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The North Cascades National Park Complex has cascading waterfalls, deep valleys, and jagged peaks. I came here back in September 2004 after visiting Olympic National Park, Mount St Helens and Mt Rainier National Park.
To get to highway 20, which runs west and east through the National Park, I came across Puget Sound on a Ferry.
Including Lake Chelan National Recreation Areas, Ross Lake, and North Cascades National Park, the three park units in this mountainous area are managed as one. By a contiguous overlay of Stephen Mather Wilderness, these complementary protected lands are united.
I stopped at the North Cascades Visitor Center. It is near milepost 120 and the town of Newhalem across the Skagit River from State Route 20 (the North Cascades Highway). Newhalem Creek Campground is adjacent to it as well. It has an exhibit room offering multimedia exhibits on the park's cultural and natural history, a relief map of the surrounding area and park. There's a theater offering a video presentation and large format slide program. Also, there are restrooms and several accessible, short interpretive trails.
Joe at North Cascades Visitor Center
I continued east on route 20 and later had lunch by a bridge that had fast running water under it. It was a little scary because I could see down through it!
There are incredible cascades here. Now I know how this park got it's name! I originally thought it was because of the Cascade Mountains but it is actually the cascades from the water!
The North Cascades are best known for the numerous waterfalls that fill the mountains. Rainbow Falls in the Stehekin Valley and Gorge Falls between Diablo and Newhalem along State Route 20 are two of the best known waterfalls.
From the Canadian border south to Lake Chelan, North Cascades National Park Service Complex includes 684,000 acres near the crest of the Cascade Mountains.
This national park has unique recreational opportunities for all people, whether you are looking for car camping with the whole family or an alpine wilderness experience. Some extra planning will go a long way for a more safe and enjoyable experience, as with most trips.
A hiker's smorgasbord, the North Cascades National Park preserves some of the finest mountain country in North America! There is a trail here that will suit your mood, from grueling, steep hikes that will make your legs burn to scenic, short strolls and accessible trails. Contributing to an impressive diversity of species and habitat are the extreme gradients of topography and climate.
The nearly four hundred miles of trails often follow the forested, long, valley bottoms, then switchback up to the steep ridges or passes, to navigate the incredibly steep elevation. Over one hundred twenty seven alpine lakes lie in glacial cirque basins below, and more than three hundred glaciers cling to the ridges, horns, peaks and spires of the surrounding mountains. Covered on the lower reaches with layers of green undergrowth and dense stands of old trees, the valleys are U shaped, deep, and narrow!
Guess What This Is?
Of a vast mountainous ecosystem of protected public lands, this region is the core. Over ninety three percent of the park complex is designated as the Stephen Mather Wilderness, envisioned as a wilderness park from its inception. One of the largest such areas in the lower forty eight states, it lies at the core of over two million acres of federally designated wilderness. Enjoy the challenge, peace, and solitude that backpacking in this beautiful park features. So that many generations more may discover this place as you will, remember to walk lightly.
Year round, climbers, backpackers, and hikers hit the trails of the park. The common hiking season runs from April through October, however. During the summer months of Mid June through September is the most popular time to visit and driest. Well into July and sometimes August, higher elevation trails often remain snow covered. From November through March, snowfall and precipitation are greatest. The park's snowfall is heavy, and winters are wet. Be sure to check the park conditions report, because access is often limited during these winter months by closed or impassable roads.
Green Color Lake
Washed down by the running water, the green color I see in some of the lakes here is caused by Glaciers crushing the volcanic rock into a flour.
Green Color Lake and Mountains
From the dry ponderosa pine ecosystem of the east to the temperate rainforest of the wet west side, North Cascades National Park Spans the Cascade Crest. Landscapes with more than 9,000 feet of vertical relief, are found in the park. More than 1,600 species so far identified, there are a high diversity of plants, and many other organisms adapted to a wide spectrum of habitats.
Providing an opportunity to study geologic processes unfolding through time, the relatively new mountains, streams and glaciers of North Cascades National Park lie near a dynamic interface of tectonic plates. Stream dynamics, glaciation, volcanism, erosion and mountain building, and more, geologists and others seek answers to questions of global climate change.
As I drive along, I am just amazed by the beauty of the water and mountains!
Major rivers provide key habitat for thousands of species of animals and plants and continually shape the landscape on all sides of the Cascade Crest. In the North Cascades, nowhere is this more apparent. In British Columbia, to the north, the Chilliwack River leaves the park to combine with the Fraser River. Beginning its journey near Mt. Shuksan, the Nooksack River flows west beyond Mount Baker. Joining the Skagit River, which flows from Canada, then westward across the middle of North Cascades National Park Complex, Baker River drains the southeast slopes of Mount Baker and Picket Range.
Emptying into Puget Sound, the Skagit is the largest watershed. The Skagit supports two sea going trout and all five species of Pacific salmon, in spite of the three dams along its length. To feed a glacier carved trough, which at fifteen hundred feet is the third deepest natural lake in the nation (Lake Chelan), the Stehekin River drains the southeast corner of the park. The largest river system in the western United States, the mighty Columbia River, the waters of Lake Chelan eventually make their way to it.
River Flowing Over the Rocks
The animals and plants change around me, as I travel up the river valley toward the montane forest. Giving way to Pacific silver fir and Douglas fir, the giant ponderosa pines of the lowlands. Making way for spotted sandpipers and dippers, the harlequin ducks and merganser of the lower river. I enter the subalpine world of stunted krummholz trees and meadows, as I climb higher and leave the river behind. Gateway to the peaks beyond, at the pass, I find myself in a different land filled with different creatures, a world apart from the valley still shrouded in mist far, far below.
View from the Pass
The Pacific Northwest mountains still contain some of those few untraveled wilderness areas that remain in the world today. In forest wilderness areas or national park, many natural communities and habitats have been preserved in as pristine a state as possible. As they have existed for thousands of years, these communities exist today. Untainted by any direct impacts of industrialized civilization, they are living preserves where we can experience the natural world.
Indirect effects like smog and acid rain reach and change wilderness areas that are home to many communities and organisms that can exist only in a truly wild state, unfortunately. In search of undisturbed terrain, including the wolf and the grizzly, human presence drives away many species. We can safeguard those species reliant on our remaining wilderness areas for survival, by respecting and learning about them.
The temperature is cold and the rocks are steep, on the east side of the park in the high country.
A varied and rich ecosystem is the mountain world of the North Cascades National Park. A place bound together by the interactions of living communities of animals and plants and by climate and geography. I notice first the dramatic variations: the difference between drier forests of the eastern slope and the lush greenery of the west side; the sharp contrast between twisted and dwarfed krummholz trees of a subalpine ridge and old growth forests of the river valleys. However, not all the differences between habitats are dramatic. As one community and habitat grade almost imperceptibly into another, subtle changes may be noticed.
High Dry Peak
Driving through North Cascades National Park Complex is just awesome! I saw so much sheer beauty, mountains, and water. The experiences and views are priceless but the price of admission was free!
Highway 20 Below
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