North Cascades National Park RV Travel Guide
North Cascades National Park is rugged and remote, often referred to as the American Alps because of its jagged mountain peaks and bright green slopes. While there are plenty of scenic drives and overlooks that put the park’s wild beauty on display, you’ll want to hit the hiking trails to get a true sense of what the park has to offer.
With over 300 glaciers and 300 lakes, the North Cascades Range has the largest glacial system in the United States outside of Alaska. Black bears are fairly active in the park, as are moose, mountain goats, big horn sheep, lynx, bobcats, and otters.
The North Cascades National Park Complex can be divided into three main sections:
- Chelan Lake National Recreational Area (including Stehekin)
- Ross Lake National Recreational Area
- North Cascades National Park
Highway 20 is the park’s only paved road, running east-west through the park and along the Skagit River, bisecting the park into north and south. North of the highway is Ross Lake, and this is where most visitors spend their time. Lake Chelan is in the southeast part of the complex, including Stehekin, a small town. The rest of the complex, both north and south of the road, is broadly referred to as North Cascades National Park.
- Prevent theft: Hiding valuables stored in your vehicle is always a good idea, but it’s especially important in North Cascades National Park, as vehicle break-ins are common, especially at trailheads along State Route 20. Remove electronic cords from charge ports and hide those too for good measure. *We didn’t get this sense when we were there, but we were visiting in mid September and perhaps the park is a bit slower. We’re only speculating that this is true due to the close proximity to Seattle
- Enjoy a blast from the past: Due to minimal cellular signal inside the park, you can find (and use) public phones here! The phones are located in Diablo, in Newhalem at the Skagit Information Center, or inside the North Cascades Visitor Center. These phones only accept calling cards, so plan ahead if you want to use them.
- Look up: North Cascades National Park is one of the best places to go stargazing in all of Washington.
- Go hiking: Even if you aren’t a big hiker, the best way to explore this park is on foot. There are several scenic, easy trails that will get you out of the car and into the rugged beauty of the North Cascades landscape.
Where to stay in the park
Reservations are required during the peak season and can be made at recreation.gov. Before or after the reservation season, some sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Check the NPS website for details on amenities by campground. Plan for dry camping in the park, with potable water available for fill (seasonally).
- Newhalem Creek Campground (up to 50 feet)
- Gorge Lake Campground (up to 30 feet)
- Colonial Creek North Campground (up to 25 feet)
- Colonial Creek South Campground (up to 36 feet)
- Goodell Creek Campground (up to 20 feet)
Where to stay outside the park
- Glacier Peak Resort & Winery: https://concrete-wa.com/listing/glacier-peak-resort-and-winery/
- Alpine RV Park: https://www.alpinervcamping.com/
National Forest campgrounds:
- Panorama Point
- Shannon Creek
- Swift Creek
- Park Creek
- Marble Creek
- Horseshoe Cove
Harvest Hosts/Boondockers Welcome:
- Ovenell’s Heritage Inn
- Methow Valley Cider House
- Chelan Valley Botanicals
- Four Lakes Winery
- Amos Rome Vineyards
Things to do
- Take a scenic drive: Enjoy a scenic drive on the North Cascades Highway (State Highway 20), the only paved road in the park. It travels east-west along the Skagit River for 30 miles, including several overlooks and lakes to visit. Be sure to stop at Ross Lake Overlook and Diablo Lake Overlook (more on this below).
- Hike Sterling Munro: This short boardwalk trail takes you to a viewpoint of the Picket Range and is one of the best places to get views without a significant workout.
- Diablo Lake Vista Point: Diablo Lake gets its milky green-blue color from melting glaciers, which grind against the rocks and form powdery silt. This overlook offers a stunning view of the lake and surrounding mountain peaks.
- Visit Stehekin: Stehekin is a tiny town with just 75 permanent residents, located on the far northern end of Lake Chelan. The only way to reach it is by boat, plane, or on foot; no roads will take you here. Plan for a minimum of two days to visit, as travel times can be long.
- Go hiking: The best way to see North Cascades is on foot. Fan favorites include:
- Trail of the Cedars nature walk: .3 miles through old-growth forest
- Ladder Creek Falls: .4 miles, including a suspension bridge
- Thunder Knob: 3.6 miles, with views over Diablo Lake
- Rainbow Loop: 4.4-6.8 miles in Stehekin Valley
- Blue Lake: 5 miles
- Cascade Pass Trail with Sahale Arm: 12 miles, hike to a glacier (many people call this the best day hike in the park)
- Rent a boat: Ross Lake and Lake Chelan both offer boat rentals and an opportunity to see the surrounding mountains from the water. You can also go whitewater rafting on the Skagit River.
- Stay in a floating cabin: Ross Lake Resort offers floating cabins directly on the lake for a very reasonable nightly rate, so if you’re looking to get out of the RV for a night or two, this is the spot!
Permits and closures
Fires have prompted closures of trails and camps in the Chilliwack, Big Beaver, Little Beaver, and Lightning Creek Trail areas. Specifics include:
- Hannegan Trailhead and Hannegan Pass Trail
- Little Beaver Trail
- Big Beaver Trail beyond Pumpkin Mountain and Big Beaver camps
- Brush Creek
- Copper Loop
- Lightning Creek Trail between Lightning Creek and Nightmare camps
- Camp closures: all camps between Little Beaver and Boundary camps, all camps between 39 Mile and Beaver Pass camps, Deer Lick, Nightmare
Campfires are banned in Lake Chelan National Recreation Area and the portions of North Cascades National Park located in Chelan County (all NPS lands south and east of Cascade Pass, Park Creek Pass, and Rainy Pass, plus the entire Stehekin Valley).
Expect delays along State Route 20 due to construction.
Reservations for backcountry permits are required year-round.