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The Ultimate Planning Guide to Backpacking in North Cascades National Park

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Person standing atop a mountain while backpacking in North Cascades National Park



North Cascades National Park in northern Washington state is an absolute adventurer's paradise. With hundreds of glaciers, dozens of alpine lakes, beautiful rugged mountains and the highest degree of flora biodiversity than any other national park in the USA, it is easy to get a little overwhelmed by the adventure possibilities.

In our opinion, one of the best ways to explore this stunning national park is to head out into its backcountry for a couple of days. If you have the energy and the gear, we truly cannot recommend backpacking along its miles and miles of trails enough.

Below you will find everything you need to know to plan one epic backpacking adventure - including, information on how to get a wilderness permit, what backpacking gear you will need to bring, and what trails you should explore.

So with that, keep reading for our in-depth North Cascades Backpacking Planning Guide!

► Pssst, also consider checking out our comprehensive adventure guide to the national park. Explore it here.

\\ Planning Your Backpacking Route

There are a few things you need to figure out before you plan your backpacking route in North Cascades National Park. First, what do you actually want to see? Are you hoping to spot some glaciers, or are you more into alpine lakes. Obviously, each trail is different, so you will want to have a basic idea of what kind of landscape you want to hike through before actually looking at a map.

A few other important questions you need to ask yourself is whether you want to go somewhere busy/popular or somewhere a bit more off-the-beaten-path. Some trails in the park are going to be relatively busy, so if you are looking for some solitude maybe steer clear of those (the PCT is a great example of a busier trail). Likewise, what kind of camping amenities do you want or need? Do you want a campground with bear lockers and pit toilets or are you okay "roughing" it and staying somewhere with less to offer (or even in one of the wilderness areas where there are no amenities).

Finally, the last thing you need to think about when picking your backpacking route is how far you actually want to hike to reach your campsite. Remember, your backpack is going to be heavy, so if you aren't in the best shape or if you haven't been backpacking in a while (or ever) maybe consider picking a camping spot that isn't too far away from the trailhead.

So remember, when figuring out your backpacking route make sure to answer these questions:

| What do you want to see?

| How many people do you want to see?

| What kind of camping amenities do you want/need?

| How far can you reasonably/comfortably hike in a day?

By answering these questions, you can really narrow down your route options until you find the perfect backpacking trail for you.


\\ How Many Days Do You Need for Backpacking

You will need at least 2 days / 1 night in the North Cascades National Park backcountry. Though we highly suggest putting aside 3 days / 2 nights for the trip so you can really head into the rugged wilderness and have a true backcountry experience.

Many of the top trails require a couple of days of hiking - though of course if you only have 2 days definitely still get a permit and hit the trails.

Curious to see what it is like to backpack in North Cascades National Park? Then check out this video we made on our own backpacking adventure. See it here.

\\ North Cascades National Park Backcountry Permits

There are two ways to get a backcountry permit: with an advanced reservation or by walking up the day before or the day of your trip. The main difference here is that the advanced reservation can be made up to two days before your trip, whereas the walk-up reservations are only available the day before or the day of your trip's start date.

Whichever way you do it, you will still need to stop by the Wilderness Information Center to pick up your permit in person. The Wilderness Information Center is located in the town of Marblemount, which is approximately 7.5 miles from the west entrance to the national park.

📌 EXACT ADDRESS: 7280 Ranger Station Rd, Marblemount, WA 98267

🕝 HOURS: 7 AM - 4 PM, 7 days a week

➳ Learn more about North Cascades National Park Backcountry Permits here.


For the advanced reservations, you will need to head to to secure your campsite of choice. Once you reserve your spot, you will still need to visit the Wilderness Information Center in Marblemount to pick up your permit in person.

❔ GOOD TO KNOW: there is also the opportunity to reserve a spot in the park's early-access lottery. You will need to apply to participate in the lottery (which starts on March 3rd). You can apply for the lottery at the start of the year and if you are successful you will then be given a specific time slot to make your reservation.


If you can't make a reservation online, either during the lottery or 2 days before you