The North Cascades National Park, North America’s Alps
“You are a healthy guy but, we are checking you into the hospital. You fractured your femur. Be ready for surgery at 6:30am.” Tom replies, “Really!”. It was just a weird “little” fall off his bike. Post-op instructions are very clear - no weight on his leg for six “long” weeks. Our Utah cycling trip to tour four National Parks just got canceled.
Accompanied by Tom’s handicap pass, we head to the majestic North Cascades National Park Complex instead. Chiseled by glaciers millions of years ago, the peaks are so steep they are nearly perpendicular. Over 300 glaciers miraculously cling to the rugged walls and glisten in the fall sun. The Ross Lake Recreations area – created by Ross, Diablo, and Gorge Dams – and the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area are also administered by the Park. Established in 1968, it’s the newest Park in Washington.
East on North Cascades Highway 20
Highway 530 winds through a lush valley, along the Skagit River, on its way to Highway 20 which is open May through October. Highway 20 ascends through a moss covered forest of Douglas Fir, Western Hemlock and Red Cedar. The majesty of the North Cascades comes into full view prior to reaching Rainy and Washington Passes (over 5000 feet). After summiting, Highway 20 descends through a dry forest of Ponderosa Pine into the beautiful Methow Valley.
Originally the “mine- to- market road”, the Cascade River Road is a perfect 23 mile detour for our “handicap” tour. Accessed at Marblemount, the steep climb begins with 10 paved miles and then turns to gravel. Upon arrival at Cascade Pass, we enjoyed a picnic while gawking at the towering peaks, glaciers, snowfields, and waterfalls.
Beautifully expanded and refurbished, the wood frame lodge sits atop Sun Mountain taking full advantage of the 360 degree views. We loved our “cabin like” room – very nicely appointed - with a westerly facing deck. Dinners – fresh salads and pizza – from the bar were perfect. A full breakfast in the dining room was included (even the tax and tip) in our “fall special”.
Sun Mountain has an extensive trail system for summer hiking or winter snow sports. I enjoyed a four mile walk “out and back” along Lake Patterson. But, my favorite “activity” was to sit by the pool and read “Help” on my new Nook until it got dark. What a treat. This pool gets a “10” based on scenery alone.
West on North Cascades Highway 20
Although we love hiking and cycling in the Parks, this trip gave us a deep appreciation for how well they accommodate everyone. What a gift. 200 miles back to Seattle, we check out spots easily accessible on crutches. Mazama Country store is the first fun stop. Rainy Pass Overlook is next and has an incredible view of rugged peaks – just a ¼ mile trail. Ross Lake Overlook gave only a glimpse of the 23 mile long lake. The Diablo Lake Overlook shows off the beautiful jade green color along with a view of the dam and surrounding peaks. The Visitor Center in Newhalem is our final stop and worth the visit – except the movie. The handicap picnic grounds in the forest were perfect.
“You can begin putting some weight on your leg now – it looks good”, is what Tom hopes to hear on Wednesday. If so, our adventures will continue. We can’t wait to stay at Ross Lake Resort’s floating cabins, and explore the Lake via kayak next spring. This winter we plan to visit the largest bald Eagle population in the lower 48 on the Skagit River between Rockport and Marblemount. 12 Parks down, and 46 to go – Kings Canyon and Sequoia are next.
Finally, in January of 2013 we made it to see the eagles on the Skagit River. Even though it's best in December it was a wonderful experience. There happened to be a reporting and photographer from the Everett Herald along check it out. We'd also highly reccomend Ovenell's Log Cabins to make it a fun overnight adventure.
Check out other National Park visits on our way to reach our goal (now 61) below:
We like to give back to the National Parks through the National Park Foundation.