Frequently Asked Questions

North Cascades Visitor Center near Newhalem
North Cascades National Park Visitor Center near Newhalem

NPS photo

How do I access the park?

SR 20 (North Cascades Highway), Cascade River Road, Lake Chelan, and Visitor Information Centers offer details.

Are there accommodations in the park?

Ross Lake Resort, Stehekin Valley and the neighboring communities of Marblemount, Chelan and the Methow Valley offer various accommodations and services. For more information please check our Accommodations and Services Page.

Are there campgrounds in the park?

Vehicle access campgrounds include Newhalem, Goodell, Colonial Creek Campgrounds, RVs ok but no hookups. There are almost two hundred backcountry campsites available by permit.

Can you reserve campgrounds?

Yes, through the National Recreation Reservation Service (NRRS). Please check our Fees & Reservations page for direct links to this service. Due to the success of our first come-first served camping system most sites are available upon arrival at the park.

Is there backcountry camping?

Yes, Permits and information is available through the Wilderness Information Center. See questions below for specifics.

What is there to do and see?

Hiking, scenic vistas, boating, climbing

Where can I get backcountry permits and hiking information?

Any of the visitor information centers offer hiking information, however the best place to get permits for overnight trips and up-to date details is the Wilderness Information Center in Marblemount.

What kinds of wildlife live in the park?

A wide variety of animals live in the park and additionally the North Cascades provide crucial habitat for neo-tropical bird species. See the Nature and Science pages for details on the abundant yet, somewhat elusive wildlife of the North Cascades.

When is the best time for wildflowers?

Flowers bloom earliest at low elevations. As early as April and May, flowers bloom in the valley bottom. High in the alpine the peak of flower display is normally in late July but, may linger into August.

Can you recommend a hike or trail?

There are a wide variety of hiking options in the park, from beautiful old-growth valley trails to steep, arduous hikes to high lakes or views. The right trail for you depends on your fitness level and your goals for your trip. We recommend using a guide book or map and trail guide, and reading up on what sounds interesting. Then, call the ranger station to get the latest conditions for your top hiking choices.

Where can I hike with my dog?

Dogs are allowed on a leash within the Ross Lake and Lake Chelan National Recreation Areas, as well as on most surrounding US Forest Service lands. Dogs must be leashed and in control at all times, including while in camp. Dogs are not allowed in the National Park.

Am I allowed to have firearms in North Cascades National Park Service Complex?

As of February 22, 2010, a new federal law allows people who can legally possess firearms under applicable federal, state, and local laws, to legally possess firearms in North Cascades National Park Complex which includes North Cascades National Park, Ross Lake National Recreation Area and Lake Chelan National Recreation Area.

It is the responsibility of visitors to understand and comply with all applicable state, local, and federal firearms laws before entering this park. As a starting point, please visit Washington State’s website.

Federal law also prohibits firearms in certain facilities in this park; those places are marked with signs at all public entrances and generally includes all NPS staffed offices open to the public.

Is the park open year-round?

Yes, but some access may be difficult in winter since SR20 is closed over the pass.

How do I get my boat, kayak, or canoe onto Ross Lake?

There is no road access to Ross Lake from SR 20 on the south end of the lake. The most common method of getting a boat on Ross Lake from SR 20 is to launch on Diablo Lake at the Colonial Creek campground, then paddle five miles to the base of Ross Dam. At that point, you can either portage yourself around the dam (~ a mile, 600 feet of elevation gain) or portage service is available from Ross Lake Resort for a fee.

From the north, it is possible to drive to Ross Lake via the Silver / Skagit Road from Hope, British Columbia. This is a long, rough, gravel road that leads to the Hozomeen Campground and a boat launch.

What is the current level of Ross Lake?

In the summer, between July 4 and Labor Day, Ross Lake is generally at full pool, with all docks floating. At other times of year, however, the water level of the lake is lower. Please check here for current lake levels.

