Washington state is home to North Cascades National Park, one of the least visited, most underrated National Parks in the lower 48. Rightfully coined the “American Alps,” this park has over 500,000 acres of alpine grandiosity sprinkled with bright blue glacial lakes.
And if you’re in the midst of planning your adventure elopement (which is probably why you’re here at Nomadic Weddings in the first place!), let me be the first to tell you that North Cascades National Park is an easy sell that NEEDS to be at the top of your list!
I’ve spent months parading around the Cascades scouting the most epic locations to say “I do,” and I’m so excited to be your guide. In this post, I’ll cover whens, the wheres, and the hows of planning your picture-perfect elopement in the North Cascades.
When to Elope
Washington can be tricky when it comes to the weather. And while North Cascades National Park is open all season long, it’s important to consider weather patterns and road closures when choosing your date.
Summer & Fall are Your Best Bets
Mid-June through early October is the best bang for your buck in the North Cascades. All summer long you’ll experience the sun and perfectly mild 60-70 degree temperatures, not to mention the abundant wildflowers in the region. Rain and snow will start to come down in mid-September, BUT, if you’re willing to take the risk, you can experience an incredible larch-filled fall landscape.
So let me put it this way. If you’re firm on the date, pick late June through late August. If you have a little flexibility and are as into fall colors as I am, take a gamble in late September!
Winter & Spring
The North Cascades become a gorgeous winter wonderland as early as October, but the yearly closure of North Cascades Highway (which typically happens in November) can limit how far you can venture into the park with just a car. I would generally advise against a winter elopement in North Cascades National Park since there are plenty of accessible winter adventure spots in Washington. Check out Alpine Lakes High Camp!
Because of how much snow falls in this region, the roads don’t open back up until May. And even then, snow will likely cover the trails until June. Snowshoeing is definitely an awesome option, but it’s dependent on your date flexibility and the avalanche danger at the moment of your elopement. If you want to take a gamble in spring, make sure you have a backup plan in place.
Where to Elope
There’s certainly no shortage of otherworldliness in North Cascades National Park. Down to hike or backpack? Great! Let’s explore. Want to stay close to the car? No worries at all, there’s plenty of hike-less options that still capture the grandeur without the crowds.
Here are a few options that we can consider if accessibility is a priority. Keep in mind that Diablo Lake Overlook is CLOSED.
- Sterling Munro Boardwalk is ultra-accessible. Just 100 meters of walking brings you an expansive view of surrounding mountains and glaciers.
- Ross Lake Overlook is a gorgeous turnoff from North Cascades Highway that requires no walking and amazing views.
- Washington Pass Observation Site sits at the far east side of the park.
- Artists Point, while not TECHNICALLY in the National Park, is a car-accessible spot that mustn't be overlooked.
In the North Cascades, we can summit countless peaks, hike to fire towers, and take dips in fresh alpine lakes (think of that photo op in your elopement garb!). And don’t worry - I’ve got some major tricks up my sleeve when it comes to keeping your look fresh even after a hike. Here are spots to consider if big adventure is on your mind:
- Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm Trail has 3 rock-lined tent spots overlooking endless mountains. If we don’t score a permit to camp, we can certainly do this in a day.
- Desolation Peak is an 8-mile, 4500’ elevation climb that’s only accessible by boat. To access, you must hike 2.5 miles into Ross Lake Resort, where you can rent a cabin for $250 per night. From here, we can rent a boat to take us to the trailhead. Ceremony on the peak, party on the lake? Sign me up! Keep in mind that Ross Lake Resort fills up FAST, so make sure to book up to one year in advance!
- Thornton Lakes Trail winds 6 miles up the forest to reveal a spectacular alpine lake.
Once we start working together, I’ll let you in on all my favorite locations so we can choose together. I log hundreds of miles every month to find the best areas. And since we’re using public land instead of a costly venue, it’s our job to do what to protect our surroundings and practice the 7 principles of Leave No Trace!
How to Elope
Eloping in North Cascades National Park requires a special-use permit for elopements/weddings. They cost just $50 and require completion of a Special Park Uses Application. I'm happy to help you navigate the paperwork to make things easy! Full day elopement packages with me will include the photographer permit so you won't have to worry about me.
