Embark on an unforgettable journey from Seattle to North Cascades National Park and experience the thrill of a road trip like never before. Get ready to be mesmerized by the breathtaking views of the Pacific Northwest as you hit the open road.
With each passing mile driving Highway 20, you’ll discover new wonders and hidden gems that will take your breath away. So pack your bags, grab your camera, and prepare for an epic adventure you’ll never forget.
If you’re just here for a North Cascades itinerary, it is at the bottom. Enjoy your trip from Seattle to North Cascades National Park this summer!
Related: Best Fall hikes in Washington
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An Epic Adventure Road trip from Seattle to North Cascades National Park
Planning your trip to North Cascades National Park
What is the best month for North Cascades?
The best time to visit North Cascades National Park is during the summer, from June to September when the weather is stellar and the trails are snow-free. However, this is also the busiest time of year, so be prepared for crowds and book your accommodations in advance.
Fall and spring can also be great times to visit, with fewer crowds and stunning fall colors or wildflowers in bloom. However, early in the spring, you’ll have to deal with snow because Highway 20 is historically closed at Ross Lake until mid-May.
When will the trails be melted out?
It takes a lot of warm weather to melt these mountains. Some trails are snow-free by late June, but in other years it’s mid-July. It all comes down to how heavy a snow year was and what May and June’s temperatures are. If it’s a warm and dry spring, the trails will be trekking-worthy earlier on.
How late are sunsets during the summer?
In the summer, there is light in the sky past 10 pm. This allows you to hike for hours and not worry about running out of sunlight. However, it also means you must plan your meals unless you want to eat at 11 pm after a hike.
Bring plenty of snacks or sandwiches on your hike to stay nourished.
How do you get from Seattle to North Cascades National Park?
If you’re planning a trip from Seattle to North Cascades National Park, driving is the best option. Take I-5 North to Burlington and continue on Highway 20 East, which will take you through the Skagit Valley and up into the mountains.
If you’re visiting and plan to drive in, you’ll probably want to rent a car.
What is the best airport to fly into for North Cascades National Park?
The closest major airport to North Cascades National Park is Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), about 120 miles (193 km) west of the park. You can rent a car or take a shuttle to the park from there.
Alternatively, Bellingham International Airport (BLI) is a smaller airport closer to the park but has fewer flight options. From BLI, it’s about a 2-hour drive to the park.
How do you get to the North Cascades from Seattle?
The most common way to get to North Cascades National Park from Seattle is by car. First, take I-5 North to Burlington, then follow Highway 20 East through the Skagit Valley and up into the mountains. Alternatively, a few shuttle and tour companies offer transportation from Seattle to North Cascades National Park.
Is there an entrance fee for North Cascades National Park?
No, there is no entrance fee for North Cascades National Park. The park is one of the few national parks in the United States that does not charge an entrance fee.
Is North Cascades a day trip from Seattle?
While it is possible to visit North Cascades National Park as a day trip from Seattle, it is not ideal. The drive from Seattle to the park can take 2-3 hours each way, depending on traffic and road conditions, leaving you with little time to explore the park.
Additionally, North Cascades is a vast and rugged park with many trails and sights to see, so it’s worth staying overnight if you can. Please look at my North Cascades itinerary at the bottom for what to do!
What hiking gear will I need on my trip?
- Day pack or running vest
- Water filter
- Hiking Poles
- Hiking shoes/Trail Runners
- Sunglasses and hat
- Pull over fleece for early starts
- Hiking pants/Zip off pants
Where to Stay around the North Cascades
What town is closest to North Cascades?
The town closest to North Cascades National Park is Marblemount, located at the park’s western edge. The city has a few restaurants, a gas station, and a small grocery store, but it is primarily a gateway to the park.
If you’re planning a visit to North Cascades National Park, you’ll be pleased to know that several campgrounds are available for you to choose from. Please plan ahead, as it will be nearly complete on the weekends. Here’s a quick rundown of each one:
- Newhalem Creek Campground: This is the largest campground in the park, with 110 campsites. It’s located near the Visitor Center and the Skagit River and is open from May to October.
- Colonial Creek Campground: This is another large campground with 142 campsites. It’s located on the shores of Diablo Lake, which is known for its stunning turquoise color. It’s open from May to October.
- Gorge Lake Campground: This is a smaller campground with ten walk-in campsites. It’s located near Gorge Lake and is open from June to October.
- Goodell Creek Campground: This small campground has 19 campsites near the Goodell Creek Trailhead. It’s open from May to October.
- Hozomeen Campground: This is a remote campground with 31 campsites located on the Canadian border. It’s accessible only by boat or a long drive on a dirt road. It’s open from June to September.
All campgrounds in North Cascades National Park offer tent and RV camping, although some restrict RV size. Reservations are recommended, especially during peak season, and can be made through the National Recreation Reservation Service. Some campgrounds also have first-come, first-served sites available.
Related: Get your camping essentials
Other lodging options
With the remoteness of the North Cascades, there are no motel or hotel options along Highway 20 in the heart of the mountains. However, you can find places to stay before you enter the park on the west side or drive through the park to Mazama, Winthrop, or Twisp on the eastern edge.
