North Cascades National Park, Washington

Last week Tom and I headed to a new National Park – a place we have never been – North Cascades National Park.  While we are still in Washington, we are visiting as many national park sites as possible.  Because there are so many, we have to hit about one every day before we head to Hawaii in October.

North Cascades National Park is a regional complex of spectacular beauty and remote hiking trails.  Because the area is so vast, it is managed by several groups within the Department of the Interior.  The National Park Service looks after North Cascades National Park, Ross Lake National Recreation Area, and Lake Chelan National Recreation Area.  The Forestry Department supervises Mount Baker-Snoqualmie, Wenatchee and Okanogan National Forests.  The Bureau of Land Management oversees the Pasayten and Mount Baker Wilderness areas.  With three provincial parks bordering the area in Canada, there is an area about the size of the state of Delaware that has few towns, fewer roads, and even fewer visitors.

The one road through the North Cascades complex, Washington Route 20, doesn’t even touch North Cascades National Park.  The North Cascades Visitors Center is in the Ross Lake National Recreation Area.  So, unless you are hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, you probably won’t spend much time in North Cascades National Park.

We drove US Route 20, the North Cascades Scenic Highway, from Anacortes to Twisp.  As we drove we climbed higher and higher into the mountains.  We went through several towns called “Concrete,” “Marblemount,” and “Rockport.”  Do you notice a theme?  Not only are the names hard, it looked like a difficult place to live.  We lost our cell signal in Concrete and didn’t get it back until Chelan – 176 miles later.

Our first stop was the North Cascades National Park Visitors Center.  Unfortunately the bridge to the Visitors Center was closed and we couldn’t get there.  Fortunately the Visitors Center had relocated to the Information Center in Newhalem, so we headed there.

The train that pulled all the supplies up the Skagit Valley
Skagit River
Tom bouncing the bridge
The bridge and river
Power Plant
Val generating electricity
Turbines in the power plant
Temple to Power
Skagit and temporary North Cascades Visitor Center

Newhalem was a town built in the 1920’s by the Skagit Power Company to generate hydroelectric power in the area.  The only people who lived in town then – or now – are people who work for the power company.  We found the Information Center, got our stamps, and talked to the Ranger.

We went walking on two trails built and maintained by the power company.  The first was the Trail of Cedars which had beautiful, ancient cedar trees that towered over us.  Signs interpreted the forest and a fire that took place over 50 years ago.  It was raining, so we really felt like we were in a verdant rain forest.

Then we walked to the Powerhouse which had a very nice little Visitors Center explaining the building of the hydroelectric plant and the town.  This plant, along with two others on the Skagit River, provide 40% of the electricity needed in the Seattle area.

We walked on a trail behind the Powerhouse called the Waterfall Trail.  The trail climbed 150 feet up a creek to a beautiful little waterfall and series of cascades.  The sun came out which made it even more pleasant.

Our final stop in Newhalem was the General Store which had a small deli and grocery basics.  Several of the power plant workers stopped in to grab some lunch or snacks.  We also saw a community center, a post office, and a library.  The town is pretty much unchanged since the 1920’s – still very remote.

What else did we see and do in the North Cascades complex?  To find out you will have to read the blog again tomorrow!