North Cascades National Park, near Sedro-Woolley, WA

SPECIAL REPORT • The West's untapped treasure
Steven R. Lorton

The North Cascades National Park Service Complex, the only such designation in the system, is made up of three parts: the Ross Lake and Lake Chelan National Recreation Areas and the North Cascades National Park - 684,313 acres in all.

It is connected to a jigsaw puzzle of other wild areas that add up to some 1 1/2 million acres of pristine land. On the west side of the park is lush rain forest. The east side is dry ponderosa and lodgepole pine country.

WHERE: North Cascades is 52 miles east of Interstate 5 along State 20.

WHEN:Open year-round. State 20, however, is closed in winter at milepost 134 near the park's eastern boundary; it's usually open from mid-April until mid-November. The road is busiest July through September.

COST: Free. You need a Northwest Forest Pass (check at the visitor center) to park at some trailheads.

SERVICES: Visitor center is just off State 20 on the west edge of the village of Newhalem at milepost 120.

There's camping near Newhalem at Goodell Creek Campground ($10) and Newhalem Creek Campground ($12). Up on Diablo Lake, there's Colonial Creek Campground ($12).

There are two resorts within the park: North Cascades Stehekin Lodge (509/682-4494 or www.stehekin.com) and Ross Lake Resort (206/386-4437 or www.rosslakeresort.com); both are only accessible by boat or foot. Lodging and dining are plentiful in Sedro-Woolley and Marblemount on the west side and Winthrop on the east.

For information, contact the following: Marblemount, North Cascades Chamber of Commerce (360/873-4432 or www.marblemount.com); Sedro-Woolley Chamber of Commerce (360/855-1841, 888/225-8365, or www.sedro-woolley.com), and Winthrop (509/996-2125, 888/463-8469, or www.winthropwashington.com).

ACTIVITIES: The local power company, Seattle City Light, offers a boat tour of Ross Lake in July and August (Thu-Mon; 206/684-3030).

At Washington Pass Overlook, park your car and take the paved trail to its upper, eastern terminus for the panoramic view out to Liberty Bell Mountain and into the beginning of Methow Valley.

FYI: Backcountry camping permits (available from the Wilderness Information Center; 360/873-4590, ext. 39) are required.

CONTACT: (360) 856-5700 or www.nps.gov/noca.