On our way to Lake Chelan for the Fourth of July weekend, Bae and I decided to spend a day going through the North Cascades National Park. The North Cascades is home to hundreds of glaciers and actually has more than half of all the glaciers that exist in the US today!
To make the most of our trip, we decided to get an early start before sunrise and head north! I was a bit on the sleepy side for the first hour or so of the drive, until we stopped into a nice small little coffee shop for breakfast near Arlington. Once fueled with caffeine, we were ready to rock!
The North Cascades is actually located all along highway 20. When we were coming around a corner, the sign appeared and Bae shouted, “pull over!” Naturally, I did my best to pull the car over suddenly without accident. One hint for those deciding to make the trek, there is a nice flat iron platform the perfect size of a camera to sit on for those who don’t travel with either a personal photographer or a tripod 😉.
Our first stop in the park was Newhalem. Newhalem is a small company town owned by Seattle City Light. All residents are employees of the Skagit River Hydroelectric project.
As soon as we stepped out of the car we could hear the crackling of the power lines above us.
In the evenings LED lights illuminate the small waterfalls in the area. Bae and I got out and wandered around the area a bit and it was the perfect intro to the park.
Our first stop after Newhalem was the Gorge Overlook. This was a nice little 0.4 mile loop from the parking lot. It was quick and easy and a no-brainer if you are looking to make the most of your time in the park. It offers a great view and is quick and easy. Plus, there’s a restroom with a sturdy door, for a quick bathroom break before hitting some of the longer hikes.
The next stop on the trip was Diablo Lake Overlook. Located on the side of the highway, this requires no hiking or walking, so it is the next “must see”. It provides an amazing view of Diablo Lake.
The water was a gorgeous teal color and the surrounding scenery was just as beautiful (including Bae). It was one of the “must see” stops on the trip when we first started planning, and it did not disappoint.
Next came the meat and potatoes of our trip. Our main hike. Since we only were making a day trip out of the North Cascades, camping was out of the equation, so we wanted to pick a nice challenging hike that would be equipped with rewarding views. Bae did her homework (as usual) and picked out a winner. Described as the best “bang for your buck”, we chose Heather Maple Pass Loop hike, a 7.2 mile round trip loop (duh).
We’re not sure if it was because it was a Thursday morning, it’s just a hidden gem, or the North Cascades are just a bit more empty than we expected, but it felt like we had the trail to ourselves. There were others around, but nobody was stepping on each other or passing each other constantly. Everybody had their own space and it was very relaxing.
The hike felt like it was 4 portions: forest, rocks, switchbacks, and snow – yes lots of snow in July.
We started out venturing through the shaded forest. And soon found ourselves under the sun walking through thin dirt trails and walking over rocks. Every so often there would be a tiny creek running down the mountain that we would walk through. We also saw A TON of lavender. Everywhere you looked, lavender! About halfway up the mountain, we stopped to take in Lake Ann from above.
We continued on through switchbacks until we made it toHeather Pass, about 2.5 miles from the trailhead, the first of two passes. After a quick water break, we plunged on!
Now we entered snow territory. Equipped in our running shoes, we were ready to take on the snow! As we walked the snow just kept on coming. We got to a point where the trail was flagged to have us continue off the path to preserve growing wild flowers. Of course we abided (plus the trail was non existent at this point). The flags lasted about 30 seconds and then it was a free for all.
Bae and I trudged through powdery snow, packed snow, fresh snow, and bloody snow (brownish red snow). I thought it was brown, Bae called it red and that made me think it was blood, so we’re going to go with bloody snow. After climbing, falling, and siding through a mountain side of snow, we finally waved the white flag and deemed the trail un-explorable (plus we saw an experienced hiker standing about a quarter miles ahead of us staring at the mountain having no clue where to go next). We cut our losses and headed back down. But not before we managed to take in the beauty, not quite from the top.
Overall, it was an excellent hike. We will have to make a trip back and complete the loop when it’s later in the summer season. The views are still worth the trip, and making your own way in the snow is actually fun. Even without completing the hike as written, we still enjoyed it and made the best of it. There is really nothing to complain about when exploring the North Cascades with somebody like Bae.
Finally, we ended with looking out over Washington Pass. It was the perfect cap to the park. Just a great view from up above with one side facing the lakes and the other facing the curving highway and Cascades. Bae and I took in the sights and felt very at ease and accomplished.
We ended our trip with a pitstop in Winthrop for some burgers and coffee. To our surprise, we stumbled into an old candy shop after our meal. Bae introduced me to seafoam and I must say, it is quite the treat. Foamy sugary candy covered in chocolate. What’s not to like?! We also ate chocolate covered gummy bears (on my Mount Rushmore of candy) and reminisced about our childhood while we ate Zotz, the foaming hard candies. And no trip in Winthrop would be complete without a little artwork – both wood carved and chalk!
Overall, our trip to the North Cascades National Park was an outstanding one. We would both highly recommend it to anybody looking to get away from Seattle and take in some beautiful sites and enjoy some hiking. The only complaint we both shared – not enough nachos or cheeseburgers! 1 down, 58 to go!