Summer Road Trip 2018, Part 5: North Cascades National Park
I arrived in North Cascades on Sunday evening. On Monday morning, I was throughly exhausted. I traveled 2,397 miles to wake up here, in the mountains, just a couple of hours from the US-Canadian border.
I'd been busy, day and night, for several weeks planning for the trip up here. Cascade was going to be my time to slow down and recharge.
Suffice it to say, my plans for North Cascades National Park weren't ambitious. I felt content to relax and enjoy the freedom.
I could feel the pace of life slowing. All the superfluous noise and distractions faded into the shadows cast by necessary actions and experiences .
Making coffee, going for a hike, cruising on the MiniTrail, lying in the hammock, reading, writing, fly-fishing, exploring, taking a photograph, and meeting people all seem to flow together effortlessly.
Simplifying the vehicle-based travel process was my impetus for getting an Element and having the Ecamper conversion. The Ecamper is a great starting point but I've continued to refine the little things to remove pain-points. If it's not perfect, it's pretty close.
The result is Ellie, a comfortable and exceedingly practical tool for vehicle-based exploration.
I made breakfast, before making my way up the hill to the National Park Visitor's Center to get a brochure map and the park's passport cancelation. Afterward, I drove toward Marblemount to see what was beyond the parks west boundary. I stopped by the Marblemount Ranger Station to get information on fishing regulations then started exploring some backroads.
I returned to the campsite a lot more than usual. A swing in the hammock and a cold beer seemed to bookend most activities.
I used the MiniTrail to get out onto some fire roads and do a little exploring in the forest near Newhalem. I used the National Geographic's North Cascades topographic map to find dirt roads near my campground.
When a gravel road ends abruptly at a Forest Service barricade, I park the MiniTrial and continue on foot.
Down one dirt road near the Newhalem Campground, I found this great little trout stream. I spent the afternoon fishing out little rainbows with a 2-weight fly rod and an elk hair caddis.
On my last night in Cascade, I decided to venture into the town of Newhalem on the advice of my campground neighbors. They suggested I go into town, find the suspension bridge, then cross over to see Ladder Creek Falls.
The view from the suspension bridge looking toward the powerhouse and up into the river valley was a nice sight at dusk. Smoke from the California wildfires had blanketed the entire area with a ubiquitous haze, like a damp fog that never seemed to lift.
Ladder Creek Falls Garden is a strange artifact of the past. The falls is a small waterfall nestled behind the Newhalem Gorge Powerhouse. At some point, a man was commissioned to install a number of colored lights, then speakers were added to play music for curious visitors.
The trail up the falls was originally built in the 1930's as a tourist attraction to showcase the areas natural beauty. The temperature dropped about 20 degrees near the top of the trail as wind rushes down the creek's steep north-facing watershed.
As National Parks go, North Cascades is not easily accessible by car. Ross Lake National Recreation Area acts as a buffer between State Route 20 and the park boundaries. With no paved roads leading into the park, access is limited to hikers and backpackers traveling on foot.
The exception is Cascade River Road, This is an unpaved road that leads to the Mineral Park Campground. The road continues beyond the campground, crossing into the park for a short distance near the southern edge. I didn't make the drive because the round trip would be several hours.
While not the best park for vehicles, Cascades is a backpackers' paradise, with amazing backcountry trails featuring reservable campsites. The Ranger Station in Marblemount would be the best source of information if your plans would have you exploring the backcountry of North Cascades.
Before I knew it, my three days in The Cascades had passed. It's time to move on to the primary objective: Olympic National Park.