As can usually be expected in the Northwest, rains arrive westerly from the Pacific in the spring and fall, with summer being the most pleasant all around. At any time, though, expect rain and bring rain gear. The eastern side of the mountains is less wet than the western. Few visit the North Cascades area in the winter, which begins creeping up in October in the upper elevations and mid-November in the lower elevations. It lasts until mid- to late April and necessitates the regular closure of Wash. State Rte. 20. Closure depends on snow and avalanche conditions.
From April to September, daytime temperatures range from 50° to 80°F (10°-27°C), depending on the elevation. However, this is a land of extremes: Trails at higher elevations are usually snow-covered into early July (though this varies considerably from year to year), and summer temperatures of 100°F (38°C) are not unusual at Ross Lake and Lake Chelan. With the extremes in altitude here, it's always good to bring some warm clothing, even in the summer months.
The Golden West Visitor Center mounts several art exhibits in the summer. Contact the park for dates.
North Cascades is also one of the national parks that offers an artist-in-residence program, which gives artists a chance to "discover and interpret this landscape through their own projects." The residencies are for 4 to 6 weeks and take place in the spring and fall. For information and an application, visit www.nps.gov/noca/supportyourpark/artist-in-residence.htm.
Avoiding the Crowds
It's not hard to avoid the crowds in the North Cascades. The lack of roads, the weather, and the ruggedness of the terrain all work in concert to keep this one of the best-kept secrets in the national park system.
If it's true isolation you seek, hike in the northern unit of the national park. Nonetheless, Stehekin (the developed unit of the southern park section) also offers plenty of solitude, especially in the fall and winter. Lake Chelan, Ross Lake, and Diablo Lake are relatively tourist-heavy spots.
In high season, this park can be like many others. You're more likely to run into folks on the Big Beaver Trail or on your way to Hozomeen in the summer than in the fall, which is about the last part of the year during which you can easily get anywhere in the park. Ross Lake is thicker with boaters on summer holiday weekends, and the heaviest load of visitors all year is in Stehekin and the Cascade Pass area during July and August. The deeper into the backcountry you go, the fewer people you are likely to encounter. Winter is not to be underestimated in this park, and Wash. State Rte. 20 will almost certainly be closed.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.