|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
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.
|Fishing pier at Blackpine Lake
|Walk-in campsite #10 near Blackpine Lake
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.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that all of my discoveries were already documented in one of the Forest Service videos on accessible adventures. People interested in visiting the North Cascades with a wheelchair should also take a look at Barrier-Free Travel: WA National Parks for Wheelers and Slow Walkers in Candy Harrington's Emerging Horizons series.
We drove back to Seattle via Highways 153 and 97. On the north side of Wenatchee, we stopped at several fruit stands to buy fresh fall fruit. Conscious of a needy cat impatiently waiting at home, we decided to head directly back to Seattle on I-90, saving the accessible trails (Iron Goat and Erinswood) on scenic Highway 2 for another day and another blog.