The peaks of the North Cascades are so rugged and vertical that these mountains are sometimes called the American Alps. Like the European Alps, North Cascades National Park attracts scores of mountaineers, hikers, and backpackers.
In 1814, trapper Alexander Ross wrote of this rugged terrain: "A more difficult route to travel never fell to man's lot." The names of some of the mountains in the region attest to the hardships they imposed on early trappers and prospectors: Damnation Peak, Mount Despair, Mount Fury, Forbidden Peak, and Desolation Peak.
Stehekin Valley is a glacial-carved defile of magical scenery in the south end of North Cascades National Park. It has been a mecca for visitors seeking a mountain hideaway since the turn of the century.
One of the valley's most unusual options is wilderness camping without backpacking: Shuttle buses take campers to one of several backcountry areas where overnight camping is permitted.
North Cascades National Park Photo Opportunities
In North Cascades National Park, there are numerous sites of historic interest and natural beauty that attract the attention of landscape photographers. If you're hoping to snap some pictures while visiting the park, here are some spots to consider:
- Stehekin Valley: The shores of Lake Chelan in this valley are home to the tiny community of Stehekin. With no roads to the area, visitors must arrive by passenger ferry, float plane, foot, horseback, or private boat.
- Lake Chelan: Lake Chelan, the heart of the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area, is 55 miles long and has 16 docks to accommodate boaters. With so much pristine shoreline, photo opportunities abound.
- Buckner Homestead: Encompassing 90 acres, this site near Stehekin includes dozens of outbuildings and an orchard dating back to 1925. Those interested in taking historical types of photos will find everything they need at this spot.
- Ross Lake: Photos come easy at Ross Lake. A road through the area around this lake gives visitors ready access to the sights of both the North and South Cascades.
Hiking to Cascade Pass There is only one paved road that runs all the way through the park, the North Cascades Highway. As the road climbs higher and higher, the landscape changes from alder forests to huge groves of towering Douglas firs, then to forests of pine, larch, and hemlock, and finally, flowering alpine meadows and a high windy pass. From this point, hikers can set off on an old trail to 5,384-foot Cascade Pass atop a ridge covered with alpine meadows.
In the high meadows, black-tailed and mule deer graze; black bears look for huckleberries, which they rake into their mouths, vine and all, with their claws; and stout marmots sunbathe on rocks. Some lucky visitors catch a glimpse of mountain goats clambering on high rocky crags.
They rely on soft cupped pads on their hoofs to give them their incredible traction. Throughout the park roam bobcats, which you will seldom see, and secretive mountain lions. Sleek and tawny, these big cats prey on deer and other mammals, helping to keep the wildlife population in balance.
The North Cascades region has been inhabited for at least 8,000 years. On the next page, you'll learn about the history of these mountains and valleys.