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Summer trip to NCNP

Chicago, Illinois
13 posts
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Summer trip to NCNP

Hi everyone,

My boyfriend and I are thinking about taking a summer trip to North Cascades National Park. First, I'm a little concerned about the destination. I'm a worrywart, but I've heard NCNP described as "complete wilderness" and "not the best for greenhorns." We're not experienced backpackers and probably won't even camp. Should we be worried? I know the Cascades Highway washed out last winter and stranded some hikers. Is this rare? We'll probably be driving a sedan rental car. Will we be fine on the roads?

Second, if we go ahead with the trip, which month would have the best weather: July, August, or September? I can't seem to find average temperatures anywhere, but we'd like to avoid temps over 85.

Thanks for your help, and I hope this post doesn't sound too ridiculous!

Port Angeles, WA
Destination Expert
for Olympic National Park
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10,845 posts
18 reviews
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1. Re: Summer trip to NCNP

The best way to deal with your worries is to do a lot of research. Get a guidebook or two from your library and read up on the park and the trails you want to hike. That being said, I can throw in a little advice right now. September will give you the best weather, but mid to late August would be good, too. Your car will be fine. Don't camp if you are uncomfortable with the idea. There are places to stay, although you will have to spend some time driving to trails. If your budget runs to the upper end, Sun Mountain Lodge in Winthrop is wonderful.

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Sun Mountain Lodge
Sun Mountain Lodge
567 Reviews
Winthrop, WA
Winthrop
Winthrop
Washington
Poulsbo, Washington
Destination Expert
for Olympic National Park
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10,771 posts
8 reviews
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2. Re: Summer trip to NCNP

If you are not experienced backpackers you may want to car camp. Temps of 85 degrees in our mountains are very very very rare! There are some nice campgrpounds. It does mean of course hauling a lot of gear. I would not rule out Olympic or Rainier. NCNP is more remote and further from acommadations. All three Parks are wilderness areas and very wild. All three are gems.

Chicago, Illinois
13 posts
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3. Re: Summer trip to NCNP

Thanks for the advice! glaciermeadows, we're visiting Olympic at the end of April. Can't wait to see the Hoh Rainforest. Although I like the idea of visiting Rainier, my boyfriend seems dead set on visiting North Cascades NP simply because it is so remote. I have a feeling that Rainier would be just as fulfilling, but we're both something of misanthropes, and I've heard Rainier attracts insane crowds during the summer. Any advice on weather we'd be OK during a mid-September weekend?

Poulsbo, Washington
Destination Expert
for Olympic National Park
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10,771 posts
8 reviews
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4. Re: Summer trip to NCNP

Generally mid September is good weatherwise. Sun is never guaranteed here. Rainier in mid September is not that crowded, especially if you Can avoid a weekend. You will run into less people in the North Cascades, but it is also the least easy to explore of the three NP's IMO. Great Park though.

I am assuming you have picked April for Olympic because of school holidays? If you have a choice I would go latter. April is early forour rainforests. The Hoh will be beautiful in April, but the explosion of new growth happens latter. If you have time also include the Quinault Rainforest. Unlike the Hoh you can find acommadations right in the rainforest.

Chicago, Illinois
13 posts
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5. Re: Summer trip to NCNP

Unfortunately we can't avoid a weekend due to work, but I'm sure we'll enjoy ourselves no matter where we end up.

We were hoping to visit Olympic later, but we got a very good fare--$120 one-way from Chicago to Seattle--that only ran through April 30. We'll also look into the Quinault Rainforest! Thanks for your help!

Edited: 20 December 2013, 06:19
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Chicago
Chicago
Illinois
Seattle
Seattle
Washington
Mukilteo, Washington
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136 posts
36 reviews
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6. Re: Summer trip to NCNP

The NCNP is a great destination even if you don't plan to camp. there is a driving route called the Cascade Loop , http://www.cascadeloop.com/ , that yes, occasionally is closed in summer, but that is very very rare.

the towns of Winthrop, Lake Chelan and Leavenworth are each tourist destinations in their own rite and can provide you with accomodation options. There are lots of campgrounds, but some do fill pretty fast in the summer, all can be reserved in advance through the national forest service.

July should be fine weather wise, but august and september will see the snow gone from the high country and open up more options for day hikes and wildflowers. Temps in the high country almost never get above 85, but over in eastern washington they do. also it's windy along the Columbia river.

Try to do Maple Pass , http://www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/maple-pass , or cascade pass,http://www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/hike_search?title=cascade+pass&region=all&rating=0&mileage%3Aint=0&elevationgain%3Aint=0&highpoint=&searchabletext=&sort=&show_adv=0&filter=Search , 2 of the most awesome dayhikes anywhere.

