North Cascades National Park

Around the Forest
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North Cascades National Park
North Cascades National Park (courtesy, National Park Service)

The North Cascades National Park Complex sits deep in the wild, nearly impenetrable northernmost reaches of the Cascade Range in northwestern Washington. The Cascades rank among the world's great mountain ranges. Extending from Canada's Fraser River south beyond Oregon, they shape the Pacific Northwest's climate and vegetation.

This land stretches from rich lowland valleys through dense forests to the tops of glacier-covered peaks, then back down to the arid eastern slopes. Forest giants of western red cedar and Douglas-fir dot the deep valleys. Off the trail, tangled growths of alder, vine maple, stinging nettles, and devil's club still defy cross-country hikers. Glaciers scored by crevasses, permanent snowfields, and sheer-walled cliffs, spires, and pinnacles challenge mountaineers. The diversity of environments allows a corresponding profusion of different kinds of plants and animals.

The complex includes North Cascades National Park and its sister facilities, Lake Ross and Lake Chelan National Recreation Areas. Most of the complex is roadless wilderness. Only Highway 20, the North Cascades Scenic Highway, connects the park with the outside world, and sections of this road are closed for the winter. From the North Cascades Highway, on clear days, you may catch glimpses of alpine wonders that lie just beyond. For the mountains don't stop at the park boundaries.

The North Cascades is the heart of a unique and diverse system of plants and animals interacting with their environment—it's an ecosystem. Only an invisible boundary separates the national park units from the national recreation areas, adjoining national forest lands, and provincial park, recreation areas, and Crown lands to the north in Canada. A movement is afoot to create an international park, similar to Glacier International Peace Park, which would manage these lands as an interconnected unit. A poll conducted in December, 1994 found Washington voters support this idea by a margin of 3 to 1.

In the meantime, it's a rugged and wild area, with many areas of old-growth forest. The gray wolf has returned. The grizzly and the black bear never left. And like an old-growth forest, through the web of unsevered connections we can find what has been lost, heal what has been wounded.


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