Monday, November 9, 2015

Best trails for seeing North Cascades' sites

Thornton Lakes Trail. Photo courtesy of North Cascades NPS.
Among the best ways to see North Cascades National Park’s top sights is via a day hike. Just four short trails will allow you to enjoy each of the park’s highlights – glaciers, an ancient Native American travel route, an alpine landscape, and mountain lakes.

Glacier central
North Cascades is home to a third of all the glaciers found in the lower 48 states. You can see one of them on the 9-mile round trip Hidden Lake Trail, whose trailhead is just outside the park's South Unit. The trail leads to the shore of Hidden Lake, where Quien Sabe Glacier fronts the far basin. Be forewarned that the trail sports an elevation gain of 2900 feet.

Native American travel route
For centuries, Native Americans worked their way from the Pacific Coast through the North Cascades Range to the interior of the continent. The Cascade Pass was long used as such a travel route. It can be accessed by a 7.4-mile round trip segment of the Cascade Pass Trail. The trail starts at the end of a gravel road and makes a 1700-foot elevation gain to the pass.

Alpine landscape
As the North Cascades continues to rise, water and ice erosion has left deep valleys, resulting in significant vertical relief. This can be seen at Baker Lake, where the park’s second highest peak, Mount Shuksan, towers more than 8,400 feet above the landscape. To see this oft photographed vista, take the 8-mile round trip segment of the Baker Lake Trail segment from the trailhead to the Maple Grove Campground on Baker Lake's eastern shore. The trail makes an elevation gain of 500 feet.

Mountain lakes
Crystal blue lakes surrounded by evergreens as snow capped gray peaks rise above can be found aplenty in the North Cascades. One such easy to reach lake can be found on the 10.4-miles round trip Thornton Lakes Trail in which Mount Triumph, peaking at 7271 feet, looms over the chain of Thornton Lakes in the park's North Unit.

Learn more about national park day hiking trails in my Best Sights to See at America’s National Parks guidebook.