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The North Cascades in Winter: A Guide to Visiting this Stunning National Park

The North Cascades in winter is a sight to behold. With snow-capped mountains and sparkling icy rivers, the winter wonderland of this national park is unparalleled. With so much to explore, it's no surprise that the North Cascades in winter are a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts. From skiing and snowshoeing to camping and hiking, the North Cascades in winter offers plenty of activities to enjoy.

North Cascades National Park in Winter

In this guide, we'll take a look at the best ways to explore the North Cascades in winter, so you can make the most of your time in this stunning national park.



Can You Visit the North Cascades in Winter?

Yes, you can absolutely visit the North Cascades in winter. In fact, the National Park Service and many local businesses remain open during the winter months. The North Cascades provide a spectacular and unique experience during the winter season, offering stunning views of snow-covered mountains, icy rivers and lakes, and frozen waterfalls. With a bit of planning and preparation, you can have a safe and enjoyable trip to this majestic mountain range.

It is important to note that some areas of the park may be closed off due to weather and road conditions, so be sure to check ahead for any closures before your trip. Additionally, Highway 20, which provides access to the eastern half of the park, closes during the winter months, typically from mid-November until mid-May.

Mt. Shuksan in Winter
Mt. Shuksan is one of the tallest mountains in Washington and is not usually climbed in winter due to the dangerous conditions.

Although winter conditions can make traveling more challenging, the rewards of visiting the North Cascades in the wintertime make it well worth the effort. From snowshoeing and skiing to ice fishing and snowmobiling, there is something for everyone to enjoy during the cold winter months.


What to Pack

If you’re planning a trip to the North Cascades in winter, it’s important to be prepared with the right equipment and clothing. Here’s a list of essential items you should pack before your winter visit:

Cutthroat Peak
Climbs of Cutthroat Peak are common in summer

- Cold-weather clothing: Make sure you pack plenty of layers so that you can adjust to the changing temperatures. You will want long underwear, a fleece jacket, a waterproof jacket, insulated boots, warm hats and gloves, and a scarf.

- Headlamp: You will need a headlamp for visibility during the shorter winter days.

- Sturdy boots: Since snow is common in the North Cascades during winter, you will need waterproof boots that are insulated and have good traction.

- Snowshoes: If you plan to do any hiking during your visit, snowshoes are essential for navigating the snowy trails.

- Ice axe: If you’re venturing into more technical terrain, make sure to bring an ice axe. This will give you more stability on icy slopes.

- Sun protection: Even though the weather is colder in winter, the sun is still strong. Make sure to bring sunscreen and sunglasses to protect yourself from the sun’s rays.

By packing all of the necessary items before your trip, you can be sure to enjoy the North Cascades in winter without any worries.


Where to Stay

Visiting the North Cascades in winter can be a wonderful and rewarding experience, but you need to make sure you have the right accommodations. Depending on how long you plan to stay, there are a variety of options available.


The Stunning North Cascades in Winter
A stunning view of the North Cascades in winter

Camping

Camping is an excellent option for those who want to experience the full beauty of the North Cascades in winter. There are several campgrounds open in winter, including the Ross Lake National Recreation Area, Newhalem Creek Campground, Colonial Creek Campground, and Gorge Lake Campground. You’ll want to make sure you’re prepared for cold temperatures with plenty of warm clothing and sleeping bags.


Lodging

For those wanting a bit more comfort, there are some lodging options available in the North Cascades. The North Cascades Lodge at Stehekin offers rooms and cabins, while other nearby lodges like the Freestone Inn and Valhalla Wilderness Society offer lodging as well. You can also find lodging near the towns of Winthrop and Mazama.


Cabins

Cabins in the North Cascades area can be rented through private companies or through state parks. The cabins range from rustic log cabins to modern luxury homes. If you’re looking for a true winter adventure, renting a cabin is a great way to experience the winter in the North Cascades.

No matter which type of accommodation you choose, make sure to check for availability before you plan your trip. With the right accommodations, you can have an amazing time exploring the North Cascades in winter!


What to Do

The North Cascades in winter can be an incredible place to explore. Though the weather may be a bit harsher than in the summertime, there are still plenty of activities to enjoy. Whether you're looking for a casual stroll or a challenging hike, there's something for everyone. Here are some of the best things to do when visiting the North Cascades in winter:



Hike to Views of Diablo Lake in Winter

Diablo Lake is breathtaking all year round, but during winter it takes on a magical quality with its snow-covered banks and crystalline waters. Take a hike up to the overlook point for stunning views of the lake, and bring your skis or snowshoes for extra fun.


Ski at Washington Pass

If you're looking for a challenging ski run, check out the trails at Washington Pass. With long and winding runs with plenty of bumps and drops, this is the perfect place to get your powder fix.


Snowshoeing

From easy day hikes to overnight adventures, snowshoeing is a great way to explore the North Cascades in winter. Enjoy breathtaking views of surrounding mountains and pristine alpine forests while taking on the less traveled trails.


North Cascades in Winter View
An expansive view of the North Cascades

Photography

The landscape in winter is like no other. If you're a photographer, take advantage of the clear skies and crystal-like snow to capture stunning pictures of the North Cascades.


Cross country Skiing

With more than 20 miles of groomed trails, the North Cascades are a great destination for cross-country skiing. Whether you're an experienced skier or just getting into it, you'll find trails suitable for all skill levels.


Snowmobiling

For an adrenaline-filled adventure, check out snowmobiling in the North Cascades. With endless miles of untouched snow and miles of terrain to explore, you're sure to have an unforgettable time.


Tips for Staying Safe

Visiting the North Cascades in winter can be an exciting and beautiful experience, but safety should always be your top priority. When you’re outdoors during winter, there are several factors to keep in mind to ensure your safety.


View of the North Cascades in Winter
The North Cascades are an interesting place in winter

First and foremost, always check the weather forecast before heading out. Prepare for cold temperatures, high winds, and hazardous conditions like ice and snow. Pack extra layers of clothing, gloves, hats, and boots that are designed to handle wet and cold conditions. Also, make sure you bring plenty of water and snacks to keep your energy levels up throughout the day.

Additionally, make sure you carry an avalanche transceiver and know how to use it if you plan on skiing or snowshoeing in the area. It’s also important to let someone know where you’re going, how long you plan on being out, and when you plan on returning.

Finally, always be aware of your surroundings. Watch for animals that may be hibernating or foraging for food and pay attention to trail markers to make sure you’re not venturing off into dangerous terrain. Following these tips will help ensure you have a safe and enjoyable time exploring the North Cascades in winter.


Every year, Highway 20 in the North Cascades closes for the winter season. It typically closes around mid-November and reopens in mid-April. The closure is from milepost 170 near Rainy Pass to milepost 231 near Washington Pass.

Highway 20
In summer, Highway 20 is clear and easy to drive.

During the closure, travelers should take alternate routes for traveling east and west through the North Cascades. Alternatives include SR 530 or SR 20 over Loup Loup Pass to the east and US 2 to Stevens Pass to the west. All of these routes are longer than the stretch of Highway 20 that is closed, so it is important to plan your travel times accordingly. Be sure to check road conditions before your trip, as they may vary during inclement weather.


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