North Cascades National Park is a part of the Cascade Range. The Cascades is a mountain range that goes from southern British Columbia through Washington and Oregon to Northern California. The north part is non-volcanic mountains when the High Cascades (south part) are volcanic mountains. The mountains in this park are the steepest and wildest in the lower 48 states. Even though the park is very remote, we were able to find a nice one-day hike. If you have more experience, and more time I would recommend to go there for a longer, a few-day hike.
When we pulled out of the parking lot, and said: “Why the heck have we never been here before?”. It was gorgeous and I thought that this looked like a movie scene. I know that the Lord of the Rings was made in New Zealand, but those mountains look almost exactly alike.
We don't have any experience with hiking glaciers, so we decided to climb to Sahale Glacier base camp. If you have more experience you can stay there for a night and climb higher to the top. The trail to Sahale Glacier is a 12 mile round trip with a 4500 ft elevation gain. You start from the elevation of 3600 ft and a zig-zag trail takes you straight to the top.
Those mountains are gorgeous and with every step you take, you can admire a new amazing view. What I liked the most is the combination of green, white, and grey. The rocky mountains (gray) are covered with snow and glaciers (white), and on the lower elevation, there is lush green. The trees are huge, tall, and covered with green moss. The flora is so gorgeous because there is a lot of sunlight as well as high precipitation.
As I mentioned, the trail is steep from the very beginning, but luckily there is a lot of zig-zags and switchbacks so the trail is pretty easy. More snow appeared when we hiked to the elevation of around 5000 ft. After 2 hours we reached 5400 ft. Most people turn back at this point. From there, we hiked through the snow. Even in July, there was a lot of snow. There are still parts of the trail without snow, so we didn't wear crampons. Putting them on and taking them off was a waste of time.
The elevation is the biggest difference between this park and the Rocky Mountains in Colorado or California. The elevation is not as high as in Colorado so the altitude sickness is not a problem. You can easily hike 4000 ft. in one day. The North Cascades NP is in the most northern part of the continental US. This makes the mountains look more like the Alps. What is typical for the Alps? I always associate the European Alps with the marmots.
Here you go....there were a lot of them. At some point I was just looking around and pointing, here, there, look there. Darek and I spent quite a time filming them and taking pictures. They were not afraid at all. Some of them were so close, that I probably could touch them if I wanted to.
Unfortunately, the last part of our hike was in the clouds. The wind was strong, and the visibility was poor. Of course, we still made it to the base camp, where we met a lot of hikers who stayed there for a night. They were setting up tents and relaxing. The next day they were climbing the glacier to get to the top of Sahale mountain.
The glacier starts at the Sahale Glacier Camp. There are designated places at this camp, where you can set up your tent. It's like a small platform made of rocks. That's great that they have designated places. First of all, you don't have to set up a tent in the snow, and the most important thing is that the rocks protect you from the wind. If you want to stay there for a night or more you need to obtain a permit. There are a lot of multi-day hiking trails in this park, but for any of those hikes you need an overnight permit.
Did you know that Washington State has around 177 sq. miles of glaciers? In comparison to Alaska, that's nothing. Alaska has 200 times more glaciers, but Washington state has the most glaciers in the lower 48.
It was the 4th of July, but it was cold and windy. So we decided to head down. When we were about to leave, the mountain goat decided to visit the camp. She didn't care about people. The goat was walking around eating some grass.
I think it was the coldest July I ever experienced. We had too much snow again this year. I know the East coast didn't get a lot, but wherever we go it's just too much. I was happy that I took a hat and gloves with me. Who would have thought that I would need them?
Going down was faster, as always. Also, with every step down it was warmer. The view was again amazing and marmots were running around us. This was definitely one of the best hikes I ever took, and this is just a 2-3h drive from Seattle. I know, I should move to the West coast....hopefully one day I will. Even now, when I just finished the hike I want to go back there again and admire this beautiful world.
I hope that after those pictures and description you already put the North Cascades NP on your bucket list. If you love multi-day hikes it's your paradise, but if you still prefer to sleep in the hotel you can still find a lot of beautiful landscapes. I would recommend that you start from hiking the Sahale Glacier Camp. Then you can find some hikes in the Valley, or drive to the Mt. Baker ski area. It's a ski resort with the longest season. We checked and they still had a lot of snow in July. Normally, they get around 640 inches of snow! The record was in 1998-99 when Mt. Baker got 1140 inches of this white gold!
You can drive to the 5000 ft. elevation, and hike further from there. The road, by itself, is very beautiful, and has a lot of viewpoints. It goes for almost 40 miles from the Ocean level to the Mt.Baker volcano. Most of the trail goes through the rain forest with an amazing green flora, and ends with the snow covering Mt. Baker mountain. Mt. Baker is 10,781 ft. high and the parking lot is around 5000 ft. There is no trail from this parking lot to the top of Mt. Baker. You can find a lot of other hikes around just to admire the view and enjoy the nature, if you are lucky and don't have fog.
We spent just a short weekend there. It was even shorter because airlines decided to screw up our flights, and we were delayed both ways. Even though it was a short, long weekend trip we enjoyed Seattle and the North Cascades a lot. I think it's about the time to start flying more to Seattle than to other west coast destinations. This area is so beautiful, diverse, and unique that there is still a lot to explore.
Seattle and Washington State are not only about mountains, it's also about the food. If you like oysters, wild caught fish, and other seafood, Seattle is your town. We especially recommend Westward, it's a great place and has amazing food!