The North Cascades National Park Complex, located in the north-central
portion of the state of Washington, features the rugged mountain peaks of
the North Cascades Range, the most expansive glacial system in the contiguous
United States, the headwaters of numerous waterways, and vast forests with the
highest degree of flora biodiversity of any US national park. The complex
manages three contiguous NPS units: North Cascades National Park, Ross Lake
National Recreation Area, and Lake Chelan National Recreation Area.
Getting there ...
We had an early morning flight to Seattle at 6:30AM, and got our rental car
and were ready to go by 9:30AM. I originally planned to go to Marblemount
(where we will stay for the first night) and to take the Cascade River Road to
hike the Cascade Pass trail, which is one of the most popular trails in the
North Cascades National Park. Unfortunately, the Cascade River Road (23
miles long) was closed at the last 3 miles from the trailhead due to some road
construction, so we had to go to my backup plan: Sauk Mountain.
- Sauk Mountain
Sauk Mountain is located in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie
National Forest, west of the North Cascade National Park. The Sauk
Mountain Road, forked from Highway 20, is a very winding unpaved gravel road
which climbs 4,000 feet in 8 miles (long and rough...). There were a
couple of big holes a few hundred yards before reaching the parking lot at
the trailhead. We did not want not to risk the car to cross them so we
decided to park the car on the roadside to walk in.
Sauk Mountain Trail
is about 2.5 miles (round trip) with 1,040 feet elevation gain. The
trail has many switchbacks (more
than 20) all the way up, but it is still quite manageable and not too hard
on our knees. The views are absolutely stunning the whole way with the
surrounding cascade ranges and Skagit River down below. We were
distracted and detoured by a patch
of snow when we were reaching the top and the trail became flat, and we
missed an intersection and did not really reach the summit (we were less
than 0.2 miles away...). Even without reaching the real trail end, it
was still a rewarding hike with unforgettable views.
Day 2 (July 21) ...
- Newhalem/Gorge Dam
We entered the Ross Lake National Recreation Area
in the morning. It is the most accessible part of the North Cascades
National Park Service Complex. Ross Lake NRA follows the Skagit
River corridor from the Canada–US border to the western foothills of
the Cascades. The NRA contains a portion of scenic Washington State Route
20, the North Cascades Highway, and includes three reservoirs: 12,000-acre
(4,900 ha) Ross Lake, 910-acre (370 ha) Diablo Lake, and 210-acre (85 ha)
Gorge Lake. These reservoirs make up the Skagit Hydroelectric Project
operated by Seattle City Light.
- Diablo Lake Overlook
Diablo Lake is a popular recreational spot for kayakers and canoeists.
The unique, intense turquoise hue of the lake's water is attributed to the
surrounding glaciers that grind rocks into a fine powder that is carried
into the lake through creeks. The panoramic view of the lake and
mountains is one of the best in the area.
After the photo stop at the overlook, we went back to a
turnout where it has access to the lake shore to have a touch of the icy water.
- Rainy Lake
Rainy Pass in Okanogan National Forest to the east
provides rest stop and a few hiking trails. We took an easy 2-mile (round
trip) walk to a subalpine lake, Rainy Lake, to have a relaxed picnic lunch.
- Lake Ann
At the same trailhead, we took another trail to Lake
Ann (3.5-mile round trip with 600 feet elevation gain). It climbed
gradually through a shady forest, and then had a section of opening with
nice valley and mountain views before reaching the lake. It was an
easy-moderate hike but had a lot of mosquitoes at this time of year...
- Washington Pass Overlook
We stopped by Washington Pass and I was the
only one to get off the car to walk to the overlook initially. After I
saw the breathtaking views of the Cascades Mountains, I had to get my family
off the car to see this view (and they were not disappointed)!
- Gamble Sands
We moved to the south east part of the North Cascades to a golf resort,
the Inn at Gamble Sands. Overlooking the Columbia River, in the high
desert of North Central Washington, Gamble Sands is blessed with one of the
most dramatic settings for true links golf in the world. Although we
do not play golf, it was a nice place (and a good restaurant) to stay for a
night before we lost Internet access in Stehekin for the next 2 days...
Day 3 (July 22) ...
