the road to see what this park would share with us! Kim hoped so much that we would see some mountain goats, but they didn't come out to meet us.
Gorge Creek Falls
Our first stop… we parked in the parking area, and took off on the easily accessible trail. It was quite warm out, and this lookout point was just hot. The view out to the waterfall was pretty. More impressive here, was the first glimpse of the strange teal water that North Cascades is known for. There are some nice views from this trail, and it’s a short jaunt from the parking area.
Diablo Lake Dam
We drove over the dam, to a tiny parking area (three spots), so that we could walk out on the dam. (The road leading to the dam is very narrow, so take it slow and be aware.) After parking, we walked out and, with the wind whipping us like crazy, were met with some absolutely amazing views and colors. On one side, a massive teal lake. On the other side, a steep drop with little creeks and waterfalls and a forest full of life. Standing 389 feet high, the dam was the tallest in the country when it was built, but has since been outdone. Regardless, this dam makes you feel as small as it is big.
Diablo Lake Overlook
This was a hot spot in the park. Though nothing was “crowded”, this parking lot is bigger and had plenty of people interested in the view. It’s worth it, for sure. This is an excellent place to see this amazing teal lake. Do you see the kayaker in the photos? The little boat gives this massive body of water some scale!
As you’re looking down at the lake, be sure to take a look at the mountains around you. Glaciers and snowpack can be seen in a couple of places, depending on the timing of your visit.
A bit of background - Diablo Lake is a man-made reservoir, held by the Diablo Dam. The dam provides power to the city of Seattle. Around the lake, several mountains tower at 7,000 feet or higher. The glaciers nearby grind down earth, and create a “rock flour”. The flour catches a ride in the dozens of creeks and ends up in the lake. That flour is suspended in the water and reacts with light, which gives it the mysterious tint.
After the dam, we headed back to the main park road, and drove for another 24 miles. Eventually, the Rainy Pass Trailhead pops up. This is a trailhead that is frequented by hikers, and it connects with several of the more popular hikes in the park. We weren’t up for several miles, since it was already afternoon and we just wanted to take a short hike. The Rainy Lake hike was perfect. It’s a 2 mile round trip hike, through some dense forest, with a waterfall and it ends at a lake. With features like that within only a mile or so, this hike was a perfect choice for us.
Some snow was still clinging to the sides of the mountains, and even a couple of little piles of it were in the forest. It was pretty warm though, and with all of that moisture, there were tons of little bugs. This lake is not as dramatic as Diablo, but it's a beautiful spot.
This is another popular stop. There is a nice trail that goes up the side of a rock, and around the edges to provide some amazing views. The trail loops up around the top and back down to the parking area. We had a little break on a rock bench at the top, and enjoyed the view. We watched some large birds fly around the valley, admired the moss growing on the dead trees, saw a thunderstorm cell popping up far in the distance, and spied on lots of visitors strolling along the path below. This was the most peaceful moment of the day.
Glacier Water of Diablo Lake
We turned back toward Diablo Lake to leave the park. On the way out, we wanted to try to find a spot where we could touch the water. Kim found a spot near the Thunder Knob Trailhead parking area, which has a boat launch area with some beaches. We walked right out to the edge of the water, and Diablo Lake became even more dramatic from a lower vantage point. The water was clear, the beaches were rocky, and we just had to dip our toes! The water was frigid, but felt so good on our hot feet that had been in boots all day… but after a couple of minutes, we couldn’t tell if we had toes anymore. It was super cool to touch the water that comes down from glaciers!
That summarizes our day trip to North Cascades. There are a ton of hikes here that I’m sure really enhance the views and the experience, but we just didn’t have the time. Next time! Share with us, if you’ve been to this park, what do you love about it?