North Cascades National Park

Ride Tall in Washington's Wildest Range

Jun 1, 2004
Outside Magazine
national park: North Cascades National Park

Washington's Euro-Style Smile: North Cascades National Park    Photo: PhotoDisc

Kick Back in Mazama

The 250 residents of Mazama—a hamlet perched in the Methow Valley, on the park's eastern edge—don't want you sitting on your tush. The Mountain Transporter shuttle ($5-$55; 509-996-8294) will take you and your bike to dozens of promising trailheads, and Methow Adventures (866-638-4691, can gear you up for a custom biking, rafting, or fishing trip. Rest your bones at the Freestone Inn ($105-$220; 800-639-3809,, where every room has a stone fireplace and steelhead fishing is only steps away. Mazama's best eats are at the Freestone—think pecan-crusted trout—but for down-home chow, try the Burnt Finger Bar...

national park: North Cascades National Park

Acres: 684,302 Contact: 360-856-5700

THE NORTH CASCADES LOOK A LOT LIKE the Alps, with razorback peaks, alpine meadows, and plenty of glaciers. But the similarities to Europe end there: The park is almost all wilderness, and there are few roads in. Since backpacking on this steep terrain can be slow going at best, the smart way to see it is on horseback. The Courtney family, based in the hamlet of Stehekin, has been running pack trips in the region for two generations, with a low-key style that emphasizes good food, minimal impact, and stunning scenery.

Just getting to the Courtneys’ Cascade Corrals is an adventure. As a private inholding in the park, Stehekin has no road access and must be reached by ferry—a 50-mile trip up Lake Chelan, through a glacial trough that’s more than 8,500 feet deep. Once you’ve hooked up with the Courtneys, you’ll ride on a surefooted Norwegian fjord horse, heading up the Stehekin River Valley to your base camp at Bridge Creek.

Your routine each day will be blessedly simple: Wake up; stuff yourself with pancakes, eggs, and bacon; ride the park trail of your choice; then go on a hike to burn off the grub. You’ll travel to amazing spots like Buckner Meadows, Mount Logan, and McAlester Lake; while you’re soaking in the views, don’t be surprised if you feel the urge to yodel.

GETTING THERE: Cascade Corrals (509-682-7742, offers scheduled horsepacking trips ($995, six days) and custom outings for a minimum of six riders. There’s also a hiking option: You carry a daypack; the horse carries the rest ($750, six days).

WHEN TO GO: July through September.