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The North Cascades in 7 Days

Map tips: each color represents a different day. Click a marker to learn more about the spot, and click the star in the map header to save the entire map under Your Places in Google Maps.

We flew into Seattle around 10:30 PM, grabbed rental car and drove about 45 minutes north to our Airbnb in Everett, Washington.

Day 1

  • Gorge Creek Falls
  • Colonial Creek Campground
  • Diablo Lake Vista Point
  • Washington Pass

We had a huge, amazing breakfast at Patty’s Eggnest and then stopped at Safeway to stock up on groceries for the week. It was about 3 hours from Everett to get to where we were staying in Mazama, which is on the other side of the North Cascades. You take the scenic route 20 (Cascades Highway) to get there. Unless you’re camping, Ross Lake Resort is the only place to stay truly in the North Cascades. We opted for Mazama, even though it’s furthest from Seattle, because there was less daily driving once we got there and several good hikes on that side of the park. You could stay in Marblemount if you’re doing a lot of hiking on the west side of the park. Thornton Lakes, Hidden Lake, and Cascade Pass/Sahale Arm all looked awesome on that side.

We first stopped at the visitor center and grabbed a pass for the trailheads. You can buy day passes for $5 or a yearly Northwest Forest pass for $30 that is good in Washington and Oregon from the visitor center, or buy a day pass at each trailhead (honor system). We stopped at the Gorge Creek Falls pulloff (parking on both sides of the bridge) and looked down to the water on the one side, and the waterfall on the other. Good spot for a quick break from the road, but not a must-see.

When we got our first view of Diablo Lake, I had to stop the van, back up, get out and take some pictures. It was that beautiful, and the unedited pictures look fake. We then stopped at the Colonial Creek Campground and let the kids play in the water for a few. Beautiful area and easy access to kayak or swim.

The Diablo Lake lookout is just beyond the campground and where everyone stops for the amazing view of the other-worldly green water surrounded by mountains. Highly recommend the unmarked trail/stone staircase by the bathrooms that leads to a stunning viewpoint with no handrails (like the main viewing platform has). You don’t need more than 10-15 minutes at the lookout but we ate lunch. The lighting is better if you’re there in the first half of the day.

We drove another 30 minutes to the Washington Pass Overlook, which is an absolute must-see. It’s a very short, paved walk to the lookout areas and the mountains are spectacular in multiple directions. This was the second time that day (Diablo Lake) that I thought this really reminded me of the Canadian Rockies. Continued another 20-some minutes to our cabin we booked through Mazama Country Inn. We made and ate breakfast and dinner at the cabin almost every day, which worked out perfectly.

Day 2: Maple Pass Loop Hike

Read my detailed Hike Guide for this trail here

We drove 30 minutes back into mountains to the Rainy Pass trailhead/picnic site and did the Maple Pass Loop. We went down to Lake Ann, which is 1 mile RT (included in the 7.4 miles total) and marked by a side trail, and honestly not worth it. Much better from above. We did the loop counter-clockwise, which yields a steady, longer ascent and steeper descent. There is over 2,100 feet of elevation gain but it’s not a very difficult hike. The views on this hike are insane, and it’s one of the best hikes around for good reason. Make sure to bring lots of bug spray – they are everywhere and swarm you any time you stop.

You can also go to Rainy Lake from the trailhead, which is 1.8 miles RT from the trailhead (less if adding it on while doing the loop trail) on an easy, paved path and great for families. We did not go to it, however. The hike to Black Peak (day 5) also starts here but isn’t mentioned/marked.

We stopped at the Mazama Country Store for some ice cream on the way back. They also have beer on tap and hot food, which looked pretty good. Awesome spot, lots of locals around.

Day 3: Blue Lake Hike

Drove back into the mountains to the Blue Lake trailhead (between the Washington Pass Overlook and Rainy Pass trailhead) and hiked the 2.25 miles to the lake. It’s mostly through shaded forest and not difficult – 1,000 feet of elevation gain and 4.5 miles RT. The first view of the lake is really nice, but continue uphill on the trail to the right of the lake for a completely different and awesome view. The color of the water really comes out from above and Liberty Bell comes into view. We had a picnic lunch and played by the water. Bugs were much better here, didn’t really notice them at all.

