North Cascades for tourist-free beauty

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of August 8-14, 1996
North Cascades for tourist-free beauty
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North Cascades for tourist-free beauty
Question: I'm looking for a national park with a great backcountry which has the least amount of tourism, but also doesn't sacrifice natural beauty. The only catch is that unfortunately it has to be in the continental United States. Thanks for any advice.

Scott E. Humphrey
Grand Rapids, MI
[email protected]

Just you, your pack, and stunning scenery in the North Cascades
Adventure Adviser: Try this one on for size: Washington state's North Cascades National Park. With only 19,000 backcountry visitors a year and a whopping 684,000 acres of glaciers, lakes, old-growth forests, 8,000-foot peaks, and subalpine meadows, North Cascades will give you a hefty wilderness bang for your tourist-intolerant buck. OK, so it loses a few points for its painfully cliché nickname, "America's Alps," but heck, if anywhere deserves that title, it's this Northwest gem.

Nuts and bolts? The park's broken down into a North Unit, a South Unit, Ross Lake National Recreation Area, and, at the far southern fringe, Lake Chelan National Recreation Area. But to the appreciative hiker it's simply one big park that sees only a fraction of the traffic of Mount Rainier and Olympic National Parks. In fact, 90 percent of visitors merely pass through on the highway en route to somewhere else; the only wilderness they see is the green fringe on the other side of their windshields.

An ultrastrenuous day hike (or overnight trip) climbs 5,000 feet in five miles from the trailhead in Diablo, just off Washington 20, to the summit of Sourdough Mountain Lookout. Or you can disappear into the backcountry for a five-day, 46-mile round-trip trek to Ross Lake and Desolation Peak. Start by hiking 16 not-so-grueling miles on the East Bank Trail, near milepost 138 on highway 20, through old-growth conifers above Ross Lake. Pitch your tent along the trail the first night, and then at Lightning Camp, near the base of the Desolation Trail, before attempting the brutal 4,500-foot final push up Desolation Peak.

For additional trail information, weather info, bear stories, and the required wilderness camping permits, check in with the backcountry gurus at the Wilderness Information Office in Marblemount, five miles southwest of the park boundary on Washington 20 (360-873-4590). Or call the park headquarters directly at 360-856-5700. And before you go, check out "Parkland Incognito" in the Destinations section of our August 1995 issue.

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