diablo lake overlook with trees on a cloudy day
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The Best 1-3 Day North Cascades National Park Itinerary With Kids!

North Cascades National Park is one of the least visited National Parks in the entire United States. However, it’s absolutely stunning and a little bit of a hidden gem. Located 3.5 hours from Seattle and Spokane, WA it’s the perfect weekend trip. Whether your have one day in North Cascades National Park, two days in North Cascades, or longer – we have you covered with some amazing activities. Here is the best 1-3 Day North Cascades National Park itinerary with kids!

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Day 1 North Cascades National Park Itinerary: Arrive in winthrop

This itinerary is based on staying in Winthrop, WA because it’s one of the cutest and most unique towns in Washington! It’s a western themed town with beautiful views, fun places to eat, and it’s definitely worth visiting. You can certainly do this itinerary from a different town, but the drive times will be slightly different so keep that in mind.

Because you’ve likely traveled several hours to get here, the first day of this North Cascades National Park itinerary doesn’t actually have you going into the National Park. There are tons of fun things to do in Winthrop!

Stop #1: CHeck into your Accomodations

There are so many fun places to stay in Winthrop! Whether you want to camp, stay at a vacation rental, or are looking for a hotel, there are so many options. I’ll also list some campgrounds if you want to camp inside the National Park!

Camping Near Winthrop:
  • Pearrygin Lake State Park
  • Silverline Lakeside Resort
  • Winthrop KOA
Camping in North Cascades National Park
  • Newhalem Creek
  • Gorge Lake
  • Goddell Creek

*There are more options, these are just the most accessible campgrounds in the park! Check out this website for more information on camping in the park!

Vacation Rentals Near Winthrop:
Hotels Near Winthrop:

Stop #2: Downtown Winthrop

Take some time to walk around downtown Winthrop. You must stop by Sheri’s Sweet Shoppe and get some ice cream (make sure to try their homemade flavors!) Wander in and out of shops and look at the “westernized” downtown.

Stop #3: Grab Dinner & Beer at OSB

Old School Brewery (or OSB) is a fun place to eat in Winthrop with kids. If you’re visiting when the weather is good, they have a great patio with river views and room to roam. We loved their beer selection as well.

stop #4: Walk across the Spring Creek Bridge

The Susie Stephens trail goes across the Spring Creek Bridge near downtown Winthrop. It’s a fun place to take a walk after dinner and admire the stunning mountain and river views. Our kids (and us) loved this bridge and visited multiple times during our stay.

For more things to do and where to stay in Winthrop check out our post on 17 Fun Things to do in Winthrop, WA with Kids!

Day 2 North Cascades National Park Itinerary

You’ll want to get an early start so you can avoid any crowds and get the most out of your National Parks experience! There’s a bit of driving to get to the trails also, so that’s another reason to get going early. If you only have one day to spare, you can combine this day and the next, and just choose which hikes you want to do!

TOTAL DRIVE TIME FOR THE DAY: 1 hour 20 minutes

Stop #1: The Mazama Store

The Mazama store is a classic stop for your North Cascades National Park itinerary. This store is on your way from Winthrop to the Cascade scenic drive. They have breakfast sandwiches, coffee, a beautiful patio, tons of local souvenirs, and snacks for your hike. We loaded up on caffeine (always!) and gummy bears from their bulk selection to use as bribes while we hiked with our kids 😉 They also have a couple of cute store dogs if you’re lucky enough to meet them!

Stop #2: Washington Pass Overlook

The Washington Pass Overlook was one of my favorite stops on our entire North Cascades National Park itinerary. It’s a very short walk, about 0.3 miles, out to some incredible viewpoints of the Cascade Mountains. The trail winds along some steep spots, so keep your little ones close, but it’s definitely a family friendly trail. You get a lot of bang for your buck on this trail. We visited here really early in the morning so we had the place almost to ourselves, but I think this could be a really popular stop if you go during peak hours.

stop #3: Hike to Blue Lake or Rainy Lake (or both!)

There are several family friendly hikes in North Cascade National Park, depending on the time of year you visit and the distance you are willing to hike. Here are 3 great options, but I would recommend checking AllTrails (or asking a park ranger) for current trail reports. These three hikes are located closer to Winthrop so you have less driving time on this day.

  • Blue Lake: 4.6 miles, 915 ft elevation
  • Rainy Lake: 2.0 miles, 131 ft elevation (path is paved so it’s stroller friendly!)
  • Cutthroat Lake: 3.8 miles, 498 ft elevation

We chose to hike to Cutthroat Lake because we visited North Cascades in May. Rainy Lake and Blue Lake were still inaccessible due to snow at this point. However, if you visit mid summer or fall, Blue Lake and Rainy Lake are two family friendly hikes recommended by park rangers.

stop #4: Eat pizza!

Is there anything better after hiking than beer and pizza? If you’re like us, you love to stuff your face and quench your thirst after a long hike. There are a couple of pizza joints depending on where you want to make your next stop. East 20 Pizza is a local favorite in Winthrop with pizza, beer, and a cute covered patio. If you don’t want to wait to drive all the way back to Winthrop to fuel up, you can stop at Woodstone Pizzeria At Wesola Polana like we did. It’s hard to miss right alongside the road. They have a huge outdoor patio with room to roam for kids and tasty pizza. They do also have a large (but pricey) German beer selection as well!

