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In the untouched wilderness of the North Cascades, it’s easy to imagine you’ve traveled back to a time before human civilization, when the loudest sounds are made by the waterfalls, the stars send out the brightest lights, and only the trees and mountains hem you in.

The jagged peaks of the North Cascade Range are home to more biodiverse plant life than any other national park. Outside Alaska, it’s also where you’ll find the most glaciers—a third of those in the Lower 48. As you’d expect in such a wild landscape, there are endless backcountry adventures to be had, with hundreds of miles of trails finding their way to unspoiled meadows and lakes, which you may well have to yourself.

A last bastion of untamed wilderness, this barely developed park is a fantastic place to escape the modern world. Here is an unmediated experience of nature: rugged backcountry hikes, awesome scenery, and primitive camping in remote places—like the Desolation Peak fire lookout, which inspired Beatnik writer Jack Kerouac to spend 63 days here in 1956. The hiking trails deliver sonnet-worthy views of spiny mountain peaks, alpine lakes, fields of wildflowers, and the iconic larch trees that turn brilliant red-gold in the fall.

Campgrounds are hike-in only, and just one paved road gives access. If you’re up for adventure, the park’s two sections are divided by the Skagit River and form part of a complex that includes the Lake Chelan recreation area. From the town of Chelan, head to trails in the southern section by taking a foot-passenger-only ferry, Lady of the Lake, across Lake Chelan to the tiny, otherwise inaccessible Stehekin village, sited on an old Salish trade route.

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The North Cascades Lodge at Stehekin houses a small shop, a restaurant, and several rooms for rent

Best Hikes

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Cascade Pass ▷ 3.5 miles (5.5 km) round trip. This popular route has the only trailhead you can drive to. Enjoy a day hike with views in all directions along an easy path that starts near Marblemount. Follow the route used for generations by indigenous peoples, early traders, and prospectors. For a more arduous hike, extend the trip to Sahale Glacier—12 miles (19 km) in total.

Easy Pass 7.5 miles (12 km) round trip.The name may be deceptive, but, even so, this trek makes for a gorgeous day hike, with spectacular views of glaciers off Mount Logan, and a great place for viewing fall colors.

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Maple Pass ▷ 7 miles (11km) loop trail. From the Rainy Lake trailhead off Highway 20, this is particularly pleasing when fall foliage is in full swing. The trailhead offers options for shorter trails.

Rainy Lake 1.8 miles (3 km) round trip. This rare wheelchair-accessible hike in the Cascades is on paved path through forest. It ends at a picnic-perfect lake flanked by cliffs and waterfalls.

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The Excelsior Ridge Trail is one of the best places to stop and marvel at Mount Shucksan, in the north of the park

Did You Know?

The name “Stehekin” comes from a Salish word meaning “the way through.”

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