I lived near the North Cascades for several years while I went to college, and even now, it’s my favorite playground for summer hiking and winter camping. However, the drive from Seattle to North Cascades National Park can be an excellent adventure on its own.

The drive north can be the perfect escape for those seeking a day or weekend of adventure, breathtaking landscapes, and a deep connection with the great outdoors.

Top Stops from Seattle to North Cascades National Park
*Lighthouse Point Trail at Deception Pass State Park
*Ebeys Landing at Whidbey Island
*Boulevard Park in Bellingham
*Artist Point

Seattle to North Cascades National Park
Deception Pass State Park

Seattle to North Cascades National Park

What is the best route from Seattle to North Cascades National Park?

Begin your journey by taking the scenic I-5 North towards Burlington, then venture east on the iconic State Route 20. This route, renowned for its stunning vistas, winds through the Skagit Valley before ascending into the mountainous terrain of the Cascades.

How long does it take to drive from Seattle to North Cascades National Park?

The drive from Seattle to the North Cascades National Park takes about 2 to 3 hours, depending on traffic and the specific destination within the park. It’s approximately 100 to 120 miles, but the time can vary based on road conditions and the exact starting and ending points.

What I appreciate most is that there are plenty of things to do, regardless of the season. Here are some of my favorite suggestions.

Deception Pass State Park

Located between Whidbey Island and Fidalgo Island, this state park is known for its stunning views, hiking trails, and the iconic Deception Pass Bridge. Here are some activities I’ve enjoyed over the years.

  • Explore the expansive Deception Pass State Park, known for its stunning views, diverse ecosystems, and miles of hiking trails. Enjoy picnicking, bird watching, and beachcombing along the rugged coastline.
  • Walk or drive across the iconic Deception Pass Bridge, a marvel of engineering that spans the turbulent waters of the pass. Capture breathtaking views of the surrounding islands.
  • Visit Rosario Beach, located within the state park, for tide-pooling and beachcombing. The beach provides a quiet opportunity to discover marine life in the tidepools and enjoy the scenic beauty of Puget Sound.
  • Take a peaceful stroll around Cranberry Lake, a serene freshwater lake within the park. The loop trail around the lake offers a peaceful escape with opportunities for birdwatching and reflection.
  • Head to Bowman Bay for kayaking and paddleboarding in calm waters surrounded by lush greenery. The bay is also an excellent spot for a family picnic with scenic views and facilities.
  • Hike the Lighthouse Point Trail for a moderately challenging trek that rewards you with panoramic views of the coastline and the Olympic Mountains. Keep an eye out for wildlife along the way.

Whether you prefer hiking, beachcombing, or simply enjoying the breathtaking scenery, Deception Pass has something for everyone.

Whidbey Island

To reach Whidbey Island from Seattle, take a scenic ferry ride from the Mukilteo Ferry Terminal to Clinton on Whidbey Island or drive north on I-5, then west on State Route 20 across the Deception Pass Bridge.

There are many great things to do on the island.

  • Explore Ebey’s Landing, a National Historical Reserve, with sweeping views of Puget Sound, beaches, and farmlands. Hike the bluff trail for a scenic adventure through a landscape rich in history and natural beauty.
  • Wander through the historic waterfront town of Coupeville, known for its charming shops, galleries, and restaurants. Stroll along the picturesque pier and enjoy the small-town atmosphere while viewing Penn Cove.
  • Visit Fort Casey State Park to explore historic military bunkers and the iconic Admiralty Head Lighthouse. The park offers panoramic views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and is excellent for picnicking and beachcombing.
  • Discover the Whidbey Island side of Deception Pass State Park, featuring scenic trails, beaches, and opportunities for birdwatching. Enjoy the coastal beauty and catch a glimpse of marine life below.
  • Visit the artsy town of Langley, known for its galleries, boutiques, and vibrant cultural scene. Enjoy a leisurely day exploring the town’s art community, waterfront parks, and unique shops.