Is the Cascade River Road open?

The Cascade River Road is open as snow and road conditions permit. Normally, snows block the road at variable elevations from October until May. This road is susceptable to winter storm damage and access can vary greatly. Visitors should check our Road Conditions page before traveling on it.

Wilderness view from Desolation Peak
Wilderness view from Desolation Peak

NPS photo by Anne Braaten

What are the current conditions and snow levels on the trails?

Low-elevation trails (below 2,000) feet are usually free of snow by spring. Most high-elevation trails and passes, however, will often have snow until July. Please see our Trail Conditions page for the most recently reported trail conditions.

What do I need to know to be prepared for a backcountry trip in North Cascades National Park?

Please read our Wilderness Trip Planner and learn about important park rules and regulations, as well as recommended Leave-No-Trace camping practices.

Do I need a backcountry permit for my trip?

Backcountry permits are required year round for all overnight stays in the backcountry of North Cascades National Park Service Complex (North Cascades National Park, Ross Lake and Lake Chelan National Recreation Areas), including along Ross and Diablo Lakes. For more information please see our Permits Page. Permits are not required for day hiking.

How/where do I get a backcountry permit?

Backcountry permits can be obtained only at a ranger station. The main backcounty permit station for the park is the Wilderness Information Center in Marblemount. This center has the most current and comprehensive information on backcountry conditions, and can best assist with trip planning.

Where can I get a backcountry permit if I’m going to Stehekin or coming from the east side of the park?

For visits to Stehekin, you can obtain your permit directly from the Golden West Visitor Center, which is located at Stehekin Landing. For other east side destinations, you can obtain your permit in Winthrop or Chelan. For more information on permit-issuing stations, please see our Permits Page.

Can I make reservations for my backcountry permit (when can I get my permit)?

No, permits are issued on a first-come, first-serve basis, in person only. You can pick up your permit the day your trip begins, or the day before, but no earlier.

Do the backcountry permits fill up, will I be able to do my trip or climb?

Some camps and climbing areas do fill up quickly, but with some flexibility, almost all trips are successful. You can maximize your chance of obtaining your first-choice itinerary by keeping your group size small, visiting midweek, and arriving at the ranger station early.

Most camps and crosscountry zones do not fill up, but there are several popular areas that are very busy, and permits can go quickly, especially when the weather is nice. The busiest areas are: Ross Lake, Sulphide and Boston Basin climbing areas, Cascade Pass, and Copper Ridge.

Rangers at the Wilderness Information Center are familiar with trails, camps, and climbing routes and can recommend alternative destinations if your first choice is full.

How much does a backcountry permit cost?

Backcountry permits are free.

I have a Northwest Forest Pass or a Golden Eagle Pass, do I still need to get a backcountry permit?

Yes, you still need a backcountry permit. The Northwest Forest Pass and the Golden Passes (Eagle, Age and Access) are parking and entry passes – they do not substitute for a backcountry permit.

Do I need a parking pass for trailheads?

You do not need a parking pass for any trailheads in the North Cascades National Park Complex.

The US Forest Service requires a parking pass (the NW Forest Pass or the Golden Eagle / Age / Access passes) for some trailheads. Check here for a list of all USFS trailheads in Washington and Oregon that require a parking pass.

What is the party size limit?

On trails in the backcountry, the party size limit is 12 people, but please note that not all backcountry camps can accommodate groups of that size. In cross-country areas, the party size limit is 12 for high-use areas, such as Boston Basin and Sulphide, but six for most other cross-country areas, such as the Pickets.

What if there are more than 12 (or six) people in my group?

The party size limit is strictly enforced. Oversize groups must divide into smaller groups and must travel at least a half-day’s travel apart and stay at different backcountry camps at all times.

Last updated: July 10, 2015

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Mailing Address:

810 State Route 20
Sedro-Woolley, WA 98284


(360) 854-7200

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