|Rainy Lake, North Cascades National Park, WA|
For the past four years we've taken an autumn trip north. Way north. The first road trip was the most dramatic -- to and beyond the Canadian Arctic Circle. The next two years, we completed ferry-automobile loops in northern British Columbia. This year, with the Canadian border closed due to Covid19, the far north was not a possibility. To complicate destination decisions even more, fires in the east and the south (not to mention that large body of water to the west), hemmed us in further. Nonetheless, we went north to Washington's North Cascades.
We were able to continue our annual search for gold, since the timing was perfect for autumn colors (the beginning of October); in addition, we happened to time our travels just as the larches were turning golden, and we caught glimpses of them high up near the tops of peaks on the eastern side of the Cascades.
Our intention was to spend the first day in the Marblemount area. Of course, that was based on the intention -- also one of ours -- to leave before noon that day. In the end, due to nothing but our own tendency to start everything late and take longer than expected, we ended up leaving at about 4:00pm, which meant that we didn't even get up to the North Cascades until after sunset. We didn't enjoy any of the accessible offerings I had discovered in books, and we didn't find any available campsites at either Goodell or Colonial Creek Campgrounds.
We decided to drive back towards town and hope for some place to stay, when we happened to see Alpine RV Park near Marblemount on the side of the highway. It was geared toward RVs, with just a few sites designated for tents, and with very few trees or site separation. While I put together the tent poles, I heard what sounded like chickens behind me in the dark. Turning around, I was surprised to see instead two deer chewing and "clucking." Luckily for us, there were no other tents there, so we had a lot of space. Also lucky for us, the campfires ended soon, and the people went inside their RVs, so it was quiet. To top it off, the full moon shown brightly through the tent window. Really, it was perfect for what we needed.
We will, however, have to return and explore the accessible activities we missed this time. Besides the magnificent drive on Highway 20, the numerous accessible options include:
Shadow of the Sentinels Trail - .5 mile boardwalk through old-growth forest near Baker Lake
West Loop Interpretive Trail - .5 mile trail through old-growth forest in Rockport State Park
North Cascades Visitor Center - the center and its restroom are wheelchair accessible
Sterling Munro Boardwalk - 300 ft boardwalk starting at northwest corner of Visitor Center
Linking Trail - hard-packed dirt trail in the forest between trails, starting at the ranger station near Newhalem Creek Campground. .1 mile to Newhalem Creek picnic area. (one accessible table), then .3 mile to Newhalem Creek Rockshelter trail, then .25 mile to Newhalem Powerhouse and Trail of Cedars
Newhalem Creek Rockshelter Trail - between .1 and .7 miles, depending on which webpage you believe, this hard-packed dirt trail passes an ancient hunting camp and and old-growth cedar grove. The trail starts past the steel-grated Newhalem Creek Bridge (service Road in Loop C for Newhalem Creek Campground)
Trail of the Cedars - .3 mile gravel loop along banks of the Skagit River through stands of old-growth forest, which begins at Newhalem Creek Powerhouse or at suspension bridge in Newhalem
Gorge Overlook Trail - .5 mile (.2 m is paved) trail to the overlook of Gorge Lake and Dam, east of Newhalem, at the start of Diablo and Ross Lakes
Happy Creek Nature Trail - 1/3 mile loop through old-growth forest on boardwalk and gravel (trail to falls is not accessible) at Milepost 135
The next morning, we got up and left at a reasonable hour, giving us time to do about 50% of our planned activities for the day. The first stop was at Rainy Pass (Milepost 158). Rainy Pass is on the part of the highway between Lake Diablo and Mazama which closes due to winter weather and snow, so it is only open in the summer and fall. The parking lot includes a few picnic tables and accessible outhouses, as well as the trailhead to Rainy Lake and to Maple Pass.
|Rainy Lake Trail|
The accessible, paved Rainy Lake Trail is 1 mile each way. It is not very wide, with little opportunity to step to the side (this matters during the time of Covid19), but most of the crowds turn off at the path up to Maple Pass. The trail to Rainy Lake traverses the hills, so it is very steep and hilly, with a significant side slope. In addition, it is in the forest, so the path may be blocked by fallen trees.
However, it is one of my favorite trails, since it winds through the forest to Rainy Lake, with a view showing colorful mountains on the other side. This first week of October included the added bonus view of colorful vine maples on the slopes across the lake and golden larches near the distant peaks.
|Liberty Bell at Washington Pass|
After a picnic at Rainy Pass and the hike to Rainy Lake, we drove eastward to Washington Pass, pulling off at the Washington Pass Overlook. In the parking lot, there is an accessible outhouse, and there is a short paved trail to overlook Liberty Bell and the pass.
Due to time constraints, we had to miss the creekside Lone Fir Trail at Lone Fir Campground, off of Highway 20. Supposedly, the first 0.4-1.0 mile of this trail is paved and accessible.
Instead, we drove to and set up camp at Blackpine Lake Campground outside of Twisp. We had discovered the existence of the accessible Black Pine Lake Trail, and thus the Blackpine Lake Campground, on the US Forest Service's Interactive Visitor Map that allows users to filter searches by accessibility. The campground was a jewel of a find -- so magical that I considered not sharing the information about it in order to keep it secret. It is only the difficulty and distance of getting there that makes me feel comfortable about sharing this selfish secret!
|Fishing pier at Blackpine Lake|
Blackpine Lake is full of fish. I know that, because I saw the fish jumping and the people in canoes and kayaks with fishing rods. There is a dock and an accessible fishing pier. Running along the lake for a while is an accessible, paved path, bordered by rose hips. The parking lot for the day-use area next to the lake includes a few picnic tables and an accessible outhouse. Across the lake are mountains, with larches near the peaks.
- Most of the campground is perched above the lake, with space between campsites scattered through the pines. In the winter months (Sep 21 - May 21), there is no water (the pumps are dry), and the camping is free, but the campground is still open, as are the accessible outhouses.
|Walk-in campsite #10 near Blackpine Lake|
Near the day-use area and along the lake are three walk-in campsites. The farthest away (#10) is down a straight, firm-surfaced, wide path, not too far from the parking lot. This means that the site is completely wheelchair accessible, as long as you're willing and able to carry all of your camping gear (or have a companion who is). This lakeside site is spacious, with its own fire pit, grill, and picnic table.
The lake was visited by swimmers, paddlers, and fisher-people during the days, but the campground was quiet at night. In fact, the first night, we may have been the only ones there -- and thus the only ones for miles and miles around. The silence was beautiful, peaceful, and eerie all simultaneously, as we are so used to some ambient noise at all times. We could even hear the beating of the ravens' wings as they flew above us. Like some cartoonish "whoosh whoosh whoosh," at first it startled me, but then it became part of the background.
During the day, we explored the campground, read by the lake, and hiked the accessible trail along the lake and through the pines. There were lots of small critters -- a little too brazen to leave unwatched for long. At night we were treated to a full orange moon.