North Cascades in Washington State is the most heavily glaciated are in the lower 48 states and a true wilderness

The Glaciers of North Cascades in Washington State

The North Cascades, is one of the undiscovered gems of the National Park system. Established in 1968, this 500,000 acre park is less well-known and thus less crowded than the other two parks, with fewer than one-half million visitors a year.

It is unique with 300 plus glaciers within its borders it is the most heavily glaciated area in the lower 48 states. Few roads cut through it, making it wilderness at its best. There are over 380 miles of trails to hike and 200 back country campsites.

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If you only have a day to see the North Cascades National Park, head north for about 90 minutes on I-5 from Seattle then east on state Highway 20. Technically the road is not part of the park, but splits it into a north and south unit, so that the Park surrounds the visitor as you travel. Make sure you have a full tank before starting, as gas stations are few. Pack snacks and maybe a lunch if you plan to stay on the road the whole day because places to buy food are scarce in the park. This drive is for late spring to early fall because much of the road is closed in the winter due to heavy snows.

Stop at the Newhalem Visitor Center at milepost 120. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., it has exhibits on the geology of the area as well as the plants and animals of the North Cascades. There are restrooms and a small bookstore here. The one-half mile Trail of the Cedars nature walk, which begins right outside the center, is an easy walk on a hard paved surface.

As you travel east on Highway 20, stop at the turnouts to see the majestic scenery of the area. At milepost 123, check out the Gorge Creek Falls. Don't miss the turnouts at Diablo Lake and Ross Lake Overlooks. Bring a picnic to enjoy here.

Whether a day trip or longer, the North Cascades National Park will offer awesome wilderness just a short distance from the road.

For more information call Visitor Information at (360) 854-7200, Wilderness Information Center at (360) 854-7245 or visit

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Janice Lovelace, a freelance photojournalist, lives in Western Washington. This is the perfect jumping off point for many outdoor activities throughout the year. She writes and photographs primarily about nature and outdoor travel. She has traveled with her camera throughout most of the US (including Alaska and Hawaii), Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Europe, Russia and SE Asia. Her articles have appeared in regional and national magazines.

Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author

Updated: October 29, 2016

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