Whidbey Island offers a blend of outdoor adventures, cultural experiences, and small-town charm, making it a delightful destination for various interests.

Mount Vernon

To reach Mount Vernon, WA from Seattle, take I-5 North for approximately 60 miles. Mount Vernon is known for its scenic beauty and agricultural heritage. Here are some activities I’ve particularly enjoyed in the area.

  • Check out the Roozengaarde Display Garden, particularly during the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival if you visit in spring. The tulip fields are a breathtaking sight. There’s a line and a crowd, and you must pay, but it’s all worth it.
  • Explore Tulip Town, another highlight of the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. Enjoy a picturesque landscape of tulips and daffodils, take tractor rides, and visit the indoor flower show for a diverse display of blooms.
  • Discover fresh local produce and artisan goods at the Skagit Valley Farmers Market. Held in downtown Mount Vernon, the market offers a delightful shopping experience with a variety of vendors.
  • Hike or drive to the top of Little Mountain Park for panoramic views of the Skagit Valley, Puget Sound, and the Olympic Mountains. The park has trails, picnic areas, and a viewpoint with stunning landscapes.
  • Explore the Padilla Bay Reserve, a natural estuarine habitat with walking trails and an interpretive center. Learn about the diverse ecosystems of Padilla Bay and observe birdwatching opportunities along the scenic shoreline.

Mount Vernon offers natural beauty, agricultural experiences, and cultural attractions, making it a delightful destination for outdoor and historical activities.

La Conner

Mount Vernon and La Conner are neighboring towns in Washington’s Skagit Valley. To get to Mount Vernon from Seattle, take I-5 North for approximately 60 miles. La Conner is about 10 miles west of Mount Vernon. Here are some things to do in La Conner.

  • Stay at the La Conner Channel Lodge, a delightful waterfront hotel offering beautiful views of the Swinomish Channel. Relax in comfortable accommodations and enjoy easy access to the charming shops and restaurants in downtown La Conner.
  • Explore the historic downtown area of La Conner, known for its art galleries, boutiques, and antique shops. Stroll along the waterfront boardwalk, visit museums, and savor local cuisine in this quaint and artistic town.
  • Visit the Skagit County Historical Museum to learn about the area’s rich history. Exhibits showcase the cultural heritage of Skagit County, including its early settlement, Native American history, and maritime traditions.
  • Walk or drive across the iconic Rainbow Bridge, connecting La Conner to Fidalgo Island. Enjoy views of the Swinomish Channel and the surrounding landscape, making it a great spot for photography and a leisurely stroll.
  • Immerse yourself in contemporary and modern art at the Museum of Northwest Art (MoNA). The museum has a diverse collection of works by regional artists and hosts rotating exhibitions, providing a cultural oasis in the heart of La Conner.
  • In spring, experience the vibrant tulip fields surrounding La Conner as part of the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. The colorful blooms create a stunning landscape, and various tulip farms offer opportunities for tours and photography.

La Conner’s artistic charm, historical significance, and scenic beauty make it a delightful destination if you’re seeking a relaxed and culturally rich getaway.

Tulip fields at Tulip Town
Tulips at Roozengaarde

Anacortes

To get to Anacortes, Washington, from Seattle, take I-5 North and then follow State Route 20 west until you reach the town of Anacortes. Here are some things to do in and around Anacortes.

  • Explore Washington Park, a scenic park with wooded trails, viewpoints, and a saltwater beach. Enjoy hiking, picnicking, and birdwatching while taking panoramic views of the San Juan Islands and the Olympic Mountains.
  • Take a ferry from the Anacortes Ferry Terminal to the San Juan Islands or Victoria, British Columbia. The ferry ride offers breathtaking views, and the terminal is a gateway to island adventures and coastal exploration.
  • Bike, walk, or jog along the Tommy Thompson Trail, a scenic trail that follows the shoreline from Anacortes to March Point. Enjoy views of Fidalgo Bay, Mount Baker, and the San Juan Islands while exploring this popular multi-use trail.
  • If you visit in August, take advantage of the Anacortes Arts Festival, a vibrant visual and performing arts celebration. The festival features a juried art show, live music, street performances, and various food and craft vendors.
  • Relax in Causland Memorial Park, a waterfront park with walking paths, sculptures, and a playground. The park also offers a quiet setting for a leisurely stroll, family picnics, and enjoying views of the marina and Guemes Channel.
  • Drive or hike to the top of Mount Erie for breathtaking panoramic views of the Skagit Valley, the San Juan Islands, and the Cascade Mountains. The summit provides a spectacular vantage point, especially during sunset.

