North Cascades: Cloudy With a Chance of Stunning Beauty


Pic 1: This was just after we crossed over Easy Pass. It was pretty surreal.


If you've heard anything about North Cascades National Park, you've probably heard it's littered with stunning mountain passes and beautiful rows of jagged peaks. And yeah, that pretty well sums it up. Unfortunately for us, the passes and mountain peaks were largely shrouded by clouds while we were there. We would have been disappointed but it almost led our eyes to other portions of the scenery, which we soon discovered, was equally as lovely (see picture of mountain flowers above, more mushrooms below, etc.).


The first piece of advice I can give for any North Cascade backpackers is to plan and get your backpacking permit in advance. This can be done on on the National Park Service website (https://www.nps.gov/noca/planyourvisit/backcountry-reservations.htm). Reservations are requested in January of each year. They distribute all the reservable backcountry permits then, so if you miss this reservation period, you'll be resigned to walk up permits only. We started planning our trip in March thinking we were way ahead of the summer bustle and we couldn't have been more wrong. Fortunately, they save 1/3 of site capacity for walk ups so it's very feasible to secure a quality itinerary with walk up permits still... We did exactly that!


The logistics of booking walk up permit can be challenging, particularly with a larger group, so I recommend selecting at least a handful of routes that you are interested in advance, as you may not be granted your first, second or even third choice.


We headed up early morning from Seattle to the Marblemount Wilderness Information Center (https://goo.gl/maps/39kjWfr2pFTBAMKo6). It's an easy 2-2.5 hr drive from Seattle. You can plan and book your permit there with a group of very friendly, knowledgeable park rangers. Because walk up permits are first come first served, we made sure to get there nice and early (Station opened at 7am). They let you book a day in advance too so we arrived on a Thursday in order to book a three day trek Friday-Sunday.

 

Thornton Lake Hike


Once we had secured our backpacking permit (backpacking to start the next day), we went off on our merry way to find some mountains to climb. We found a nice little out and back trek to Thornton Lakes which was just up Highway 20 from Marblemount Ranger station. The hike to the lakes was 5.4 miles each way but you could cut at least a mile out of that and still get some incredible views.


Pic 2: Thornton Lakes, with a couple of dorks blocking the view

 

Car Camping Night One: Marble Creek Campground


Because we suspected we'd be car camping Thursday night before we started our backpacking trek on Friday, I had booked a night of car camping at the Marble Creek Campground. Bookings can be arranged at https://www.recreation.gov/camping/campgrounds/233862 very easily. This site was about a 6 mile drive down the road from Marblemount Wilderness Information Center, much of which was gravel road. It was very well maintained so basically any vehicle could successfully make the trek (maybe leave the Porsche at home).


Pic 3: Marble Creek Campground


We absolutely lucked out with this site. It was nestled right along the Cascade River (above) which is glacier fed, crystal clear and absolutely beautiful.

 

Backpacking Trek


As I mentioned, we did a 2.5 day, 3 night backpacking trip. We started at the Easy Pass Trailhead located on Highway 20 (https://www.google.com/maps/place/5879+State+Rte+20,+Winthrop,+WA+98862/@48.5879035,-120.8050887,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x5484af958fff14df:0x64617ef6266faf3f!8m2!3d48.5879!4d-120.8029).


Day 1: Easy Pass Trailhead to Cosho Campground


Day one was by far the most challenging, but also filled with the best views. The ones over Easy Pass were partly obscured by clouds but still incredible.


Pic Collage 1: The way up

Pic Collage 2: The way down


We stayed the night at Cosho Campground which was right along Fisher Creek, with easy access to water and had really well established campgrounds with lots of logs for seating. There were mushrooms everywhere nestled between the lush forest.




Day 2: Cosho Campground to McAllister Campground


This was a pretty easy day, all slow downhill cruise the whole way filled with more mushrooms, and dense forest.


Collage 3: Cruising through the valley and finally found the sun!

  • Rating: 🥾🥾

  • Hike Length: 8.6 miles

  • Elevation Gain: ~900 ft downhill

  • Difficulty: Easy

For some reason we hardly took any pictures at McAllister Campground... It was a bigger campground so we did have neighbors. It was also a little bit of a walk to Thunder Creek to get water (1/4 mile roughly). However, the spots we did fill water at were gorgeous. Thunder Creek was also crystal clear with some absolutely incredible rock formations and rapids.



Day 3: McAllister Campground to Colonial Creek Campground Parking Lot


We were all flying out of Seattle this evening so we woke up early, crushed the 6.6 miles out and hit the road. It was a slow steady 1200 ft downhill trek to the Colonial Creek Campsite Parking (https://www.google.com/maps/place/Thunder+Creek+Trailhead/@48.6865407,-121.0974398,16.92z/data=!4m12!1m6!3m5!1s0x548493aaaaaaaaab:0x7e758e8c6ada51df!2sColonial+Creek+Campground!8m2!3d48.6903649!4d-121.1000135!3m4!1s0x5484bdef1f21f829:0x9fa00b718e09c4b3!8m2!3d48.6851495!4d-121.0928086) lot where we had parked our second car in advance. We did it in about 2.5 hrs which was not at all challenging.

  • Rating: 🥾

  • Hike Length: 6.6 miles

  • Elevation Gain: 1200 ft downhill

  • Difficulty: Easy

 

The Drive Home

The drive home was also incredible so had to include some of the pictures



And some extras just for funzies...


 

Take Home Tips (most pertinent/non-obvious).

  • Two thirds of permits are available in advance online (book in January for the entire summer).

  • Remaining permits go quick at the ranger stations so get there early

  • You can reserve one day in advance (can book Fri for Sat night)

  • The trick is to book a multi-night trek starting on Thur or Fri morning

 

Trip: 8/26/2021- 8/29/21

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