After leaving Seattle, I spent the night in Everett, as it was getting late and the weather was turning bad. Then after a lazy, rainy morning, I drove to the North Cascades. I don’t recall if I had been here with my family as a kid but thought I should visit. I was not really feeling excited about the visit, but I was so close, I felt obligated.
Fortunately, after a mostly overcast, rainy drive, it cleared off to beautifully blue skies as I entered the park. It’s a long drive off I-5 on highway 20 before you get to the Parks. The North Cascades, like Theodore Roosevelt National Park, has a north and a south section. They are connected with the Ross Lake National Recreation Area (NRA).
After stopping at the Visitor Center to get a trail map, the ranger explained a bit of the history of the park and why it was in two areas. The Skagit River has 3 major dams along it, the Gorge, Diablo, and Ross, predating the park, which was established in 1968. The dams are from the 1920s and supply a lot of the electricity in the area, so you see a lot of towers and transmission lines along the river. The one good thing about the NRA is that pets are allowed on all the trails off the main road and they are not allowed in the national parks on the other trails. Since most of the shorter, day trails are in Ross, it was perfect.
After the visitor center, I stopped at the Gorge Creek Falls and dam and did a short walk here. After that, I drove, without stopping, to the Ross Lake/Ross Dam stop. Boo and I split a ham and cheese sandwich for lunch and then did the short, mile and a half, but very steep Ross Dam Trail. It descends only about 500 feet but there are a lot of steep sections, and the trail has lots of switchbacks. You can walk across the dam and look north at the Ross Lake and campgrounds built on the shore. The walk up had me gasping.
After getting back to the car, we drove to the Diablo Lake Overlook for some great views of the lake and mountains. There were a couple volunteer rangers here answering questions for people, so I had a nice conversation with Lori about volunteering. She does it every summer, picking different parks, and hauls her 27 foot trailer instead of staying in the dorms for volunteers on the park. I am debating doing this myself, perhaps getting a small T@G trailer for me and Boo.
I asked Lori about the trails for Thunder Creek and Thunder Knob, as the map looked like it began at the Diablo Lake Overlook but the trailheads are at the Colonial Creek Campground. I parked off the main road then walked through the campground. I have to say, I want to return to this campground and stay for several days. Unlike some of the campgrounds I’ve stayed at this trip, this was a PERFECT campground. Each site was fairly isolated, surrounded by lots of trees, just so quiet and peaceful.
At the end of the campground, the trailhead for Thunder Creek Trail starts with a sign and map. There are several trails starting here, but there are signs on the trail for the various trails. The Thunder Creek Trail is about 3 miles round trip, some up and down, lots of roots and rocks so you need to watch your feet, but an overall easy trail out to a nice bridge over the river. I enjoyed the peaceful walk, mostly along a river so you can listen to the sound of water. This walk continues past the bridge, and is called the Thunder Wood Trail at that point.
After doing this walk and the Thunder Knob Trail, slightly longer, with a 425 foot elevation, which is across the highway from the Colonial Creek Campground, I headed back east out of the park to go to Bellingham. The park is just so beautiful, gorgeous forest, mountains, stunning turquoise lakes, I want to return for several days. I want to camp in Colonial Creek Campground and spend several days quietly in those woods. Visit the Cascades, you won’t be disappointed.