- Lake Chelan
We got up early to drive to Chelan (about 45 min drive)
to catch our boat to Stehekin at 8:30AM. Lake Chelan is a narrow, 50.5
miles (81.3 km) long lake in north-central Washington State. At 1,486
feet, Lake Chelan is the nation's third deepest lake which reaches its depth
in an area only a mile wide (Crater
Lake, 1,932 feet with 5 miles wide;
Lake Tahoe, 1,645 feet with 10 miles across).
- Stehekin, Lake Chelan National Recreation Area
We took the faster Lady Express, which took about 2.5 hours to get to
Stehekin from Chelan (the regular boats need about 4 hours). Lake
Chelan NRA is adjacent to the North Cascades National Park South Unit. The
recreation area and Stehekin, a small town located within the park with
fewer than 100 permanent residents, are accessible only by floatplane,
passenger ferry, or by hiking trails through the Cascade Range during the
summer months. There are no roads to Stehekin, no TV, no telephones (only
one credit card phone via satellite), no cell phone signal, and no
- Stehekin Valley by Polaris Ranger
After lunch at the Stehekin Landing
and a short break at the lodge room,
we walked to the "Log Office" to check out some activities in Stehekin.
I did not have an exact plan for the afternoon, but let Linus and Iris
choose what they wanted to do (among different activities such as horseback
riding, kayaking, fly fishing, etc.). It turned out there were some
off-road Rec Utility Vehicles (Polaris Ranger) available for rent.
Linus and Iris were so excited to drive the Polaris Ranger to explore the
Day 4 (July 23) ...
- Breakfast Bike Ride
I booked the breakfast bike ride with
Stehekin Discovery Bikes.
They transport bikes and passengers to the Stehekin Valley Ranch in the
morning at 8:00 AM with a valley tour along the way that the
driver/guide/owner Ron talked about his 40 years in Stehekin. Arriving
at the Ranch, coffee brews on the stone fireplace (tea and hot chocolate
available as well) and the cook is at the grill ready to take our breakfast
order. After a hearty breakfast, we were ready to bike by 9:30AM.
The ride from the Ranch back to Stehekin is mostly downhill and suitable for
all ages and riding capabilities (as Linus and Iris are not really
experienced bike riders).
- Rainbow Loop
We stopped at the Rainbow Loop trailhead (southern end)
to take the hike. The Rainbow Loop trail is about 4 miles (one way)
with ~1,100 feet elevation gain. We decided not to go to the northern
end because we would need to walk back to get our bikes. Instead we
stopped at about half way where the trail crosses the Rainbow Creek to have
a lunch snack beside the foot bridge, and then turned back to where we
started (it was still about 4 miles and 1,100 feet elevation gain). In
2010 a wildfire burned parts of the lower half of the trail giving hikers
the unique chance for a close-up look at how forests recover after fire. On
the way up we had views of the Stehekin River winding down-valley and
panoramic views of Lake Chelan.
- Continue to ride
After the hike from the Rainbow Loop, we continued our ride and stopped
at the Stehekin Pastry Company where we had a few delicious cakes/muffins
and ice cream. We also visited "The Garden" where various flowers were
blooming in the summer.
- Electric Boat Ride
After back to Stehekin and returned our bikes, we
found there were electric boats available at the Log Office (just right next
to the bike rental). These CraigCat electrical boats are whisper quiet
and extremely easy to operate (just point-and-go steering). We spent
an hour on the Lake Chelan circling around and went wherever we wanted to
Day 5 (July 24) ...
- Lakeshore Trail
We took the Lakeshore Trail from the Visitor Center
in the early morning. For the day hikers there are several areas along
the trail that provide fantastic photo opportunities especially at this
early hour on a calm clear day for a perfect mirror reflection. We did
not have a real destination so we walked till we felt it's time to turn back
and made it a pleasant 1.5-hour walk.
Going Home ...
After an early lunch at Stehekin, we boarded the Lady Express at 12PM to head
back to Chelan. After 2.5 hours of boat ride, and almost 4 hours of
driving, we were finally at Seattle-Tacoma Airport waiting for our flight to go
back home. The North Cascades and the surrounding areas are remote and
pristine wilderness that we cannot really appreciate and enjoy in such a short
trip. Even though most of the nature beauty is beyond our reach, I was
still grateful to be able to immerse myself in this serene isolation with my
family for the past few days.
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