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North Cascades National Park/USA

Introducing North Cascades National Park

Ordained in 1968, the North Cascades National Park is Alaska transplanted in the lower 48, one thousand square miles of dramatic, daunting wild country strafed with mountains, lakes, glaciers (over 300 of them) and wildlife, but with almost no trace of civilization. Schizophrenic weather, massive precipitation, thick rain forest and vertiginous cliffs have long ensured the remoteness of the park's mountains; steep, alpine behemoths furnished with names like Mt Terror, Mt Fury, Mt Despair and Forbidden Peak. Aspiring bushwhackers and free-climbers love the unique challenges offered by this eerie wilderness (most of the peaks weren't climbed until the 1930s). The less adrenalin-hungry stick close to arterial Hwy 20 and prepare for the drive of a lifetime.

For administrative reasons, the park is split into two sections – north and south – separated in the middle by the Ross Lake National Recreation Area, which encases a spectacular 20-mile section of the North Cascades Highway (US 20). Bordering the park's southern border around Stehekin lies a third region, the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area, a 62,000-acre protected park that surrounds the fjord-like Lake Chelan. To avoid confusion, the three zones are managed as one contiguous area and overlaid by the Stephen Mather Wilderness, created in 1988.

While it is possible to get a basic overview of this vast alpine wilderness by motoring through in a car on US 20 making use of the numerous pullouts and short interpretive hikes that litter the route, to taste the park's real gritty essence you'll need a tent, a decent rucksack and a gung-ho sense of adventure. Call in at the visitor center in tiny Newhalem and let the glimmering peaks seduce you.