North Cascades National Park

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North Cascades National Park
IUCN category Ib (wilderness area)
Neve Glacier North Cascades USGS.jpg
Map showing the location of North Cascades National Park
Map showing the location of North Cascades National Park
Location Whatcom, Skagit, and Chelan counties, Washington, USA
Nearest city Mount Vernon, Washington
Coordinates 48°49′58″N 121°20′51″W / 48.83278°N 121.34750°W / 48.83278; -121.34750Coordinates: 48°49′58″N 121°20′51″W / 48.83278°N 121.34750°W / 48.83278; -121.34750[1]
Area 504,781 acres (204,278 ha)[2]
Established October 2, 1968
Visitors 21,623 (in 2013)[3]
Governing body National Park Service

North Cascades National Park is a U.S. National Park located in the state of Washington. The park is the largest of the three National Park Service units that comprise the North Cascades National Park Service Complex. Several national wilderness areas and British Columbia parkland adjoin the National Park. The park features rugged mountain peaks and protects portions of the North Cascades range.

Human history[edit]

Human history in the region now part of North Cascades National Park dates back to the end of the last glacial period, and the region has been continuously inhabited for at least the last 8-10,000 years.[4] At that time, native American ancestors of Skagit tribes slowly advanced from Puget Sound into the interior mountainous region as the glacial ice retreated. Archeological evidence of continuous human presence in the North Cascades dates to 4,470 B.P. and rocks procured from sources in the region were used to manufacture stone tools and weapons for several millennia.[4] Hozomeen chert was a type of rock which is well suited for the fabrication of implements and was mined from near Hozomeen Mountain, which is just outside the park border, for the last 8,400 years. Hozomeen chert is part of the archeological record throughout the Skagit River Valley, west of the park and in regions to the east, indicating people visited the region if for no other purpose than to obtain raw materials.[5][6] Prehistoric micro blades dating back to 9,600 years before present have been discovered at Cascade Pass, a mountain pass that connects the western lowlands to the interior regions of the park and the Stehekin River Valley. The micro blades are part of an archeological assemblage that includes five distinct cultural periods, indicating that people were traveling into the mountains nearly 10,000 years ago.[7] The archeological excavation at Cascade Pass is one of the 260 prehistoric sites that have been identified in the park.[8]

When white explorers first entered the area in the late 18th century, perhaps 1,000 Skagits lived there.[9] The Skagits lived in settlements, culling their needs from the waterways and traveling by way of canoe. Skagits formed a loose confederation of tribes that united if threatened by outside tribes such as the Haidas, who lived to the north.[9] They erected large houses that might house multiple families, each with their own partioned area and entrance. The houses were 100 feet (30 m) in length and 20 to 40 ft (6.1 to 12.2 m) in width and the roofs were shed-styles, with a single-pitch; structures built by other Puget Sound tribes usually had gable roofs with more than one-pitch.[9] The Skagits were generally lowlanders, who only ventured into the North Cascades during the summer months, and structures in the mountains were more modest, consisting mostly of temporary buildings erected with poles and covered with branches.[9] The Skagits erected totem poles and participated in potlatch ceremonies, similar to the Haidas, but with less complexity and extravagance. By 1910, only about 56 Skagits remained in the region, but their numbers have since rebounded some.[9]

Geography and geology[edit]


Looking toward Magic Mountain from Sahale Arm north of Cascade Pass. Yawning Glacier has retreated significantly since 1980.

In 1971, the park had 318 glaciers with an area of 117 km2 (Post et al., 1971), the most of any US park outside Alaska. All the glaciers in the park have retreated significantly from 1980 to 2013 and the rate is increasing. The recent warmer climate has led to more summer melting and more winter melting events, reducing winter snowpack. Several glaciers in the range have melted away in the last decade.[10] Boston Glacier, on the north slope of Boston Peak, is the largest glacier in the park with an area of 7 km2. The other large glaciers (with areas greater than 2.5 km2) are:

Lower Curtis Glacier in 2003 compared with 1985


Nearly all of the national park is protected as the Stephen Mather Wilderness, so there are few maintained buildings and roads within the North and South units of the Park. The park is most popular with backpackers and mountain climbers. One of the most popular destinations in the park is Cascade Pass, which was used as a travel route by Native Americans. It can be accessed by a four-mile (6 km) trail at the end of a gravel road. The North and South Picket Ranges, Mount Triumph, as well as Eldorado Peak and the surrounding mountains, are popular with climbers due to glaciation and technical rock. Mount Shuksan, in the northwest corner of the park, is one of the most photographed mountains in the country and the second highest peak in the park 9,127 ft or 2,782 m.

map of the North Cascades National Park complex


Although a couple of gravel roads open to the public enter the park (Cascade River Road beginning at Marblemount off HWY #20 and the Upper Stehekin Valley Road accessed from Stehekin via tour-boat from Chelan), most automobile traffic in the region travels on the North Cascades Highway (Washington State Route 20), which passes through the Ross Lake National Recreation Area.

