North Cascades National Park is just 2 hours and 45 minutes from Vancouver, making it the most accessible (to us) of the 59 national parks in the United States’ system. But it has a lot of other things going for it too, starting with the fact that it is staggeringly beautiful. The park boasts craggy peaks, glaciers, waterfalls, rivers and lakes turned turquoise by glacial till; lots of hikes and walks; evening ranger programs; an informative Visitor Centre and – despite the ban here north of the border – campfires!
North Cascades – which is neatly transected by US Highway 20 – is almost empty. It is the 2nd least visited National Park in the contiguous USA, bested in isolation only by the far more remote Isle Royale in Lake Superior. It attracts fewer than 21,000 people a year. To put that into perspective, that’s almost half as many visitors as middle-of-nowhere Katmai National Park in Alaska, and 550 times fewer than Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee, which welcomes over 11 million people per annum.
All of this is to say that if you show up at the park’s Newhalem Campground in the height of summer without a reservation, you are almost always guaranteed a campsite, and for less than what you pay in BC ($16 USD!). One can’t just show up at Porteau Cove or Alice Lake with crossed fingers. At least not anymore. And even if you did secure a campsite near Vancouver by hook or crook, you wouldn’t be able to have a campfire unless you were camping in the Fog Zone.
At the time of writing, campfires are still allowed at Newhalem Campground and at some of the other campgrounds in the northern unit of the park (check here for updates just in case — the area around Lake Chelan, for example, has a fire ban right now, as do other sections of the park).
The best and quietest sites are in B Loop. The photos below show our most recent site – #B43 – a pull-through with a rare drop grate fireplace and some open woods behind it. Firewood, gas and food are easy to get on your drive in. Towns like Concrete and Sedro-Wooley will have all the supplies you need. There’s also a store to re-up on beer, eggs, wood et cetera in the small village of Newhalem within the park itself. Happy camping!
photos by Michelle Sproule