Anacortes, with its maritime charm and natural beauty, offers a variety of outdoor activities and cultural experiences for you to enjoy.

Larrabee State Park

To reach Larrabee State Park in Washington, take I-5 North from Seattle and follow Chuckanut Drive (State Route 11) south. The park is located about five miles south of Bellingham. Here are some things to do at Larrabee State Park.

  • Explore the park’s hiking trails, such as the famous Chuckanut Ridge Trail and Fragrance Lake Trail. These trails offer varying difficulty levels and lead through lush forests, providing stunning views of Puget Sound, the San Juan Islands, and the Olympic Mountains.
  • Hike to Fragrance Lake, a picturesque alpine lake surrounded by forests. The trail leading to the lake is known for its spring wildflowers and scenic beauty. Enjoy a peaceful picnic by the lake and take in the serene surroundings.
  • Access the rocky shoreline and enjoy beachcombing along the tide pools at Clayton Beach. Take in the breathtaking views of the rugged coastline, the Chuckanut Mountains, and the marine life in the intertidal zones. Be sure to check the tide schedule first!
  • Bike or hike along the Interurban Trail, which passes through the park and offers a scenic route for outdoor enthusiasts. The trail connects to other regional trails, providing options for longer excursions if you like.
  • Larrabee State Park is also a haven for birdwatchers. Bring your binoculars and spot various bird species in diverse habitats, including coastal areas, forests, and meadows.

I spent hours and hours here as a college student, hiking and exploring tidepools, and it’s one of my favorite places in the state.

Its’ diverse recreational opportunities and natural beauty make it an excellent destination for outdoor lovers and those seeking a peaceful escape along the Washington coastline.

Bellingham

You can drive north on Interstate 5 for approximately 90 miles from Seattle to Bellingham, Washington. Alternatively, you can take a bus, as Bellingham has transportation connections. Here are some fun things to do in Bellingham.

  • Explore the Fairhaven Historic District, known for its completely charming 19th-century architecture, boutique shops, and cozy cafes – the best reading nooks in the PNW. Wander through the streets, visit art galleries, and enjoy the laid-back atmosphere of this historic neighborhood.
  • Stroll through the scenic campus of Western Washington University, known for its artistic atmosphere and impressive outdoor sculpture collection. The campus offers fantastic views of Bellingham Bay and the surrounding mountains.
  • Relax at Boulevard Park, a waterfront park with walking trails, a beach, and views of Bellingham Bay and the San Juan Islands. The park features an amazing boardwalk, picnic areas, and a playground, making it a popular spot for outdoor recreation and family outings.
  • Immerse yourself in the history of electricity at the Spark Museum of Electrical Invention. The museum features a fascinating collection of antique electrical devices, interactive exhibits, and demonstrations, providing an educational and entertaining experience for all ages.
  • Enjoy outdoor activities at Lake Padden Park, which offers hiking trails, a fishing lake, and recreational facilities. Whether you want to paddle on the lake, play disc golf, or have a family picnic, the park provides a lovely setting for outdoor enthusiasts.

All great choices, though my favorite might be the Spark Museum. We have many awesome museums in Washington state but this is my favorite.

I would never have left this lovely little town if it hadn’t been for graduate school. And even now, I’m happy to return whenever the opportunity arises.

