We were lucky to have perfect weather on our first visit to North Cascades National Park. This post includes some photos from overlooks and viewpoints, and details from a wonderful hike on the Blue Lake Trail.
I'm going to start off a little on the negative side. Unfortunately, for someone that just loves unobstructed views of nature, the views from Washington Hwy 20 leading into North Cascades National Park and all the way through the canyon to Diablo Lake are marred by power lines and dams. I managed one photo without power lines during that drive, and that's only because I was able to crop them out.
Okay, I got that out of the way. It's all good from here.
We stopped at the North Cascades National Park Visitors Center where we picked up a park map, got trail information from the rangers, and watched the five short movies in their theater.
When asking for trail recommendations, the rangers asked if we were more interested in "mountain views" or "big trees". We said "mountain views" and they suggested hikes that were just outside the eastern park boundary in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, just off Hwy 20. They did recommend one hike in the National Park - Cascade Pass - since we have a Jeep and it's a rough road to get to the trailhead.
Right at the Visitors Center is the 1.8-mile River Loop Trail. It's reported to be an easy trail great for families, but we didn't do it so we can't give a review.
However, we did the short, accessible walk on a boardwalk to the Picket Range viewpoint.
It was nice look at the rocky peaks of the Picket Range. We waited for the clouds to lift so that we could match them to the information sign.
The peak on the left that looks like a sawed off tree stump is Pinnacle Peak aka "The Chopping Block".
Since it was getting late, we returned to our campground, with a plan to hike the next day.
The next morning, we got a bit of a late start as we headed east on Hwy 20. We stopped at a couple of overlooks that weren't very impressive, but eventually climbed up to the Diablo Lake Overlook. Now we're talking. Wow, what a beautiful lake.
This is one arm of the lake where there is a boat ramp and a campground at the end.
Continuing past Diablo Lake and leaving the power lines and dams behind, the scenery improved. This is a partial view of Ross Lake.
Here are a few shots from the road.
We had to pull over for these next two photos which were a precursor to the beautiful fall colors we would see the rest of the day.
This is the last shot just before pulling into the parking area at the Blue Lake trailhead.
The Blue Lake Trail is a 4.4-mile round-trip, out-and-back hike. We started out on a gentle climb through the forest, and then popped out into a clearing with amazing reds and yellows below the mountains.
And in all our years, we've learned to be sure to turn around to see what might be behind us.
We stepped back into the woods continuing our gradual climb. Just when before we might start thinking it was getting boring, we would find an opening for more glorious views.
The bright yellow trees are larches, deciduous conifers, that brighten the northwestern slopes in the fall.
We then encountered a young lady that was warning hikers of blasting. They are creating a new, safer path for mountain climbers.
A few seconds later we heard from her radio "Fire in the hole!" We stuck our fingers in our ears as the explosion shook the ground, and we saw a poof of brown smoke above.
We knew they were blasting, but it was nice to not be taken by surprise. Lucky timing on our part.
Farther up the trail, we looked back again to see larches scattered among the rocks.
When we came to the "no camping" signs, we knew we were about a quarter-mile from Blue Lake.
At the edge of the lake was a sign for an overlook, so we followed the trail around.
There were some great rocks to take in the views. Fortunately, we arrived just in time to see the sun illuminating one last section of blue water.
An arrival an hour or two earlier would have been better, but at least we got a brief look at the sun on the water.
Just a few minutes later, the sun sank behind the mountains, and it cooled off quickly. We watched the trout in the clear water while we rested and had a snack. After a couple more photos, we started back.
Linda taking the lead on the descent.
Here's one last photo from this wonderful hike.
The Blue Lake Trail is one of those mid-distance hikes that has gorgeous scenery and is not very steep. It was a very gentle climb and descent, and we really enjoyed it.
Back in the parking lot, another couple that finished just before us asked "Did you see the bear?" My response was "No. When? Where? How Far?" Apparently, we just missed it.
In all our hiking, we've never seen a bear while on a trail. We've seen them from cars, we've seen them while kayaking, and I've even seen them on golf courses, but we've never had the thrill of seeing one while hiking. Oh well, we'll just consider ourselves lucky to have had the privilege of seeing them several times previously.
After completing the hike, we made the short drive farther east to the Washington Pass Overlook. This shot is out the windshield just before making a left into the overlook road.
It's a very nice overlook with a few viewpoints and a short loop trail.
That ended our wonderful day in the Cascades as we drove back to our campground about 40 miles to the west. So far, so good on our first visit to this part of the country.