A Tale Of Four Seasons: Things To Do In North Cascades

Towering tree-lined peaks soar above azure lakes in the alpine wonderland of Washington State.

On warm summer mornings, balmy breezes waft over Diablo Lake; on lazy autumn afternoons, thin arrows of golden sunlight pierce amethyst clouds above Sauk Mountain. Every season shows a new face of North Cascades, a rugged national park home to sloping valleys and blue-white glaciers. We’ve condensed 12 months of breathtaking beauty into four can’t-miss attractions so you can pick the seasonal wonder that fits best with your travel schedule.

Spring: Diablo Lake

North Cascades
Photo: Facebook by Long Bach Nguyen

Deep in the majestic wilderness of the North Cascades lies Diablo Lake, an aquamarine pool whose striking color comes from glacial sediment floating in the water. Visit the Diablo Lake Overlook for stunning views of this glittering gem, a haven of tranquility surrounded by skyscraping peaks and deep green forests. After snapping some shots of the lake from afar, take a 75-minute boat tour for an up-close look at the frothy waterfalls, frosted mountains and forested islands that accent the teal water.

Upon disembarking, lace up your hiking boots and head out on the 3.6-mile Thunder Knob Trail, a dirt path with breathtaking panoramas of soaring peaks and Diablo’s cobalt surface. For a slightly longer walk with an equally stunning view of the sparkling blue basin below, set out on the Diablo Lake Trail, a 7.6-mile path that winds along rocky outcroppings with wooded peaks on the left and turquoise water on the right. If you’re in the mood for a strenuous trek, hike along the Sourdough Mountain Trail for 10.4 miles until you reach the pinnacle, where you’ll gaze down on the glistening Diablo reservoir a mile below.

Summer: Ross Lake Resort

North Cascades
Ross Lake Resort. Photo: Facebook found on Ross Lake Resort

For a rustic adventure, head to Ross Lake Resort, a hidden gem in the North Cascade Mountains. The resort is made up of 15 fully furnished cabins floating on the water which can only be accessed via the on-demand shuttle or the Diablo Ferry. Log cabins aren’t the only attraction on the water—you can rent a motorboat, canoe or kayak to explore the lake. Keep in mind that the weather can become stormy without warning, so strap on your life jacket and take your boat out early in the morning to avoid strong winds.

Renting a cabin is somewhat difficult since accommodations are only open between mid-June and October and the 15 available spots fill up very quickly. Join the resort waitlist for the best chance of snagging a room on the water. All cabins are furnished and include electricity and running water but remember to bring your own food as there is neither a restaurant nor a store at the resort. Whether you relax in a cozy Little Cabin or spread out in a spacious Private Bunkhouse, wake up to beautiful views of the sun peeking above distant hills and shining on the placid water.

Fall: Sauk Mountain

Sauk Mountain
Sauk Mountain. Photo: Facebook by Spiritual Awakenings

A narrow strip of blazing light illuminates the hazy ridges of Sauk Mountain, a stately peak that rises 5,541 feet above Washington’s Skagit County. The dazzling sunbeams burnish the auburn foliage to a flaming red-orange hue, immersing the soaring summit in a fiery glow. Head out on the 3.8-mile Sauk Mountain Trail for breathtaking views of the Cascade Range. Set aside about two and a half hours to finish this moderately challenging hike whose stunning vistas come at the price of arduous switchbacks and steep inclines.

Just 6.8 miles from Sauk Mountain is Gorge Creek Falls, an avalanche of whitewater that tumbles down the narrow canyon in a shower of satin. The cataract plunges down the stony gorge and cascades into a swirling pool, striking the bottom with a resounding splash and kicking up whirling foam. Yellow flowers and emerald foliage brighten the dark gray rocks that surround the cataract on either side, punctuating saturated stones with pops of vibrant color.

Winter: Skagit River

Skagit River
Skagit River. Photo: Facebook by Shawna Gould Sallee

The minty surface of the Skagit River is so light-green it appears white in some pale, churning regions. As it surges wildly, the rushing current bleaches the writhing water’s native aquamarine hue to ivory, transforming the river into a blend of turquoise and cream. The Skagit River glistens under the sun’s weak rays as clouds roll over the mountains and the Cascades brace for snow.

Plunge into the river’s wild tumult on a whitewater rafting adventure, an unforgettable excursion that takes you to the heart of the roiling waters. Navigate around rocks and sharp curves as you paddle through the rushing rapids and make your way through Skagit’s choppy waves. When you’re not rowing furiously over pointed whitecaps, gaze at the towering peaks and sloping hillsides that surround the mighty river.

North Cascades is breathtaking no matter when you visit—every season brings its own unique wonder. While the landscape may change, the park’s beauty remains constant throughout the year.

Hannah Larson

Contributing Editor

A southern California native, Hannah is a traveler and thrill seeker whose love of writing is matched only by her passion for adventure. From ziplining alongside Niagara Falls to paddleboarding in Lake Itasca, she is always on the lookout for exciting experiences in beautiful places. Her favorite national parks include the Great Smokies, Sequoia and Glacier because of the spectacular mountain views.

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