Lodge Adventure in America's Alps, North Cascades, Washington

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14243A, Lodge


  • Hike the fabulous trails of the North Cascades
  • View alpine glaciers, awesome peaks, pristine lakes, and rushing rivers
  • Learn about the region from presentations by a local naturalist, historian, and ranger


  • Accommodations and all meals
  • On-trip transportation, including Seattle plane/train transfers
  • Evening talks and discussions at the North Cascades Institute


DatesJul 27–Aug 2, 2014
StaffCharles Schmidt

Trip Overview

The Trip

The rugged mountains of Washington's North Cascades boast jagged peaks, glaciers, ice fields, high-altitude lakes, alpine meadows, and clear rushing streams. On the rainy western side of the range, you'll find the deep turquoise waters of Diablo and Ross lakes; the dry east side features ponderosa pine-rimmed valleys, vineyards, orchards, and the broad swath of the Columbia River. The region is home to the North Cascades National Park, Okanogan National Forest, Ross Lake National Recreation Area, and several designated wilderness areas.

We plan a variety of hikes, following a ridge route for panoramic views of glaciated peaks and reaching high alpine meadows and snowfields. We’ll have one hike that follows the famed Pacific Crest Trail and we’ll row a canoe across Diablo Lake. To augment our daytime experiences, evenings include presentations by a local naturalist, park ranger, and regional historian.


Our trip will consist of five days of hiking. We will access our trailheads, either directly from the North Cascades Institute, onboard Seattle City Light boats, or via van to other parts of the North Cascades National Park, Ross Lake National Recreation Area, and the Okanogan National Forest. Weather conditions and participant interests will guide the leader’s decisions on specific hike destinations. Some prospective hikes include Thunder Knob, Fourth of July Pass, Panther Creek, and Maple Pass Loop. Late-afternoon returns will allow time for cleanup and relaxation prior to exquisite dinners and evening lecture/discussions with local experts.



Getting There

Transportation by van will be provided to the North Cascades Institute (NCI) from the Seattle-Tacoma airport and the Amtrak station on King Street in Seattle, WA. The van will depart from the airport at about 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, July 27, and will stop at the Amtrak station on the way. If you choose not to take the van, you may drive directly to the North Cascades Institute located near Newhalem, WA and meet the group there.

The ride from Seattle will travel on the scenic North Cascades Highway. The route takes us along the banks of the Skagit River, where large concentrations of bald eagles nest each year. Heading up through the Cascade foothills, we'll pass the dams and reservoirs of Seattle City Light as we make our way to the North Cascades Institute on the shores of Diablo Lake.

At the end of the trip, a van will return participants to the Amtrak station or Seattle-Tacoma airport at approximately 12:30 p.m. and 1:00 p.m., respectively, on Saturday, August 2nd. Participants should plan for departures from the airport no earlier than 2:30 p.m. Travel details will be provided in pre-trip correspondence.

Accommodations and Food

We'll stay at the North Cascades Institute (NCI) near Newhalem, WA. The facility offers pleasant dormitory-style rooms, with single beds and nearby bathroom/showers. Hearty breakfasts and exquisite dinners are served in a recently completed dining room overlooking Diablo Lake; lunch "fixings" are provided to participants. Vegetarian options are always available and special food requests can be accommodated. NCI offers comfortable living rooms, classrooms/laboratories, and a well-stocked library. Trails lead directly to the lakefront, old-growth forest, and nearby waterfalls.

Trip Difficulty

This is a lodge-based trip, and it offers a range of hiking activities. Participants can choose from light, moderate, or more strenuous day hikes, with distances ranging from 6 to 12 miles and ascents ranging from 500 to 2,500 feet. The rewards are outstanding views of the glaciated mountain range, pristine alpine lakes, and stately, undisturbed forested valleys. 

Equipment and Clothing

The climate in the North Cascades is likely to be sunny and warm in early August, but it can change quickly to windy and rainy. Additionally, the west slopes may be cool and cloudy while the east side is clear and hot.

You'll need good broken-in hiking boots for the mountain trails and snow fields. There will be opportunities to cool off in the lakes or streams, so a swimsuit will be nice if you are so inclined.

Bring a day pack and clothing that can accommodate a range of weather, and don't forget your camera and field glasses. A detailed equipment list will be available closer to the departure date.



Protection of adjacent areas: North Cascades National Park was established in 1968, but at that time some critical portions were left out of the original park. Areas around Liberty Bell, Rainy Pass, Snowy Lakes, Cutthroat Pass, and the Cascade River were excluded as were some lowland wildlife habitats. Efforts are underway to bring them inside park boundaries. 

Predator repopulation: The North Cascades currently includes remnants of once larger grizzly bear, wolf, wolverine, and lynx populations (nowhere near natural levels). These animals are essential for proper functioning of the natural wildlife ecosystem. Promotion of their recovery is an ongoing issue. 

Recreation usage: Management of outdoor recreation in the North Cascades National Park is under review.

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.
While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.



Chuck Schmidt has hiked extensively and led Sierra Club trips in the Cascades, the Sierra, the Trinity Alps, the Olympics, the Beartooth Mountains, and the Rubys in Nevada. He has been leading trips for the National Outings program since the mid-1980s.

Assistant Leader:

Betty Connor has enjoyed a lifetime of experiences outdoors. She has led many trips in Alaska, one in Ecuador and most recently as an assistant leader for the Sierra Club. For 27 years she camped, kayaked, canoed, hiked, fished, snow-shoed, and skied in Alaska. As biology and marine biology teacher, Betty has spent years learning about, teaching about, and loving the outdoors. She is an environmental activist with the WSU Beach Watchers and Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group involved in salmon stream restoration and research in Washington state.

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