The nearest large town on the west side of the park is Sedro-Woolley, Washington, while Winthrop lies to the east. Chelan is located at the southeastern end of Lake Chelan where east-side access to the NCNP from Stehekin serves the Eastern Washington communities.


Variation in rock and soil types, exposure, slope, elevation, and rainfall is reflected in the diverse plant life. Eight distinctive life zones support thousands of different plant species in the North Cascades greater ecosystem. No other National Park surpasses North Cascades National Park's over 1,630 vascular plant species recorded. Estimates of non-vascular and fungal species could more than double the number of plant species in the North Cascades.[11] The park contains an estimated 236,000 acres (960 km2) of old-growth forests.[12]

The park also has a diversity of animal species, including bald eagle, grey wolf, grizzly bear, mountain lion, lynx, moose, wolverine, and black bear.[13] The park is home to 75 species of mammals and 200 species of birds that either pass through or use the North Cascades for a breeding area. There are also 11 species of fish on the west side of the Cascades.[13] Examples of amphibian species occurring in the park include the western toad (Bufo boreas) and the rough-skinned newt (Taricha granulosa).[14]

The biodiversity of the area is threatened by global climate change and invasive exotic plant species.[11] These exotic plants thrive by using man-made structures such as roads and trails.[11] These invasive plants include the diffuse knapweed (Centaurea diffusa) and reed canary grass (Phalaris arundinacea).[15]

The Thornton Lakes fill glacier-carved basins near Mount Triumph

See also[edit]


 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the National Park Service.

  1. ^ "North Cascades National Park". Geographic Names Information System, U.S. Geological Survey. Retrieved March 29, 2014. 
  2. ^ "Listing of acreage as of December 31, 2011". Land Resource Division, National Park Service. Retrieved March 29, 2014. 
  3. ^ "NPS Annual Recreation Visits Report". National Park Service. Retrieved March 29, 2014. 
  4. ^ a b Apostol, Dean; Marcia Sinclair (November 5, 2006). Restoring the Pacific Northwest: The Art and Science of Ecological Restoration in Cascadia. Island Press. p. 248. ISBN 9781610911030. Retrieved March 29, 2014. 
  5. ^ McManamon, Francis P.; Linda S. Cordell, Kent G. Lightfoot, George R. Milner (December 2008). Archaeology in America: An Encyclopedia. Greenwood. p. 323. ISBN 978-0-313-33184-8. Retrieved March 29, 2014. 
  6. ^ Mierendorf, Robert. "Cultural History". North Cascades Institute. Retrieved March 30, 2014. 
  7. ^ Mierendorf, Robert. "Archeology at Cascade Pass" (pdf). North Cascades Resource Brief. National Park Service. Retrieved April 6, 2014. 
  8. ^ "History and Culture". National Park Service. Retrieved April 6, 2014. 
  9. ^ a b c d e Thompson, Erwin N. (June 11, 2008). "1". North Cascades History Basic Data. National Park Service. Retrieved March 29, 2014. 
  10. ^ Glacier Retreat in the Pacific Northwest North Cascades National Park
  11. ^ a b c "Plants". United States National Park Service: North Cascades National Park Service Complex. Retrieved January 13, 2009. 
  12. ^ Bolsinger, Charles L.; Waddell, Karen L. (1993). Area of old-growth forests in California, Oregon, and Washington. United States Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. Resource Bulletin PNW-RB-197. 
  13. ^ a b Kefauver, Karen (15 Sep 2010). "North Cascades National Park: Wildlife". GORP. Orbitz. Retrieved 6 June 2012. 
  14. ^ Rawhouser, Ashley K.; Holmes, Ronald E.; Glesne, Reed S. (2009). "A Survey of Stream Amphibian Species Composition and Distribution in the North Cascades National Park Service Complex, Washington State". 
  15. ^ "Non-native plants". North Cascades National Park. National Park Service. Retrieved 2012-06-06. 

External links[edit]