When to Go
Summer gives the best access, though snow can block high trails into July. The North Cascades Highway, from Ross Dam to beyond Washington Pass, closes in winter. Stehekin, a year-round community, offers winter cross-country skiing.
How to Get There
From Seattle (about 115 miles from the park), take I-5 to Wash. 20, also called the North Cascades Highway. From the east, get on Wash. 20 at Winthrop. To reach Stehekin Valley, either hike over Cascade Pass from the Cascade River Road (two-day hike) or take a ferry, or a chartered floatplane from Chelan, at the southern tip of Lake Chelan. Chelan is on US 97. Airports: Seattle and Bellingham and Wenatchee.
How to Visit
On a day trip, take the North Cascades Highway through the Ross Lake National Recreation Area for an overview of the recreation area's lakes and dams, the park's mountains, and the glacier-fed Skagit River. If you have two days, drive up the 23-mile Cascade River Road (only the first ten miles are paved) and picnic and hike among the park's peaks and alpine meadows. On a longer stay, drive south to Chelan, and take the ferry or fly to Stehekin to overnight in a serene, isolated community or in the backcountry.
Where to Stay
Lodging Inside the Park
Car-Camping Campsites at Newhalem Creek and Colonial Creek campgrounds are offered on a first-come, first-served basis and cost $12 per night. Goodell Creek campground costs $10 per night. Both the Gorge Lake and Hozomeen campgrounds are free. Reservations are available at the group sites at Newhalem Creek and Goodell campsites.
Backcountry Camping: There are dozens of backcountry sites, accessible both by foot and boat. While backcountry camping is free, permits are required and sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Permits must be obtained in person no earlier than one day before your trip. Permits are available at the Wilderness Information Center in Marblemount or at one of the park's ranger stations. Permits are limited in each area, so if you plan to camp on a peak weekend in summer, have a backup site and itinerary in mind.
Hotels: Hotels and lodges in the North Cascades are located in the Ross Lake and Lake Chelan Recreation areas; if you want to stay inside the park, head to one of these resort areas. Lake Chelan has the most options, offering a range of accommodations, from motels to hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, and condo rentals.
Ross Lake Resort, Rockport, Washington. [National Geographic Adventure pick] Located just north of Ross Dam, Ross Lake Resort has 12 individual cabins and three bunkhouses built on log floats. The cabins are completely furnished, although guests must bring their own food—there is no restaurant or store nearby. Guests staying at the resort can rent fishing poles, kayaks, and other recreational equipment for an additional fee.
The Silver Bay Inn in Stehekin offers complimentary bikes and canoes and offers a range of accommodations that sleep two to four guests. Because Stehekin is only accessible by boat or plane, Silver Bay provides transportation to and from the inn and town.
Lodging Outside the Park
Cave B Inn at SageCliffe, Quincy, Washington. (Traveler Stay List pick) Located about two hours south of Chelan, this cliffside winery inn echoes the surrounding hills with curved metal roofs and local basalt rock walls. Floor-to-ceiling guest room windows frame sunsets over the Columbia River Gorge, 900 feet below. Toast your visit with a glass of Cabernet from adjoining Cave B Estate Winery. An organic garden provisions the restaurant.
The bed-and-breakfast at the China Bend Winery offers private accommodation for two to four guests. Visitors can partake in many activities, from drumming to yoga to horseback riding, and learn how to select the perfect wine to complement their four-course organic dinner.
If you pass through the Apple Capital of the World, about an hour south of Chelan, consider a stay at the Huckleberry Heaven Bed and Breakfast. Each of the three rooms includes private bath, wireless Internet, and a full breakfast, where you'll get to sample huckleberry coffee and tea blends, and homemade huckleberry jelly, syrup, and baked goods.
The west side of the Cascade Range is one of the snowiest places on Earth, which over the centuries has led to the formation of glaciers. The east side is much drier, and therefore hotter in summer (Lake Chelan and Stehekin see only 35 inches of rain per year). Before you visit North Cascades, make sure you come prepared with the right equipment—rain gear for the west side, plenty of water for the east side.