North Cascades National Park – Newhalem Campground
Number of Nights: 5
Bug Bites: 6
This was an easy first stop for us as it’s one of our favorite places to camp in the summer. Since a wildfire burned parts of the park last summer, one loop of the campground is closed and the remaining sites are all reservable. Now the chances of snagging a spot without a reservation are unlikely on a weekend. Luckily we made our reservation in advance, but could only get 5 nights before the park filled for the 4th of July weekend. Still we packed our time with activities.
On our first full day we took the short walk from the campground through the woods to the visitors center. It’s a worthwhile stop with a kid-friendly display on wildlife in the area, a movie, and a small gift shop. Since we’ve seen all this before our main purpose was to check out nearby hikes and find out about the yearly National Park pass. Before heading back, we walked out the back door and down the short boardwalk to the viewpoint. There we found a ranger with a viewing scope focused on the ice peeking out from the snow on the distant ridge. We took a quick photo before following the the trail back past the campground to a nice view of the rushing Skagit River. If it hadn’t been closed due to the fire damage we probably would have continued on to the Rock Creek Shelter trail.
There are plenty of hikes in the area if you’re willing to take a drive. We have enjoyed Sauk Mountain, Thunder Creek, Diablo Lake, Ladder Creek Falls and others in the past. This time we hiked up Thunder Knob (3.6 miles, 425’ elevation gain). The hike starts out cross a rushing river and then switchbacks through the woods, past a small pond, and up to a rocky outcropping. At the top we found stunning views of snowy peaks in every direction, as well a a view down to Diablo Lake. Another day we took the trail to Lake Ann (3.4 miles, 700’ elevation gain). About half way up we crossed a boulder field with incredible views of peaks all around and wildflowers trailside. We encountered a few areas where the trail was covered in snow or mud or water, but we found our way to this beautiful alpine lake and were rewarded with views of four different waterfalls from the snow melt making it’s was down to the lake. A fellow hiker carried some kind of fishing float on his back and was soon out on the lake paddling with flippers underwater as he fly fished his way across the lake. We could only imagine how cold the water must have felt!
We also got a chance to test out our new bikes with several rides around the campground. After cycling through the loops we followed the dirt road from the campground to the Pump House (interesting signage explains it’s function) and on through the gravel lined “Trail of the Cedars” to cross the bridge into Newhalem. There we rode over for a view of the dam before heading back. Feeling ambitious we biked on to Goodell Campground across the river. We had to follow a faint footpath through the brush and navigate some deep, loose gravel that made the pedaling tough but we made it to this shady “no frills” campground. On this sunny day it didn’t look as dreary as we remembered and we even found a few spots that would have fit our trailer. Given the varied terrain we covered I think our choice of bikes is going to be perfect for our adventures!
This was a nice first stop—comfortable for us and a way to ease into this adventure, but I’m looking forward to getting over the hurdle of finding our first boondocking spot. There is a bit of anxiety that comes with heading into the unknown, but as we conquer each new challenge I’m sure it will quickly fade. Already we feel our stress melting away.