Planning a trip to the North Cascades and looking for a simple-to-follow guide? Let me start by saying, you have picked an absolutely incredible spot to spend time exploring! The North Cascades are a mountain range located in northern Washington spanning from the Canadian border and the state of Washington. This wilderness area is known for its 300 glaciers, extremely unique/vibrant alpine lake colors, and epic hiking. One of the highlights of this area is North Cascades National Park. While this National Park certainly contains beautiful, must-see sites in the Cascade range, there is also much to see beyond the borders of the park!
I’m going to lay out a 3-day guide to the North Cascades assuming you’re traveling in the summer months. I recommend summer simply because the main highway through the park closes during winter months due to snowfall. You’ll also want to keep in mind that many places, while appearing close in proximity on a map, are actually quite a drive due to the mountainous terrain. The more you want to see in this area, the more you’ll need to drive. Let’s get to it!
*Plan extra time around these three days to factor in travel so you have 3 full days to explore!*
Morning: Start your time by entering North Cascades National Park! Make sure you have a park map, and lace up those hiking boots! Enjoy your drive through the park as you prepare for your first hike.
Easier option: Rainy Lake Trail – 2 mile out + back with 130 feet of elevation gain
More difficult option: Maple Pass Trail – 6.5 mile loop with 2,200 feet of elevation gain
Both of these hikes start + end at the same trailhead!
Afternoon: After a morning of hiking, head to the Diablo Lake Lookout to enjoy an afternoon picnic. The water is most vibrant midday when the sun is shining on it – soak in those views!
Evening: Rent paddleboards/kayaks on Ross Lake
Lodging: I recommend reserving a campsite in the National Park for night one. Reserve as early as possible since spots fill up quickly!
Morning: Get an early start to head out for another epic hiking adventure! This time, you will be hiking slightly on the outskirts of the park in Mount Baker National Forest.
Easier option: Sauk Mountain Trail – 4 miles with 1,200 feet elevation gain
More difficult option: Hidden Lake Lookout (a fire lookout) – roughly 10 miles with 3,400 feet elevation gain
Hikes are within 1 hour of each other
Afternoon: If you chose the easier trail, you can take the afternoon to have a beach day at Ross in the park. If you chose the more difficult trail, plan to be hiking into the late afternoon!
Evening: Grab a post-hike dinner at Mondo in Marblemount.
Lodging: I recommend either getting a hotel or camping near Marblemount.
Campsite options –
Morning: Wake up nice + early to head to the Mount Baker wilderness. Take an easy hike to Artist Point – 4 miles out + back with roughly 900 feet elevation gain.
Afternoon: Relax at the campground, or make the drive to check out Mount Baker vineyards & winery.
Evening: Enjoy a dinner picnic and sunset at Picture Lake!
Lodging: Campsite options –
1. Douglas Fir Campground (first come first serve)
While there are numerous other amazing spots to see in the Cascade range, this is your most ideal 3-day itinerary to get the most out of your time in the area! For bonus tips not included in this article, be sure to subscribe at the link below!
Looking to level up your hiking to take on tough trails year round?