2 days in North Cascades National Park
North Cascades is the 3oth National Park we had the opportunity to visit in the last 10 years I have been in the US. We love National Parks, some more than the others, but each trip is special in its own way. Yellowstone National Park is by far our favorite, followed by Glacier National Park, Olympic National Park, Smoky Mountains and Bryce National Park. While Yellowstone National Park is like a Nature's miracle and completely filled me with awe with its Hot Springs, Geysers, mud volcanos and Sulphur cauldrons, Glacier National Park almost had me in tears of joy with its sublime beauty and myriads of flowers. We stayed in the most beautiful campground we ever laid eyes on, in the Hoh rainforest of the Olympic National Park and witnessed gorgeous Fall colors in the Smoky Mountain National Park. While Bryce National Park was like a fantasyland, the Narrows top down hike in Zion National Park was a one-of-its-kind experience. And most of our National Park trips have been during the July 4th long weekend. This being the July 4th long weekend and our 30th National Park visit, I was really hoping for something special.
The visitor center is located in a tiny town in the north of Washington state, called Marblemount. It is a 2-hour drive from Seattle and is a good place to stay if you are planning to hike in the Park. We reached Marblemount the previous night and stayed in Buffalo Run Inn, a clean and modest place, close to the entrance of the National Park.
Our friends in Seattle wanted to join us for a day-trip to the Park, and we planned to meet them around 12:30 pm at Rainy Lake parking lot. Our original plan was to do the Maple Pass Loop (7.2 mile RT) or Blue Lake hike (5 mile RT) on Day 1 and Cascade Pass & Sahale Arm hike (12 mile RT and 4,150 ft elevation) on Day 2. However, the Cascade river road was closed for the last 5-6 miles due to damage, so we had to cancel our Cascade Pass hiking plan. That left us with more time to explore the other areas of the Park and spend time with our friends in a more relaxed way.
On Day 1, we left the Inn around 8:30 am and since we have a few hours before our friends from Seattle would arrive, we decided to do the 5-mile RT Blue Lake Trail. State Route 20, also known as the North Cascades Highway, traverses through the Park and is open typically from May through October. We drove on Hwy 20 for a little more than an hour to get to the trailhead, which is located 1 mile before the Washington Pass Overlook. The views along the drive were ok - it wasn't as green as we thought it would be or the mountains didn't hit us immediately like say, the Grand Tetons did.
The parking lot was full, so we parked on the side of the road like several others did. This National Park has a visitor center but no entrance fee. However, this trail falls just outside the Park boundary, under the adjacent US Forest Service and you need to buy either a Northwest Forest Pass or Recreation Day Pass (for $5) or use the National Park annual pass for this. We buy 'America the Beautiful' National Park pass every year (for $80), not only because we visit at least one National Park per year but also to contribute to their maintenance in our small way.
It was past 6:30 pm, so we headed back to the town to grab dinner with our friends before they left for the day. It was a nice day among lakes and mountains and we all loved the chance trip to the beautiful resort but we didn't really get a feel for the North Cascades. We considered going to Mt. Baker instead of the 7.2 mile RT Maple Pass hike the next day but I knew I would regret not doing that hike, so did my husband. So, we decided we would have a late start the next day, have lunch near the Diablo lake and then hike in the afternoon.
On Day 2, we reached the beautiful Colonial Creek campground near Diablo Lake around 11:15 am. It is set in an old growth forest area by the lake and we had lunch in one of the open tent spots. There were quite a few people kayaking in the lake.
After lunch, we stopped at the Diablo Lake Overlook. The turquoise lake amidst the green mountains was a stunner. It is probably the most popular spot in the National Park area and we could see why.
Once back in town, we headed to the Marblemount Diner, which they self-proclaimed as "the local's favorite". We sat in their backyard and ordered a couple of burgers and my favorite onion rings. We weren't expecting much but I was blown away by their veggie burger. It was simply the best veggie burger I ever had! I had tried veggie burger (I know many people think it's an oxymoron but anyways) in several cities and metropolitans before but it was in this small town of 2 restaurants that I found one that was just perfect for my taste. On that happy and tasty note, our trip came to an end. But I know one thing for sure - there is going to be a next time!
If you are planning a visit to the North Cascades National Park, I highly recommend the Maple Pass Loop. This trail is a great way to see the North Cascades and is what made our visit to this Park special. After what I have seen at Maple Pass, I am now more determined to do the Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm Trail next summer/fall. If we could do it in October, we might be able to catch the fall colors too! I am excited about it and will keep you all posted.
And if you get a chance to visit this Park, let me know what you think.