Sunset over pier in Bellingham, WA
Boulevard Park, Bellingham

North Cascades Region

The North Cascades region in Washington offers breathtaking mountain scenery, pristine lakes, and plenty of outdoor adventures. Remember that you should check for road closures before visiting as some roads are closed during the winter.

What are the must-see sights or activities in North Cascades National Park?

North Cascades National Park is known for its stunning mountain scenery, numerous hiking trails, and beautiful lakes. Key attractions include Diablo Lake for its turquoise water, the picturesque Ross Lake, and trails like the Cascade Pass for spectacular views.

Diablo Lake Vista Point

Make a stop at the picturesque Diablo Lake Overlook for panoramic views of turquoise waters framed by rugged peaks. Diablo Lake, approximately 80 miles east of Bellingham, is where I could happily hibernate for the winter.

The unbelievable turquoise color of the lake against the backdrop of rugged mountains makes it a must-stop for photographers and nature lovers. The color is so unreal that many people have asked me if my photos are altered, but they’re not.

For a more immersive and unforgettable experience, consider taking a boat tour on Diablo Lake. The excursion offers a unique perspective, allowing you to glide across the brilliant blue waters while surrounded by the rugged peaks of the North Cascades.

The tranquility of the lake is a stark contrast to the dynamic landscapes you explored earlier in the day, offering a peaceful interlude in the heart of the wilderness.

Washington Pass Overlook

Washington Pass Overlook is approximately 85 miles east of Bellingham, Washington, along Route 20.

The Washington Pass Overlook offers one of the most dramatic views in the North Cascades. Look down into the deep valleys and towering peaks, including Liberty Bell Mountain. The overlook is easily accessible from the highway, making it a convenient stop for all travelers.

Ladder Creek Falls

Ladder Creek Falls, located in Newhalem in the North Cascades, is approximately 85 miles east of Bellingham, Washington.

The falls are part of the Ladder Creek Hydroelectric Project and are near the town’s center. The drive from Bellingham to Ladder Creek Falls usually takes 1.5 to 2 hours, depending on traffic and road conditions.

Rainy Pass/Pacific Crest Trail

Rainy Pass is about 90 miles east of Bellingham. Also along State Route 20, Rainy Pass is a popular trailhead and scenic point in the North Cascades. The drive from Bellingham to Rainy Pass usually takes 2 to 2.5 hours.

Remember that travel times may vary, especially considering the winding nature of the mountainous roads in the region.

Hike to higher elevations for stunning views of alpine meadows, snow-capped peaks, and vibrant wildflowers during summer.

Ross Lake Overlook

The distance from Bellingham to the Ross Lake Overlook in the North Cascades is approximately 100 miles.

The Ross Lake Overlook is located along State Route 20 (also known as the North Cascades Highway) and offers panoramic views of Ross Lake, surrounded by the stunning mountain scenery of the North Cascades.

This viewpoint is accessible from State Route 20 and provides a peaceful setting to appreciate the gorgeous lake and its surroundings.

These stops offer epic scenic beauty, unlimited outdoor activities, and endless opportunities to appreciate the unique natural features of the North Cascades.

Artist Point

No trip to the North Cascades is complete without witnessing the sunset at Artist Point. The breathtaking view of Mount Shuksan reflected in Picture Lake is a deeply cherished memory for me. It’s a perfect spot to reflect on the day’s adventures as the sun dips below the horizon.

While the Chain Lakes trail (see below) begins and ends at Artist Point, you do not have to hike Chain Lakes to obtain this incredible view.

Bright teal colored Diablo Lake in the North Cascades
Diablo Lake

Planning and Preparation

The key to a successful day trip is planning. The journey from Seattle to North Cascades National Park covers approximately 125 miles, a drive of about 2 to 3 hours. Therefore, an early start is advisable.

Make sure your vehicle is well-maintained for mountain driving. You should aslo check the weather forecast, as the conditions in the mountains can be unpredictable.