Day 3 North Cascades National Park Itinerary

This day in North Cascades National Park explores the section of the park complex west of Ross Lake. You’ll have a bit more driving, but this area of the park is 100% worth visiting. If you’re camping in the park, you’ll definitely have a lot less driving time. However, the entire time you’re driving, you’ll have beautiful views and the driving will be broken up by your amazing stops.

TOTAL DRIVE TIME FOR THE DAY: ~3 hours

Stop #1: Diablo Lake Overlook

Diablo Lake Overlook is probably the most photographed place in North Cascades National Park, and for good reason. This overlook is perched high above Diablo Lake, so on a sunny day you’ll be able to see the incredible teal water. The lake looks a stunning icy blue color because there are fine rock particles, called glacial flour, suspended in the lake which then refract sunlight. 

Even if you don’t make this stop when the sun is shining and you can see the beautiful turquoise color, the overlook is absolutely beautiful and worth a stop. This is also a great stopping point if you need a spot to have a snack.

*Note: These pictures were taken on the same day at two different times. The right photo was taken early in the morning and the water was dark. The second picture was mid day when the water was more light blue! We had several cloudy days while we were visiting so we never saw the ultra turquoise water.

Stop #2: Newhalem Visitor Center

The Newhalem Visitor Center is located in the town of Newhalem on the other side of the Cascade Scenic Byway. The visitor center has a great area to walk through, grab souvenirs, and of course get your National Parks Passport stamped. We love to buy National Parks books, a magnet, and a sticker for our passport book.

Stop #3: Sterling Munro Boardwalk

The Sterling Munro Boardwalk trail is the perfect short and easy North Cascades National Park hike. It’s a boardwalk trail that is only 0.3 miles and leads to beautiful mountain views and some benches to stop for a moment of peace. The trail leaves right from the visitor center, and is definitely worth tacking on while you’re at the visitor center.

Stop #4: Ladder Creek Falls

Ladder Creek Falls is a really unique stop in the North Cascades. It’s a 0.5 mile, 359 feet elevation hike to a waterfall. It’s located behind the Gorge Powerhouse in Newhalem. You’ll start the trail by crossing a fun suspension bridge and then have cool views of the Gorge Powerhouse. The trail then heads into a lush forest with beautiful gardens. And at last, you’ll find stairs up to view the Ladder Creek Waterfall. The most unique part? Ladder Creek Falls is illuminated from dusk until midnight with a 15 minute repeated light show. We didn’t get to witness this unique display because dusk is currently past our bedtime, but the waterfall was worth visiting nonetheless!

Stop #5: Add on Another Hike Or Back to Winthrop

If you’re feeling ready for more hiking and outdoor adventures, you could certainly add on a hike you didn’t do yesterday to today’s itinerary. Another family friendly hike that has a trailhead located in Newhalem is the Trail of the Cedars Nature Walk. It’s only 0.6 miles roundtrip and is flat. If you’re hiked out for the day, head back to Winthrop and enjoy dinner. Truthfully, we liked OSB so much that we chose to visit again for dinner rather than branch out. However, another fun place to eat would be the Mazama Public House on your way back home!

Overall North Cascades with Kids Experience?

must see:

If you do nothing else, at least drive the Cascade Scenic Byway and stop at the two overlooks, Washington Pass Overlook, and Diablo Lake Overlook. There is so much to this park complex, but those are must visits and easy stops with kids

Would Skip:

Nothing we did was something I would skip! I would skip visiting in the winter when the road isn’t open because most of what you’ll want to do is on the Cascade Scenic Byway. I also would skip visiting this park and doing no hikes. North Cascades National Park is known for having some of the best hiking anywhere!

Next Time:

There are so many more hikes I want to do in this park, including some of the longer ones. Luckily, we don’t live too far away from here, so we’ll be able to visit again and again. I also am dying to visit North Cascades in the fall to see the beautiful yellow larch trees and more fall colors.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Is it Worth Visiting North Cascades National Park?

North Cascades National Park is 100% worth visiting. Whether you like epic mountain views, incredible hiking, or cute mountain towns, North Cascades has something for you. We absolutely loved our visit here, and will definitely be back to visit again.

What is the Best Month to Visit North Cascades National Park?

Typically summer months are the most popular to visit North Cascades because the road is fully open and the higher elevation hikes are no longer covered with snow. However, fall is an amazing time to visit to see the larches and beautiful fall colors. We visited in the Spring and there were a lot less visitors and we got to see some beautiful wildflowers. We had fun hiking over snow as well.

Can You Drive Through North Cascades National Park?

Yes! You can drive all the way through North Cascades National Park as long as the Cascades Scenic Byway is open. This road does close for the winter by the scenic byway opens up from mid April to mid November, depending on the snow and the year. The drive is stunning, and we loved all of the beautiful views. During the spring, you’ll also see a bunch of small waterfalls along the road as you drive.

Is North Cascades National Park Kid Friendly?

North Cascades National Park has a ton of kid friendly hikes and activities. We brought our two little kids along and had so much fun. See my itinerary above for all the fun things you can do!

How Long Does it Take to Drive the North Cascade Loop?

The drive is about 30 miles and can take roughly 60 minutes one way. However, you’ll want to budget more time than that to stop at overlooks and go hiking.

We hope you enjoy North Cascades National Park as much as we did. Happy travels! If you’re interested in more National Parks travel, check out our National Parks page for itineraries, things to do, and more!

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