We stopped at the Washington Pass Overlook again because it’s the perfect area to let the kids walk and they really liked “hiking” up the rocks at the end.

Day 4: Winthrop

Went to church at the Mazama Community Church and had a relaxed afternoon. Let the kids get a real nap and then headed into Winthrop (12 mins from Mazama) for dinner. Winthrop is a really neat, small town with a western feel to it and old main drag. You could easily spend a full day here walking and visiting the shops and restaurants. We ate at Jack’s Saloon, which was pretty good. There are several restaurants to choose from, and you have to go to Sheri’s Sweet Shoppe for dessert. Excellent homemade ice cream and chocolates.

Day 5: Lewis and Wing Lakes Hike

Had 1 day to hike without the kids (thank you mom) and drove back to the Rainy Pass trailhead and started the Maple Pass trail counter-clockwise again. About 2 miles in, there’s a marker for Heather Pass and another sign that says to please stay off the restoration areas. Right at that sign there is an unmarked (but noticeable) trail to the right that leads to Black Peak.

Once the trail turns into a huge boulder field, just follow the cairns. You pass Lewis Lake, which you can see from the Maple Pass Loop and is a stunning turquoise color. Dove in (freezing) and continued up to Wing Lake. Had lunch there and then hiked/scrambled up to the west ridge. There was still snow that we had to go through (really fun to “ski” and slide on for the way back down), and it’s a really loose, steep talus field to get up to the ridge so you have to be very careful.

The views from the ridge would have been amazing – just peak after peak after peak, but smoke from a couple new wildfires kinda ruined it. We didn’t actually summit Black Peak because it would have probably been another hour and a half at least, the views wouldn’t have been any better, and it’s a pretty technical scramble/climb to get up there with no real “trail.” I’d like to go back to do it with someone who has gone up there before that can show us the best route to the summit. The full hike is 12 miles RT.

Day 6

  • Diablo Lake Vista Point
  • Trail Of The Cedars
  • Gorge Powerhouse
  • Ladder Creek Falls

Had to make our way back to Crown Hill (neighborhood in Seattle) and we stopped at Diablo Lake again to hopefully get a better view with the sun’s position. Unfortunately, the smoke meant the view was worse. Continued along 20 and stopped to have a picnic lunch in Newhalem, which is about 10 minutes from Diablo Lake. This is where the power plant is that powers much of Seattle.

We went over the big suspension bridge at the start of the Trail of the Cedars, which is at the end of the main/only road off of 20, but just turned back around and walked along the road to the powerhouse. There’s another small suspension bridge there that takes you to the very short trail (< 1 mile RT) to the Ladder Creek Falls. I can’t say the falls are anything too special, but it’s a nice area, mostly paved and stairs, and the history behind it is very interesting (read the posted signs). You can also go into the powerhouse and see some of what goes on there.

Gorge Powerhouse in Washington
Gorge Powerhouse

We stopped in Mount Vernon to visit with family for a little bit then got to our Airbnb in Crown Hill and made dinner. After the kids went to bed, we went out to meet up with friends at Chuck’s Hop Shop. Tons of beers, both bottled and on tap, and dog-friendly – great spot.

Day 7: Seattle

  • Kerry Park
  • Pike Place Market

After getting everything packed up, drove to Kerry Park for one of the best views of downtown Seattle. Then went downtown, parked in a nearby garage and walked to Pike Place. We didn’t have much time at all since our flight was at 2:55, but we got some mac n cheese from Beecher’s (best ever) and some other food from vendors. You could easily spend all day walking and eating your way through the market – tons of variety. Traffic in Seattle is absolutely horrendous, however, so try to dodge rush hour.

View of Seattle from Kerry Park
The Seattle skyline from Kerry Park

I loved the North Cascades National Park. I hadn’t even heard of it until a friend told me about it a few years ago, and it’s one of the least-visited national parks. Also unknown to me was that they are called the American Alps until this trip. The hiking and views are spectacular, and I think it’s not as popular in part because there is really great hiking closer to Seattle. We were there in late July and there was plenty of parking at each location, no traffic, and the trails weren’t crowded at all. This is definitely a place I want to come back to, and I’m very jealous of anyone who lives within driving distance. We did the drive from Mazama into the park 4 times, and I don’t think I could ever get sick of those views.

Traveled in July 2018

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