The North Cascades National Park Service Complex preserves some of the finest mountain country in North America—a hiker’s smorgasbord. From accessible trails and short, scenic strolls to steep, grueling hikes that will make your legs burn but your heart sing, there is a trail here that will suit your mood. The extreme gradients of climate and topography contribute to an impressive diversity of habitat and species. To navigate the incredibly steep elevational relief, the nearly 400 miles of trails often follow the long, forested, valley bottoms, then switchback up to the steep passes or ridges. Over 300 glaciers cling to the spires, peaks, horns and ridges of the surrounding mountains, and more than 127 alpine lakes lie in glacial cirque basins below. The valleys are narrow, deep, and U-shaped, covered on the lower reaches with dense stands of old trees and layers of green undergrowth.
A Wilderness Park
This area is the core of a vast mountainous ecosystem of protected public lands. Envisioned as a wilderness park from its inception, over 93 percent of the park complex is designated as the Stephen Mather Wilderness. It lies at the core of over two million acres of federally designated wilderness, which is one of the largest such areas in the lower 48 states. Enjoy the solitude, peace, and challenge that hiking in this beautiful park offers. Remember to walk lightly, so that many generations more may discover this place as you will.
Intrepid hikers, backpackers, and climbers ply the trails of the park year round. However, the more common hiking season stretches from April through October. The driest and most popular time to visit is during the summer months of mid-June through September. Keep in mind that higher elevation trails often remain snow-covered well into July and sometimes August. Precipitation and snowfall are greatest from November through March. The park's winters are wet, and snowfall is heavy. Access is often limited during these winter months by impassable or closed roads, so be sure to check the park conditions report.
The key to a successful trip is to plan ahead and be prepared. Check out the Wilderness Trip Planner to find out all you need to know about park regulations, backcountry permits, party size limits, hiking with pets, current road and trail conditions, and more.
Did You Know?
The North Cascades are well known for the abundant waterfalls that lace the mountains. Two of the best known waterfalls are Gorge Falls between Newhalem and Diablo along State Route 20 and Rainbow Falls in the Stehekin Valley.