Be mindful of filling your tank in towns though, there can be distances between facilities along the North cascades hiway.

Enjoy.

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Winthrop
Winthrop
Washington
Lake Chelan
Lake Chelan
267 Reviews
Chelan, WA
Leavenworth
Leavenworth
Washington
Spokane, Washington
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786 posts
12 reviews
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7. Re: Summer trip to NCNP

Julie, if your trip has to be completed by April 30 (per post #5), North Cascade may not be an option for you. SR 20 (NC section) opens, on average, late April.

Otherwise, I vote Sept. as the best month to come as well. Regular car traveling on SR20 during summer season is not any more problematic than other NP.

Seattle, Wa
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5,309 posts
44 reviews
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8. Re: Summer trip to NCNP

Hi, Julia,

A little extra info that might help clarify things. When people talk about the park being remote, wilderness, etc, it's because with the single exception of the unpaved (but generally good) Cascade River Road, that ends at the Cascade Pass trailhead, the only access into the park is on foot. The highway, the visitor centers, the more accessible hikes, none of these are actually in the national park. They are in adjacent National Park Service or National Forest lands, but not technically in NCNP. Most people aren't even aware of this and plenty of tourists have a fine time sightseeing on the highway, doing short hikes from the highway, and then staying in the Methow Valley (Winthrop, Mazama) before heading back. So don't feel like you need to be hardcore backpackers to have a good time in the North Cascades--that's really the case for those who want to explore North Cascades National Park itself, but there are plenty of other, superbly scenic parts of the North Cascades outside the park that are easier to explore.

If you really want to get inside the park, the Cascade Pass trail is not difficult at all for anyone in decent shape, and as I already mentioned the road is generally fine for rental cars. That washout last year was very unusual.

Edited: 23 December 2013, 19:03
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Cascade Pass
Cascade Pass
40 Reviews
North Cascades National Park, WA
Winthrop
Winthrop
Washington
Seattle, Washington
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9. Re: Summer trip to NCNP

I have misanthropic tendencies myself, and without a doubt the best way to satisfy them in the North Cascades is to strap on a pack. However, there are a couple truly unique experiences in the heart of the North Cascades that would satisfy you without strapping on a pack, but they both have their challenges.

The first is the Ross Lake Resort (http://www.rosslakeresort.com/). No roads lead to this place - you can walk in or they'll pick you up on a boat. It's used by a mix of anglers and wilderness lovers. You can rent a boat (small motor or canoe) for the day and you can go even deeper into the mountains where nobody will find you. You'll see some of the biggest peaks of the North Cascades without lugging a pack. The lodge itself will have some people around, but there are only so many rooms, and therein lies the beauty and the challenge. Reservations go way early, and next summer's weekends may already be booked up.

The second is the North Cascades Institute (http://ncascades.org). There is a road to this place, but it's a small one, and the location is similarly in the heart of the mountains, also on a lake. It's technically an educational institution, but feels more like an upscale, modern summer camp (separate dining hall, sleeping cabins, etc.). Not sure when it was built, but we visited last summer and the buildings are nice - it still feels very new. They do offer adult weekend courses, but they also will let you stay in the cabins when they're not otherwise in use. This is called their "base camp" option and you can read about it here: ncascades.org/signup/programs/base-camp . There are fewer easy options "out your back door" here than there are at Ross Lake Resort, but there are some for the hearty, and there are plenty of options if you don't mind using your car to access them during your stay.

Although not nearly as in-the-heart-of-the-mountains as the above two options, there are also excellent accommodations in Mazama, and they come without the availability challenges of the above two options. You will definitely avoid any sort of crowd there (except maybe Labor Day weekend at the store). Mazama is hardly even a town- it's a crossroads with a general store, two inns, and some cabins.

A couple other random thoughts about crowds:

* you're already avoiding them if you choose anywhere in the North Cascades. "Crowds" in the same sense as Paradise Inn at Rainier or Lake Quinault Lodge at Olympic simply don't exist here. OTOH, both Rainier and Olympic are vast parks full of plenty of areas just as remote as the North Cascades- you just have to know where to go. Post in one of those forums and you'll get plenty of tips.

* some of the biggest crowds you'll see in the North Cascades are boy scout groups (they love the campgrounds that dot Ross Lake, btw). If you go after school starts (Labor Day), then you'll reduce even further the number of people around.

Edited: 31 December 2013, 19:07
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Ross Lake Resort
Ross Lake Resort
32 Reviews
North Cascades National Park, WA
10. Re: Summer trip to NCNP

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