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Trip Report: North Cascades National Park

Updated: Aug 5, 2021

Colonial Creek Campground (Site #76) July 24 – 29, 2017

It’s 50 minutes from your campground, he’d said, and a nice place for a picnic. There’s a long stretch of gravel road but it’s decent—you can go about 30 on it. 

Riiiiiight. That ranger must own a truck and drive like a bat out of Hell.

We piled the kids and dogs into the van a little before 11am and arrived at the Cascades Pass trailhead two-and-a-half hours later. It took us almost an hour just to reach the gravel road, which extended another 15 miles and was so heavily rutted we were frequently shaken into traveling 5mph. Eventually the ruts gave way to potholes—some obvious, many hidden among the dappled light peeking through the forest. We zig-zagged and weaved, wondering what lay ahead.

About 10 miles in, the gravel turned to pavement again. Cool, I thought, immediately followed by Are we still going the right way? But then I realized why—this part was paved because it was too steep and windy for gravel. I didn’t mind; it was smooth and fun to drive for two minutes, before turning to gravel again. We crossed creaky wooden bridges and even one with no sides—just flexible orange poles the diameter of walking sticks. I’ve never hit a guardrail, but the absence of one made me realize how much comfort its presence brings.

This better be good, Wendy and I both thought as lunchtime came and went and we considered the likelihood of a flat tire or damaged suspension system. But as we neared the end of the road, other thoughts took over: Wow… This is so beautiful… Amazing…. Our view no longer obstructed by trees, we could see the face of the mountains, dotted with meadows, waterfalls, and patches of snow.

The ranger was right: This was a beautiful place for a picnic, and a unique one. We’ve seen mountains, we’ve seen forest, we’ve seen glaciers. But this composition left us in awe.

In fact, it was so beautiful we felt it was worth the drive even though we ended up eating lunch in the van: Wendy and Clark in the passenger seat, me squeezed between the kids’ car seats in the middle, CeCe and Odie in the back. We so wanted to eat outside, but the prominent, persistent, Deet-loving fly population ushered us back into the vehicle. I had sprayed myself and the kids—and the picnic table—with Off that contains 40% Deet. The little buggers just hovered all the more as if to sneer “Is that all you got?!”

We returned from our picnic at around 5:30pm, very glad to have taken the dogs with us. The next day, we decided to explore some nearby trails. We walked the River Loop, which was perfect for the kids since it’s about a mile-and-a-half long and mostly level. The path winds its way through the forest, along the Skagit River, and through dense patches of purple wildflowers taller than the children.

Next we headed to the Rock Shelter. Wendy wasn’t interested and the kids were tired of walking, but I wanted to see it because the park newsletter said it’s about a 1/4-mile roundtrip and was used by Native Americans 1,400 years ago. I’m not a history buff but it seemed like a very small investment for something kind of cool, so we went. It was not 1/4-mile roundtrip; it was probably half a mile, up a hill with a steep drop-off. No biggie really, had it been interesting. I don’t know what I was expecting; my disappointment is my own fault. It was, quite literally, a rock shelter and nothing more. Yep, those are rocks. The one on top sticks out a bit more, so yeah, I guess people could sit under it in the rain. 

Darwin got tired and didn’t want to walk anymore. Emerson wasn’t tired but didn’t feel like walking anymore. So on the way back down, I carried Darwin on my shoulders and Wendy kept encouraging Emerson to run in spurts, so it’d be entertaining for him. We were back at the car in no time.

Before heading home, we bought hot dogs from the General Store then Wendy and I took turns walking Happy Creek Trail while the kids slept in the car. “Hmm, Contented Creek maybe,” Wendy said when she returned, “but I wouldn’t go so far as to say Happy.” That made me laugh. I took my turn traversing the boardwalk through the forest, next to the little creek. Yeah, contented, I thought, that’s about right.

We returned from the day’s activities around 2:30 to find another screen had bitten the dust. We had followed the same morning protocol as Olympic with the exception of turning on the radio because we can’t find an FM or AM station here, but for some reason it hadn’t worked. Later, we realized CeCe and Clark may have been able to see people and dogs walking along the road near our campsite, so that could’ve done it. We’ll have a chance to test it out again when we go to our next stop—the Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area.

We leave tomorrow and will be pretty well rested. We didn’t do much here in North Cascades; there isn’t a whole lot to do, really. And our campsite is nice—it’s big, private, and right by Diablo Lake. We spent four days here—two of them sight-seeing and two in camp, just sitting outside and playing with the kids.

We’re spending three nights at Lake Roosevelt, which will probably go pretty quickly since we have some chores and errands planned, like visiting a laundromat, grocery store, and Target or Walmart. Diapers are getting low and the light in the kids’ crib that Wendy fixed in Olympic is pulling away from the wall again.

We already removed the button so it won’t turn on (‘cause boy was that fun for them), but the fixture itself has exposed edges the kids pull on when they’re supposed to be napping. We’re going to see if putting a ribbon of caulk around it will prevent their little fingers from finding their way behind the light, which is covering a nickel-sized hole in the wall with two protruding wires.

Dogs and toddlers and trailers, oh my.

Read the next trip report: Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area and the Missoula KOA


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