We ended our summer with one last camping trip at the North Cascades National Park (earlier in the season, we camped at another great location). We’re incredibly lucky to have not just one, but three National Parks here in Washington state (and we managed to visit all three this summer)!
The North Cascades are about 3.5 hours from Olympia or 2.5 hours from Seattle. For whatever reason though, it’s one of the least visited National Parks in the country!
We traveled with my inlaws and camped at Newhalem Campground for 5 days in their RV. There are tons of campgrounds to choose from in the area, but this was the best location for a larger RV and it was in the same area as the Newhalem North Cascades Visitor Center.
While there’s a ton of information on the North Cascades online, I found it hard to find very many suggestions that were more family or kid specific. Below, I’ve made a list of hikes and activities that we did at North Cascades National Park with our kids:
North Cascades Visitor Center
Our campsite was about a mile from the visitor center and was one of our first stops after getting settled in. The center was fantastic and had tons of great info to help us plan our next several days.
It also had a great interactive exhibit room that showcased the different terrains and animals in the area. London especially loved going through this. Adeline’s favorite part was the little kid’s corner that had coloring pages, books, puzzles, and puppets to play with.
Outside the visitor center is a little boardwalk that leads to some really great views as well!
Junior Ranger Program at Newhalem Campground
The Junior Ranger program here was one of the best the girls have done so far! I definitely recommend checking it out. They have a Jr. Ranger program everyday at 10 am and it’s different everyday! My girls learned about ravens, banana slugs, and animal tracks our week and loved participating in the discussions and activities. They also have workbooks based on age (my oldest worked on her Bear workbook for ages 6-8, while our middle worked on her Frog workbook for ages 3-5) and both girls received their Jr. Ranger badge at the end. I was really impressed with how family friendly this whole National Park was.
Happy Creek Forest Walk
We had a picnic and did a little hike at Happy Creek Forest one of our days. The boardwalk takes you on a .3 mile nature loop that follows along a little creek (my girls loved looking for fairies along the way). It’s a very pleasant, easy walk.
Halfway through the loop, there’s also a mile spur trail that leads to a waterfall. While the waterfall was really neat to see (and a great place to cool off a bit), the hike to it was really tough (and the first half was above the highway so it also wasn’t very scenic along the way). Our 6 year old struggled through it, but I was really glad our 4 year old had decided to hang back with her Grandma while we hiked.
Diablo and Ross Lake Overlooks
Along Hwy 20, there are two main overlooks to see each of the lakes. Both are glacier-fed and are a beautiful, bright turquoise color. There are also picnic tables, making it a very scenic spot for a picnic (although one ranger warned us about Elvis, the raven who enjoys stealing lunches 😂). Both are great places to take beautiful photos of the area.
Play in Diablo Lake near Colonial Creek Campground
The entire week that we camped, we had temperatures in the upper 80’s and low 90’s. Mostly it wasn’t too bad with all the trees around us, but one afternoon we escaped to Diablo Lake to splash around in the icy water. It was a blast and such a relaxing way to spend the rest of the day. Both of our girls got into the water up to their ankles and splashed around quite a bit, while my husband and I (and the baby), sat on the shore in the shade. Definitely worth a visit and really neat to see the turquoise water up close!
Rainy Lake Trail
Rainy Lake Trail was a great, easy 1 mile hike to Rainy Lake off of Hwy 20. The trail is paved the entire way (it’s easily accessible by wheelchair or stroller) and has benches to rest on for a break/snack. The girls enjoyed it and loved hanging out next to the lake at the end for a little bit (we brought binoculars with to try to spot any animals). There are also more challenging hikes in the same area as well.
Washington Pass was one of my favorite little hikes! This was off of Hwy 20 as well and was a great place to picnic. I really enjoyed the mountain views. The hike was great and fairly short with plenty to see along the way.
About a half hour from Newhalem Campgrounds is the original Cascadian Farm Organic. It’s a great place to stop! We loved seeing all of the beautiful flowers and trying their ice cream (the raspberry chocolate chip was fantastic!).
Overall, we had a really great 5 days in the national park. Initially I was worried that there wouldn’t be much to do with our kids, but was pleasantly surprised at all of the great options. I’d love to go back again someday!
Have you been to North Cascade National Park before? What was your favorite hike or activity in the area?