Things to do in North Cascades National Park
Seattle to North Cascades National Park Guide – Six great hikes
The Maple Pass Loop is a 7.5-mile trail that takes you through meadows, forests, and along ridges with stunning views of the surrounding peaks. It’s a moderately strenuous hike with about 2,100 feet of elevation gain.
The Cutthroat Pass trail is an 11.5-mile out-and-back hike that starts on the eastern slopes of the cascades and climbs to Cutthroat Pass, with views of jagged peaks along the way. It’s a moderately strenuous hike with about 2,400 feet of elevation gain.
The Blue Lake trail is a 4.4-mile out-and-back hike that leads to a beautiful alpine lake surrounded by rugged peaks. It’s a moderate hike with about 900 feet of elevation gain. This is totally worth the 3-hour drive from Seattle to North Cascades National Park.
The Sourdough Mountain trail is a 10.4-mile out-and-back hike that climbs to a lookout tower with panoramic views of the surrounding peaks and glaciers. It’s a strenuous hike with about 4,800 feet of elevation gain.
The Thunder Knob trail is a 3-mile out-and-back hike that leads to a viewpoint overlooking Diablo Lake. It’s a relatively easy hike with about 700 feet of elevation gain.
The Cascade Pass trail is a 7.4-mile out-and-back hike that climbs to a high mountain pass with panoramic views of the surrounding peaks and glaciers. It’s a strenuous hike with about 1,800 feet of elevation gain. This trail also provides access to the Sahale Arm and Stehekin Valley trails.
I highly recommend this as the best hike for those driving from Seattle to North Cascades National Park.
Drive Highway 20 to Washington Pass on your Seattle to North Cascades National Park trip
Not feeling the hiking urge or just wanting to see the sights, driving Highway 20 is phenomenal. You’ll cut right through eight and nine-thousand-foot peaks and have your jaw drop at each turn. It’s a really cool drive and totally worth it.
Remember, the road is usually closed from Ross Lake Dam from November to mid-May.
Kayak or Paddleboard on Diablo or Ross Lake
While the water will be chilly, kayaking, paddleboarding, or canoeing on Diablo Lake or Ross Lake is a great way to spend the day or weekend. There are no outfitters onsite, so most people bring their gear. If you can’t mount a kayak, getting a blow-up also works!
How many days do you need for North Cascades National Park?
Although visiting North Cascades National Park in a day is feasible, doing so may result in a hurried and incomplete experience. The park is extensive and boasts countless trails, viewpoints, and attractions to uncover. Due to this, I suggest spending a night if doable.
For a comprehensive and enriching visit to North Cascades National Park, stay for a minimum of 2-3 days and explore this place. This duration will allow ample time to tackle the numerous hiking trails, scenic drives, and breathtaking mountain vistas the North Cascades offer. Check out my North Cascades itinerary below.
1-day Seattle to North Cascades National Park Itinerary
- Get an early start on the day to maximize your time in the North Cascades.
- After about 2.5 hours of driving, stop at the Diablo Lake overlook to stretch your legs and soak in the beautiful views. The turquoise water will truly blow you away.
- Then, keep driving to either Maple Pass or Blue Lake. Either of these trails will give you an understanding of how incredible the peaks and lakes are in the North Cascades. I’d estimate the hikes should take you between 3-5 hours. Maple Pass is 50% longer than Blue Lake, so factor that into your schedule.
- After you hike, head up to Washington Pass (maybe 5 minutes from these trailheads) and enjoy the views.
- Then, on your way back, fuel up in Marblemount with some food and drinks before returning to Seattle!
2-day Seattle to North Cascades National Park Itinerary
- Day 1: Leave early from Seattle to the North Cascades
- Get a good hike in before the crowds arrive. Do Blue Lake, Cutthroat Pass, or Maple Pass
- Enjoy Washington Pass Overlook
- Stop by Lake Diablo in the afternoon to chill – go kayaking or paddleboarding if you have them
- Soak in the sunset at Thunder Knob and then head to your lodging area
- Day 2: Do Cascade pass to Sahale Arm. This is a full-day hike.
- Head back to Seattle
3-day Seattle to North Cascades National Park Itinerary
- Day 1: Get an early start from Seattle to North Cascades National Park
- Head straight to the Cascade Pass trailhead and knock out the best hike in the park. This will be a full-day hike but totally worth it.
- Get food or go set up camp at the North Cascades National Park campgrounds
- Day 2: Check out Diablo Lake either at the overlook or get on the water for some fun.
- Hike Maple Pass and then go see Washington Pass Overlook.
- If you have another night in the campground, great. You can also stay in Mazama or Winthrop for a night.
- Day 3: Hike Cutthroat Lake and Cutthroat Pass or Blue Lake. Then start coming home on Highway 20. Stop again at Diablo Lake or do the short Thunder Knob trail.
Wrapping Up – Seattle to North Cascades National Park
A trip from Seattle to North Cascades National Park is genuinely fantastic, and you will be in heaven as you stare out at the jagged peaks of the American Alps. So enjoy your trip, and come back safe!
Until next time adventurers, take care and be safe.
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