Located less than 3 hours from Seattle are numerous jagged peaks crowned with over 300 glaciers. The presence of these glaciers plays a large role in the beauty of the area. This region is filled with pure alpine lakes and cascading waterfalls that flow through the mountain range that North Cascades National Park helps protect.
Many regard this region as a hiker’s paradise. The park has nearly 400 miles of hiking trails through river-carved valleys and glacier-capped peaks. If you have a car you are comfortable driving down dirt and gravel, stunning day hikes can be found down Cascade River Road. If not, there are still plenty of trailheads that can be accessed off of the North Cascades Scenic Highway (WA 20).
A unique aspect of North Cascades National Park is that it is one of three park units in North Cascades National Park Service Complex. The other two units are Ross Lake National Recreation Area and Lake Chelan National Recreations.
Ross Lake NRA straddles the North Cascades Highway and serves as the centerpiece of the complex. The North Cascades Highway is the easiest way to access the area, so the majority of campgrounds, trailheads and visitor facilities are in Ross Lake NRA.
Lake Chelan NRA is located in the far southern end of the complex. It’s namesake, Lake Chelan, is partially located in this national recreation area. There are no roads open to the public into Lake Chelan NRA, so visitors must hike, fly, boat or take the shuttle into this region.
As for North Cascades National Park, there are two regions of this remote national park (north and south) with Ross Lake NRA located in between them. The south unit can only be accessed by the unpaved Cascade River Road. The north unit is only accessible by foot.
Find out more about getting to and around this unique national park at the official nps.gov site.
Dog-Friendly Activities at North Cascades National Park
While dogs are not allowed within North Cascades National Park (with a couple of exceptions), they are allowed in the national recreation areas (both Ross Lake and Lake Chelan).
First off, the three exceptions for dogs within North Cascades National Park are the following:
- On leash on the Pacific Crest Trail
- Within 50 feet of roads
- Service animals for those with disabilities
The national park also recommends the following. In addition to dogs being on a leash, all waste should be picked up. And dogs (or other pets) should not be left alone in a car while their people are hiking.
During our time at North Cascades National Park Complex, we stayed within Ross Lake NRA. With a Class C RV, we weren’t keen on taking the unpaved road into the south unit of North Cascades National Park. And the pups weren’t allowed to hike into the north unit.
However, we were thrilled that the pups were able to hike anywhere in Ross Lake NRA. We took good advantage of this national recreation area’s dog-friendliness. Our first night, we stayed at Newhalem Campground, then began the scenic drive on North Cascades Scenic Highway the next day.
The Newhalem area has several short trails available right from the campground. Our favorite was the short 1.8 mile hike on the River Loop Trail that runs between the campground and the visitor center. For more information about trails in the Newhalem area, visit NPS.gov.
The drive through Ross Lake NRA was lovely. There were many dog-friendly pull-offs along the North Cascades Scenic Highway. We stopped at Gorge Falls Overlook, Diablo Lake Overlook, and the East Bank Trailhead for a hike along the East Bank Trail. All the stops were beautiful and we really enjoyed sharing them with the dogs.
The East Bank Trail starts with a short descent and then crosses a rushing river (Ruby Creek). Don’t worry, there is a well-maintained bridge to aid in the crossing. The trail then gains some light elevation on the other side of the river. If you want, the trail extends for 31 miles and has a few spur/side trails that link up with the East Bank Trail. We did not hike all 31 miles, but we did enjoy the first few miles of the trail.
Find out more about visiting North Cascades National Park with pets on the NPS.gov website.
Camping in North Cascades National Park
There are 5 campgrounds accessible by car in addition to a few boat-in campsites and the classic backcountry sites.
Four of the campgrounds are located along the North Cascades Scenic Highway. From west to east, they are Goodell Creek, Newhalem Creek, Gorge Lake, and Colonial Creek. The fifth campground, Hozomeen, can only be accessed by driving down from Canada.
Most of these campgrounds take reservations for at least a portion of the campsites. If you are arriving without a reservation, your options include Goodell Creek main campground, Colonial Creek North Loop, and Hozomeen, which are all first come-first served.
That being said, if the sites are not reserved, they will then be open for same-day camping. We found a site at Newhalem Creek Campground that way. The campground was nice, with plenty of space to walk the dogs among the campsites and along River Loop Trail.
For more information about camping at North Cascades National Park, head over to the NPS.gov site.
There are also several national forest campgrounds in the area, so if you want to camp outside the national park, there should be plenty of options.
Dog-Friendly Activities Outside of North Cascades National Park
Just outside of the North Cascades National Park complex is Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. If you continue driving east along WA-20 (the North Cascades Scenic Highway), there are several wonderful national forest trails with trailheads located just off the highway. In fact, several of them are even marked on the official park map.
As we drove east of the park complex, we stopped at Rainy Lake Pass. From here, we were hoping to take the fully accessible 1.0 mile Rainy Lake Trail to Rainy Lake and then hike the Maple Pass loop (7.5 miles). Unfortunately, in late June, the snow had not yet melted enough to reveal this trail. Without the proper equipment to hike through multiple feet of snow, we had to give up the opportunity to see Rainy Lake or hike Maple Pass Loop.
Rainy Lake is supposed to be quite stunning with high cliffs surrounding the lake and waterfalls cascading down those cliffs. For more information about Rainy Lake Trail, visit the National Forest website.
Maple Pass Loop is supposed to be a challenging Loop with stunning views of surrounding mountain peaks. For some beautiful pictures of Maple Pass Loop, check out this review of the trail at ForgetSomeday.com or visit the official National Forest website.
Since the snowpack was still present at Rainy Pass, we drove further east to Blue Lake Trail. Apparently, there are multiple Blue Lake Trails in Washington (the Washington Trails Association even has a guide to help you reference the different Blue Lakes), but this is, of course, the one on Highway 20.
We parked along the road with the RV, as the parking lot is relatively small. The Blue Lake Trail also had some snow, but there was less of it and we were able to navigate through it to a decent stretch of clear trail.
The entire trail is about 4.4 miles (round trip) and gains almost 1100 feet of elevation. TimeForAHike.com describes Blue Lake Trail as a great hike for those with less experience hiking who want a high reward to distance ratio. Or for those who just love mountain lakes with pristine, crystal clear waters.
We made it about 700 of the 1100 feet in elevation before we hit enough snow to block our path again. Although we didn’t make it to the lake, it was still a beautiful walk with wonderful views. All in all, it was a great conclusion to our time in the North Cascades. And I can’t wait to return to this area later in the year when the snow has melted.
Final Thoughts on Visiting North Cascades National Park with Dogs
While technically, exploring North Cascades National Park with dogs is complicated, visiting the national park complex is easy and very dog-friendly.
The entire North Cascades Highway offers a plethora of dog-friendly overlooks and trailheads that make a trip to this region well worth the effort. Just make sure you arrive late enough in the year to take advantage of all the amazing trails open to hikers and their dogs.
Have you visited the North Cascades National Park Complex with your pets? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.
For another perspective on visiting this area with dogs, check out some other sites blog posts:
- GoPetFriendly.com for a post about visiting Ross Lake NRA
- YouDidWhatWithYourWeiner.com for a post about hiking Diablo Lake Trail in Ross Lake NRA. They also have a post about hiking Maple Pass Loop.