North Cascades National Park is more than half a million acres of glacial wilderness located in northwest Washington. It is Washington's largest national park, and its northern border is also the border of Canada. North Cascades is part of the Cascades Mountain Range that goes from California to British Columbia. The National Park's stretch is home to more than 300 glaciers, beautiful lakes, and old-growth forests.
The best way to see North Cascades National Park is via Highway 20, which runs right through the park for about 30 miles and follows the Skagit River to Ross Lake and then Ross Creek to the western edge of the park. Here's a map of Highway 20 and the best stops in North Cascades National Park:
It's a pretty sparse section of Washington, except for visitors centers, trailheads, and campgrounds, so make sure to get gas in Marblemount in the west or Winthrop if you're coming from the east. The one other thing you'll see, which is an interesting note about this area, is the hydroelectric work. There are three dams (Ross, Diablo, and Gorge) that take advantage of the 1,100-foot drop the Skagit River makes and produce massive amounts of electricity. More on that below.
Ross Dam Overlook Trail
The first stop I made was at Ross Dam. The 2.5-mile roundtrip hike from the trailhead on the highway to the dam was steep (560 feet elevation gain) and probably not worth the effort unless you are really passionate about hydrology. Still, the water was beautiful, and it was a nice walk over some charming bridges and small waterfalls. Here's a picture of the dam, or what I call, the forbidden waterslide:
The biggest draw of North Cascades National Park is Lake Diablo. It's odd because Ross Lake is much bigger (18 square miles compared to 1.5), but it's less green and picturesque. Ross Lake also has much more activity on it, cabins and rental companies and such, whereas Diablo Lake is less developed. I saw a few kayakers on the water and some kids on the beach trying to skip stones.
Newhalem's Electrified Forest
My favorite part of North Cascades National Park was a hike called Ladder Creek Falls and Garden. This trail wraps up around the hydroelectric plant, the "Powerhouse," where you can find a small waterfall and a garden in varying states of disrepair. The "Electrified Forest" was a tourist attraction of sorts that sought to turn people onto the idea of electricity. The creator (more on J.D. below) planted tropical species and used electricity to warm the ground in hopes of keeping the plants alive.
I don't know how long it was kept up, or if it worked, but it's clearly not still operational. The "garden" is more of an abandoned forest, the pools are all dried up, and the wooden bridges instilled little confidence. The trail looked less like an over-industrial forest and more like the trees took over whatever had been built and left behind. Either way, I enjoyed seeing nature overcome this misguided development. Though I do have to say that the constant hum of electrical wires was a bit disconcerting.
The Ross Crypt
There was also this odd tidbit in Newhalem. It's a crypt inlaid into the stone and hidden (slightly) in a forest next to the main road. I was eager to see it because I thought it was so strange, and it was easy to find thanks to its own little sidewalk. When I arrived though, I was less amused.
I mean, I learned that J.D. was responsible for the dam project and designed the plant and all, but still. J.D. gets this whole diatribe from the President about how cool he was, and then Alice is just his wife? The epitome of the patriarchy in one picture. Regrettably, I was unsuccessfully in learning anything else more interesting about Alice.