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72 Hours of adventure in the North Cascades

By: Jess Fischer + Save to a List

When we first knew we were going to be relocating our lives across the country we began researching hikes, backpacking trips and camping spots instead of movers. Priorities, right? Visiting the Cascades quickly rose to the top of our list and we knew because of the long snowy season in the region that our window to visit would be small after we made our move in August. Luckily, we had a few days off in mid-September, so we loaded up the 4Runner and began our trek up north. 

Our itinerary was loose with a few key places we wanted to check out and an overnight backpacking trip we knew was a "must do." During our time in the area, we didn't see many other people, but that's most likely due to the time of year we visited (after summer break). 

Day One - Diablo Lake

Explore Diablo Lake

As we drove into North Cascades National Park, the weather was rainy with clouds drifting in and out of the deep valleys and swirling around already snow-covered peaks. We quickly stopped by the visitors center to stock up on brochures, maps and chocolate bars before heading to our first destination at Diablo Lake. 

Diablo Lake is actually a reservoir and the bright blue coloring of the water is due to glacier flour, or very finely ground rocks (silt) that is suspended in the lake. At the lookout you will find a large parking lot, pit toilets and picnic benches. Due to the rain being heavier than expected, we canceled the rest of our plans for the day and instead decided to relax at the overlook. We popped the tailgate and made a comfortable bed in the back of the 4Runner where we watched the rain and clouds drift by and the covered picnic area made a perfect spot to make dinner.  

Day two - Winchester Mountain Fire Lookout

The next day we awoke to fog that quickly began to lift and expose a bright blue sky. Fresh snow covered peaks surrounded us as we began our journey further north into the Mount Baker Wilderness for an overnight backpacking trip to a fire lookout. 

Along the way, we stopped to do a short hike along the North Fork Nooksack River where the last of the season’s white water rafters could occasionally be heard laughing down the bright blue river. After enjoying the river, we continued to our final destination for the day, Twin Lakes Trailhead to hike up to the Winchester Mountain Fire Lookout. 

Hike to Winchester Mountain Fire Lookout

While researching the trailhead to the Winchester Mountain Fire Tower, it quickly became evident that the road up to the top is treacherous. We were fairly confident with a high clearance SUV we would be okay, and we were, but just a fair warning to anyone else: be sure to have a vehicle with four wheel drive AND a high clearance; the road is as bad as they say it is. 

After parking between Twin Lakes, we repacked our backpacks and we were on our way. We had planned to make good time up to the Fire Tower but with wild blueberries growing everywhere and expansive views every few hundred feet it was hard to hike fast. 

The landscape was just starting to transition to fall with bright reds, oranges and yellows popping out everywhere. The clouds were spectacular, rushing past us and obscuring our view only to quickly pass and expose beautiful scenery. When we arrived to the summit around 2:00pm there was already, unfortunately, another couple in the fire tower. So instead we pitched our tent nearby and had a “front door view” of the show the clouds were putting on for us (we ended up being thankful this was the case). 

It's my professional opinion that mountain summits are always better with a piping hot bowl of mac and cheese. So  after setting up camp and taking some pictures we poured a glass of wine and fired up the backpacking stove to make some grub. At this point the temperatures were slowly dropping and they continued to drop all the way down into the mid-twenties that night (and we woke up to a tent covered in ice!). 

The sunset cast soft golden light across the landscape and onto the clouds swirling around us. Towards twilight, Mount Baker’s summit popped out over a sea of clouds. Soon after, the stars began to emerge in the hundreds twinkling all across the sky. We finally retired to our tents with happy hearts to escape the cold and snuggle into our warm sleeping bags.

Day three - Artist Point

The next morning we awoke to bluebird skies and ice covering everything, transforming the landscape into a glittering oasis. After enjoying the sunrise and making some coffee, we packed up our bags and headed to our final destination before heading home. 

Explore Artist Point

Artist Point is only accessible by car during the summer and the road is closed at the end of September (first snowfall) until June. The drive up to Artist Point is long and windy but the road is paved so you don't need a four wheel drive vehicle to access the area. 

Once at the top, you will be rewarded with impressive views of Mount Shuksan and Mount Baker. You'll also be in an area with tons of trailheads for countless hikes. After exploring for a little while we begrudgingly headed back to the car to begin our trek back to Portland. 

If you ever have any time at all, even just a day, I highly recommend visiting the Cascades. With so many towering, snow-covered peaks and beautiful scenery around every turn, it will certainly be worth your while. 

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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