I've given an introduction to North Cascades in my earlier post, and in this one I want to elaborate on things-to-do (or hikes to attempt!) during your time there.
Things to do:
The best way to see this park is via hikes, especially for the most scenic panoramas. There are some non-hike related activities to do, like some viewpoints and lakes – but they are few and far in-between. If you are able, you should pack your hiking shoes. And for families, there are kid-friendly hikes too!
The other thing we did was stop at the visitor center and talk to some rangers. They're the experts in the area, and depending on your interest and time, can provide recommendations to you. Our itinerary came after a conversation with them. Even if you only have 2-3 hours or a day to see the park, a 5 minute conversation with the rangers at visitor center is going to help. With that said, here's what we did during our five-day stay at North Cascades -
- Day 1: Diablo Lake and Thunder Knob Trail
- Day 2: Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm Glacier Trail
- Day 3: Ross Dam Trail and Ross Lake Resort Boating
- Day 4: Maple Pass Loop and Washington Pass Overlook
- Day 5: Sauk Mountain
There were other hikes we considered, but didn't do such as Blue Lake Trail, Easy Pass Trail and Hidden Lake Trail. Before I go into the hikes we did do, I want to briefly touch upon why we didn't do these hikes which were recommended.
Blue Lake Trail in the Rainy Pass Area felt very similar to Maple Pass, but was shorter in distance and lesser in elevation gain, making it a tad easier than Maple Pass. We passed on it because we thought it might be too easy.
Easy Pass Trail also in the Rainy Pass Area would've provided great glacier views, especially of Inspiration Glacier and Boston Glacier – but we felt it might be tad too similar to Cascade Pass. It is almost 12 km round trip and over 3000 ft of elevation gain, which could've been too challenging just days after Cascade Pass for us. 🙂
Hidden Lake Trail closer to Cascade Pass trailhead would've also provided glacier views, especially of Eldorado glacier. We were told that the path to this trailhead was damaged, and therefore driving cars uphill was not recommended. We could've parked the car on Cascade River Road and gone up from there, but that would add additional distance and more importantly elevation gain to the hike – which we didn't think was worth it. 🤷🏽♀️
With that out of the way, now it's time for us to get into the specifics of each hike that we did do. Here we go!
Day 1: Diablo Lake and Thunder Knob Trail 🥾
We made our first stop at Diablo Lake which is the same as trailhead for Thunder Knob Trail, and Colonial Creek campground. After spending a few minutes on Diablo and checking the water temperature, we started the hike. This hike took us to the top of a mountain overlooking the Diablo Lake giving us gob smacking views of the scenery where you're constantly questioning whether the lake is really THAT shade of turquoise. It helped that we went on a sunny day, so we got to see the lake at it's brightest. The color is because of the glacial sediment, where the grinding of rock against rock produces a silt, and this "rock flour" reacts with light to reflect that color. You just have to see it to believe it. The hike itself is pretty standard, starting off in a densely covered forest and as you move uphill, the tree cover reduces.
After the hike, we headed to the beach area (it's honestly more pebbles than sand) of Diablo Lake and ate our sandwich. Chakri went for a quick swim in freezing cold water, and I opted to laze around the bank. You can get into Diablo lake via kayaks or boats, but you have to bring your own equipment, i.e. there's nothing on the lakeside where you can rent equipment for a few hours or a day. It's not touristy that way 😜
We did see people bring their own kayaks and boats, and the only thing I'd mention is that wind tends to pick up later in the day, post 3 pm, so if you want to do a water activity, it's best to start no later than 10-11 am.
Soon after, we drove to Diablo Lake viewpoint which a few minutes drive east on State Route 20. The viewpoint also offered gorgeous views of the lake, but it was slightly more crowded given that it's more accessible. The view from the viewpoint is little different from what you'd see on the Thunder Knob trail, so it's worth checking out both!
We also went to a couple of Ross Lake viewpoints further along SR20, but they weren't something we were mesmerized by. It was the standard lake view among mountains. 😒
Stats for Thunder Knob Trail
- Distance - 3.6 miles round-trip
- Elevation gain - 425 ft
- Leashed dogs are allowed
- No fees to hike
I'm out of words again! More hikes and things-to-do at North Cascades in a future post. I hope you enjoy Diablo Lake as much as we did! ❤️