As elopements become increasingly popular, expect special use permits to become harder to obtain. While North Cascades permitting process is quite simple and flexible, I expect over the years things will continue to change. I highly recommend getting the application done and permit secured soon as you decide on North Cascades.
Getting to North Cascades National Park
There are 2 major airports near the park: Seattle Tacoma International Airport and Bellingham International Airport. The entrance is about a 2.5 hours drive from Seattle and 1.5 hours drive from Bellingham. It’s typically easier and less expensive to fly in and rent a car from Seattle, just make sure your rental car has all-wheel drive! Also, keep in mind that there may be many gravel or dirt roads that we will need to take to reach our elopement destination.
Where to Stay
The closest towns to the main entrance of the park are Rockport and Marblemount (30 minutes drive and 15 minutes drive respectively). Here are some marrier-worthy places to make a home base that will keep you close to the park.
- Scandinavian-style luxury in the North Cascades
- Cozy Cabin by Skagit River
- Secluded Mountain Cabin on 4 acres
- North Cascades Lodge at Stehekin (incredible spot only accessible by boat, plane, or hiking!)
- Ross Lake Resort (Currently only accessible by 2.5-mile hike due to COVID-19)
Campgrounds Around the Park
Campgrounds In the Park
Van Life It!
Washington is the capital of luxury campervan rentals. Outdoorsy.com is like Airbnb for camper vans. Renting one of these souped-up vans makes it easy to continue your adventure after you elope:
- Luxury Campervan with Queen Bed, Full Kitchen, and Full Bathroom
- Yogi the Van
- Gorgeous Off-Grid 4WD Campbulance Van with Indoor Shower and Toilet
North Cascades Adventures
Hiking & Backpacking
There is literally SO much to do and see in this magical corner of Washington. Let’s start with the obvious - hiking! With trailheads at every turn, it’s easy to find something that fits your criteria for distance, elevation, and views. Here are some of the top-rated hikes within the park:
- Cascade Pass Trail (you can also continue to Sahale Arm Trail from here)
- Maple Pass Loop
- Fourth of July Pass
If a night in the wilderness is more your speed, enter the North Cascades Backcountry Permit lottery (more info here) the March before your elopement date. You will find out in May if you received a permit. Walk-up permits are always available at the ranger station, so if you don’t go through the lottery and still want to obtain a backcountry permit, stop at Marblemount Ranger Station right when it opens the day you want to backpack.
After you’ve spent some time meandering through the many trails of North Cascades National Park, hop on a plane with Snowking Aviation to catch an unbelievable bird’s eye view of where you were. Their tours take off from the town of Concrete (just 20 minutes east of Marblemount) and they’re meant for sightseeing and photography!
Visit the Town of Stehekin
Stehekin is an unincorporated remote town on the outskirts of North Cascades National Park that’s only accessible by boat, seaplane, or foot. There’s tons to do - fly fishing, boating, hiking, or simply relaxing in a cozy, waterfront cabin overlooking the mountains. Charter a seaplane from Northwest Seaplanes to take you on the scenic flight from Seattle to Stekehin!
Summit a Volcano
Looking for a truly epic elopement adventure? Then might I suggest a guided summit! RMI Expeditions offers guided summits of Mt. Shuksan, Mt. Baker, and Glacier Peak. These expeditions are meant for serious adventurers with high levels of fitness. Please do not attempt if you don’t have prior experience.
Start Planning Your Wedding with Nomadic Weddings!
Ready to start planning your unforgettable North Cascades National Park elopement!? Nomadic Weddings proudly offers complimentary planning assistance from start to end, customized packages and timelines to fit any needs, and an experience that will make this adventure your best one yet! This thing wont plan itself! Reach out today to get started.
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I want to make your day what you want to make your day. I’ve been obsessed with tailoring my own path to what I want it to be that I’ve gone on to help guide people down the same path with adventure elopements. It can seem scary, but I promise I’ll be here from start to finish to help you build your own adventure.