North Cascades National Park is a U.S. National Park located in the state of Washington. The park is the largest of the three National Park Service units that comprise the North Cascades National Park Service Complex. Several national wilderness areas and British Columbia parkland adjoin the National Park. The park features rugged mountain peaks and protects portions of the North Cascades range. Sitting on the border of the United States and Canada, the North Cascades National Park covers an area of over 500,000 acres and ranges between 300 and 3,000 metres above sea level. Much of the park is designated as "wilderness," and there are few areas with developed facilities. It is quite close to Bellingham and Seattle, however, providing easy access from urban areas. The park is divided into two non-contiguous sections to the north and south of the North Cascades Highway (State Route 20). Non-hikers are limited to the view from the highway, and a few side roads.
North Cascades National Park is located in portions of Whatcom, Skagit, and Chelan counties in the U.S. state of Washington. Bisected by Ross Lake National Recreation Area, the park consists of two districts; the northern and southern. The northern boundary of the north district is also the international border between the U.S. and Canada; the latter manages adjoining Skagit Valley Provincial Park. The entire eastern and southern boundary of the north district is bordered by Ross Lake NRA. The western side of the north district is bordered by Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest within which lies the Mount Baker and Noisy-Diobsud Wildernesses, both of which border the park. Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest also borders a portion of the southern district of North Cascades National Park, to the southwest. Also along the southwest border lies Wenatchee National Forest, within which lies the Glacier Peak Wilderness. The southern boundary of the park is shared with Lake Chelan NRA, while a small section of the eastern boundary is shared with Okanogan National Forest. The Lake Chelan-Sawtooth Wilderness lies in Wenatchee and Okanogan National Forests along the southeastern park boundary. North Cascades National Park has nearly 2,700 metres of vertical relief, with a park high point atop Goode Mountain and the western valleys situated at only around 120 metres above mean sea level, the park has a highly varied ecosystem, including eight life zones. Erosion from water and glacial ice have made the mountain peaks of the North Cascades some of the steepest mountain ranges in the contiguous U.S., rising between 1,200 and 1,800 metres above their bases. North Cascades National Park is home to over 300 glaciers as well as 300 lakes and is the headwaters for the Skagit, Stehekin and Nooksack Rivers. The ruggedness of the terrain has been an obstacle to urbanization and consequently, North Cascades National Park is almost entirely wilderness though it is but 190 kilometres from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle, Washington.
The North Cascades National Park is a nature lover's paradise. Once can see jagged peaks, alpine meadows, rain forest, and desert. Mount Baker, one of the Cascade volcanoes, is easy to access and also provides views of Mt. Shuksan, arguably the most photographed mountain in the United States.
There are no fees to enter the North Cascades National Park. Spending the night in the back country does require a free permit obtained by registering at a ranger station. Campgrounds have variable fees, often dependent on the time of year and popularity of the campground.
Most people arrive at the park on State Route 20, though this is closed during most of the winter. One can also enter the park on the Mt. Baker highway. Keep in mind that these roads will lead you to trails, but not to a park 'entrance' as one might expect at Mount Rainier National Park.
One can also take a plane or a ferry across Lake Chelan to Stehekin for a more adventurous route. These options will allow you to visit areas of the park that are not accessible by car. You still must travel some miles through the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area to get to the southern boundary of the park. Although there are roads leading out of the town of Stehekin, the ferry cannot accommodate vehicles (only bicycles).
The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is a well known trail that extends along the West coast of the United States, from Mexico to Canada. It passes through California, Oregon, and Washington State.
Most locomotion through the park is human powered, whether it be hiking, skiing, kayaking, or climbing. The wilderness designation of most of the park means that vehicle access is extremely limited.
Staying in the park means sleeping in a campground or in the back country. For those who enjoy their amenities, however, there are more posh accommodations in the countless towns one drives through on the way to the park. One can find anything from hotel rooms to chateaus with hot tubs.
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