Essential Items for the Trip

  • map or GPS device
  • appropriate clothing for hiking
  • a first aid kit
  • plenty of water
  • snacks

Traveling to North Cascades

The scenic drive along State Route 20, also known as the North Cascades Highway, is in itself a mesmerizing experience. The route passes through quaint towns and offers spectacular views of the Skagit River and surrounding peaks.

Make a list of the stops most important to you, estimate how much time each one will take and what you will need for each one.

Activities in North Cascades National Park

Upon arrival at the park, you’re going to have even more activities to choose from. I recommend choosing in advance, but being flexible should things not work out the way you first wanted.

Hiking is a popular choice, with trails for all skill levels.

For a manageable yet rewarding hike, the Blue Lake Trail is an excellent option. It’s one of my favorites, not just because it is relatively easy but also because it offers a well-rounded glimpse of the park’s diverse ecosystem and stunning mountain scenery.

From my own experience, and that of many many others, hiking the Maple Pass Loop was another highlight. This 7-mile trek offers stunning views of the surrounding peaks and vibrant wildflower meadows in the summer. The trail is moderately challenging but incredibly rewarding.

Chain Lakes is another epic adventure, consisting of a 6-mile loop, with moderate difficulty. I love this one so much because it feels like there’s something new around every corner. Every lake is unique and breathtaking.

Picnicking and Relaxation

You have to eat right? Plan ahead for where you’ll be eating along the way and what foods and beverages you should be bringing with you.

A day trip to North Cascades would not be complete without a relaxing picnic. The park has several picnic areas, such as the Newhalem Creek Picnic Area and at the Diablo Lake Overlook, which provide a perfect setting to enjoy a meal amidst nature.

This is also a time to reflect, journal, or simply soak in the tranquil surroundings. In the busy rhythm of life, such escapes are essential for the soul, providing a connection to the natural world that is both grounding and uplifting.

Leave No Trace

As we revel in the wonders of Washington state, we must recognize the responsibility we bear in preserving such unique environments.

Consider supporting organizations dedicated to the conservation of national parks, such as the North Cascades Institute or the National Park Foundation.

FAQS, Seattle to North Cascades National Park

How to get to North Cascades National Park from Seattle?

To reach North Cascades National Park from Seattle, drive north on Interstate 5, then take State Route 20 (North Cascades Highway) east. The park, renowned for its stunning mountain landscapes, is approximately 120 miles from Seattle. Expect a scenic drive with opportunities for stops at viewpoints and hiking trails.

Is it worth going to North Cascades National Park?

Absolutely. North Cascades National Park offers breathtaking mountain scenery, alpine lakes, and diverse ecosystems. Hike scenic trails, enjoy stunning vistas, and immerse yourself in nature. It’s a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, photographers, and anyone seeking the beauty and tranquility of the Pacific Northwest.

Which is better, North Cascades or Mt Rainier?

Both North Cascades and Mt. Rainier National Parks offer unique beauty. North Cascades is known for rugged mountains and alpine lakes, while Mt. Rainier boasts an iconic volcanic peak with glaciers. The choice depends on preferences, with North Cascades offering a wilder, less-visited experience and Rainier featuring a prominent, iconic summit.

How many days do you need in North Cascades National Park?

A minimum of 2-3 days is recommended to fully explore North Cascades National Park. This allows time for scenic drives, hikes, and appreciation of the diverse ecosystems. Longer stays provide opportunities for more extensive exploration and a deeper connection with the park’s natural beauty.

Final Thoughts: Seattle to North Cascades

In just a single day, you can witness the grandeur of mountain landscapes, navigate pristine waters, enjoy uniquely WA experiences and connect with the rhythms of nature.

Washington state, with its untamed beauty, serves as a reminder that, even in our modern, fast-paced world, there are places where time slows and the soul finds connection with the natural world.

Remember, the park’s vastness can’t be fully explored in just one day, but these highlights provide a fulfilling taste of its beauty.

May your day be filled with exploration, reflection, and a profound appreciation for the boundless beauty that we have here.