North Cascades Is The Best National Park You’ve Never Heard Of

03.04.19 3 weeks ago

Nathaniel Wise

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I’d never heard of North Cascades National Park when I set out to write this. Not that that’s entirely surprising. It’s one of America’s five least visited national parks. It’s only three hours from Seattle and yet the park only draws 20-30 thousand visitors per year. For comparison sake, Washington’s more popular parks, Mt. Rainier and Olympic get two and three million visitors per year, respectively.

The knee-jerk reaction might be to wonder if this park is just a little blah, but one photo banishes that thought. It’s not just beautiful, North Cascades is almost unreal — composed entirely of sweeping landscapes, looming mountains, and ethereal bodies of water. Those who visit the park in person seem to have an almost cult-like obsession with it.

“I did a backpacking trip up there a few years ago, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since,” Uproxx’s Lisa Dunn says. “It grabs hold of you and truly won’t let go.”

This kind of rabid fandom for an un-visited national park is exactly the sort of thing we’re trying to get under the skin of this month on Uproxx. We’re trading the well-known travel favorites for less-famous experiences and locales. To help us explore North Cascades, we enlisted adventure photographer, Nathaniel Wise — whose stunning photos truly capture the scope and large-scale beauty of the Pacific Northwest.

For Wise, who moved to Washington from Georgia a little over three years ago, North Cascades isn’t just his favorite park, it’s an example of the type of scenery that made him take up photography in the first place. Glaciers, waterfalls, crystalline lakes, towering snow-capped mountains — his photos of the park are epic in scale and raw in beauty, two qualities that any bold adventurer ought to be intrigued by. Check out Wise’s guide to North Cascades National Park below, then start making plans for your own trip.

Drive:

Nathaniel Wise

FROM WISE: Washington can get a little crowded sometimes, there are a ton of people out hiking in the summertime. So anywhere I could go that was less accessible I was more excited about. I found North Cascades by exploring around, but the reason I was drawn to it was because of that lack of crowds.

If you’re just passing through there are some cool lookouts that you can drive to on North Cascades Scenic Highway — it goes through the park and loops around to another part of the cascades. That’s always cool to do.

DETAILS: To get to North Cascades from Seattle you can take I-5 to exit 230 (North Cascades Highway/State Route 20 East). Highway 20 is the scenic byway and will take you right through the park. Another (super cool) way to get there is by train, the Amtrak Cascades arrives twice daily.

If you decide to drive the scenic byway, make sure to stop for pictures at the Diablo Lake Overlook, Gorg Creek Falls, and Washington Pass. If you’re traveling in late July or early August, consider making a detour to see an incredible wildflower bloom in Hart’s Pass (Turn off Hwy 20 and follow signs to Mazama. Forest Service Road 5400 will take you to Hart’s Pass. This is best done in a vehicle that can handle gravel roads).

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