We spent the past three days exploring the North Cascades mountains. This national park is not as popular or well known as Yellowstone or Glacier but in our opinion no less spectacular, and definitely worth visiting. There are towering jagged peaks, cascading waterfalls, and over 300 glaciers all surrounded by a lush moss covered forest.
We stayed at Newhalem Campground on the far western edge of the park where we were able to pick up a strong cell signal for some Internet access. After looking through our photos I realized that we didn’t take a single shot of our site, but it was very similar to our spot at Avalanche campground in Glacier NP. Our site was tucked deep in the forest with a backyard full of big trees. While the campground itself is in the national park, Newhalem is actually a small company town owned by Seattle City Light. It’s populated entirely by employees of the three hydroelectric dams which run through the mountains and provide nearly 25% of the electric power to Seattle.
This is Diablo Dam which when built in 1930 was the tallest dam in the world at 389 feet tall. Diablo Lake is a byproduct of the dam and the location of one of the hikes we took in the park.
The Diablo Lake trail began at the lake’s edge where Phineas took a pre-hike swim in the gorgeous turquoise colored water. The unique color of the water is attributed to the many glaciers upstream that grind the rock into a fine powder. The powder floats downstream and stays suspended in the lake. When light reflects off the rock particles, the result is an intense turquoise color, unlike anything you’ve ever seen in nature.
The trail traversed through a dense, mosquito-infested forest before emerging out onto a narrow cliff high above the lake.
We were a little disappointed because the views of the lake were fleeting and the mosquitoes were thick, but Phin was happy that he got to swim at the start and end of the hike, so at least someone was satisfied. Speaking of Phin, even though we were in a national park he was allowed on this trail because Diablo Lake is located in the Ross Lake National Recreation Area which runs through the middle of the park.
He was also allowed on the river walk trail in Newhalem campground. We took this short trail on the afternoon we arrived and marveled at the huge trees and moss covered limbs.
This area of the park is on the wet, western side of the mountains, as evidenced by the thick forests, huge ferns and moss covered everything.
While we exclaimed over the diverse foliage and towering Western Hemlocks, Phineas enjoyed the swift moving Skagit River. He splashed around and hunted for rocks until we pulled him away to continue our walk.
On our last full day in the park, we took a fantastic hike up to Cascade Pass. We both decided that this was one of the best hikes we’d ever been on. It had it all- woods, wildflowers, high alpine meadows and sweeping views of the mountains and glaciers all around. The hike began after driving almost an hour on a narrow, curvy and sometimes steep dirt road. This is one of the most popular hikes in the park, and we had to circle the parking lot and park a ways down the road because there were so many cars clogging the lot. The trail was relatively quiet though, and we didn’t see many other hikers until we had almost reached the top of the pass. Even though the hike was about 7.5 miles round trip and the elevation gain was 1800 feet, thanks to the network of switchbacks this hike was not terribly challenging.
The switchbacks made the elevation gain really manageable and even though we were climbing steadily, it didn’t feel steep at all.
After rising through the forest the trail spilled out onto a boulder field high in the mountains.
At the top, we were treated to breathtaking views of the surrounding peaks.
The North Cascades are an amazing place to visit. A place that, once again, we hope to return to someday. We seem to say that about all of the national parks. I guess that means we have many years of traveling ahead of us!