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3-Minute Read: Backpacking 80 Miles Through the North Cascades National Park Complex

Posted On December 22, 2016 at 7:14 am by / Comments Off on 3-Minute Read: Backpacking 80 Miles Through the North Cascades National Park Complex

By Michael Lanza

I decided to tackle a big piece of unfinished business this fall. Over the course of several backpacking and climbing trips in Washington’s North Cascades region over the years, I had yet to explore the very heart of the North Cascades National Park Complex, a sprawling swath of heavily glaciated mountains and deep, thickly forested valleys. So in the last week of September, with huckleberries ripe and tasty beside the trails, and the fall color giving the larch trees the appearance of glowing yellow in sunlight, my friend Todd Arndt and I set out for an 80-mile stroll.


Rainbow Lake, North Cascades.

Rainbow Lake reflecting larch trees, North Cascades National Park Complex.

Over five sunny, glorious, Indian-summer days, we backpacked from Easy Pass Trailhead to Bridge Creek Trailhead, including the out-and-back side trip up the North Fork of Bridge Creek. Our grand tour took us from virgin forests of giant cedars, hemlocks, and Douglas firs and moss-carpeted ground in the Fisher Creek and Thunder Creek valleys, to the drier forests east of the Cascade crest. We crossed four passes—Easy, Rainbow, McAlester, and boulder-strewn Park Creek Pass, where we saw waterfalls pouring off cliffs and glaciers patiently flowing down rocky, snowy peaks.

The North Cascades National Park Complex includes the park itself—nearly 700,000 acres, 93 percent of which is designated as the Stephen Mather Wilderness—as well as the adjoining Ross Lake and Lake Chelan national recreation areas. The North Cascades region is home to about 60 percent of all the glaciers in the Lower 48 (many of them, sadly, disappearing fast due to climate change).

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North Cascades region has long been one of my favorite mountain ranges (and the park has one of the most inspiring backcountry campsites I’ve ever slept in).

But not many hikers and backpackers know much about North Cascades, one of America’s least-visited national parks. That’s good if you like solitude and a park where it’s easy to get a backcountry permit (no reservation needed—just show up and go).

In the photo gallery below, I share images from our 80-mile hike through this relatively unknown park.


Easy Pass Trail, North Cascades.
Fisher Creek Trail, North Cascades.
Near Rainbow Pass, North Cascades.
Fisher Creek Trail, North Cascades.
Bridge Creek, North Cascades.
Fisher Creek Trail, North Cascades.
Thunder Creek Trail, North Cascades.
Nearing Park Creek Pass, North Cascades.
Rainbow Lake, North Cascades.

Park Creek Pass, North Cascades.

I’ll post a feature story about our 80-mile hike through the North Cascades National Park Complex, with many more photos, a video, and trip-planning information, later at The Big Outside.


The right backpack makes all of your trips easier. See my 10 favorite packs for backpacking.


Meanwhile, see all of my stories about the North Cascades, including this photo gallery from past hiking and backpacking trips there, and “Exploring the ‘American Alps:’ The North Cascades.” The broader North Cascades region also includes the magnificent Glacier Peak Wilderness to the south of the park.


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