North Cascades National Park or Glacier?
June 19, 2012 10:40 AM   Subscribe

North Cascades National Park or Glacier?

Me and my girlfriend are going on a road trip in early August, and the first week will be spent at one of the two above locations. The things we're hoping for, roughly in order, are:

1. Beautiful alpine landscapes.
2. Good hiking.
3. Lots of animal-watching opportunities.
4. Relative solitude.
5. Ease of finding a nice (backcountry) camping spot.

It seems to me that Numbers 1 to 3 are covered handily in both cases, though if you have an opinion as to why one option wins out over the other in any of those regards I'd love to hear it. So, the deciding factors now are 4 and 5.

It's my understanding that Glacier gets many times more visitors per year, but it also seems possible that one could easily construct an itinerary that avoids the crowds and makes the difference negligible. Is that true? And, branching into point five, how does the number of people affect the ease of getting a campsite? Glacier is distinct from North Cascades in that it allows reservations for backcountry sites, so if we go for Glacier we'd probably be applying for a permit pretty soon (with this handy map, which lets you click on the campsites to see whether there are spots available for a given date). There are a lot of campsites still available, though few for the whole stretch. Are any to be avoided if we go for Glacier? Does it really matter, since the park is new to us and we don't have any particular hikes in mind as of yet?

Conversely, if we go to North Cascades, is the timing going to be an issue? They only issue backcountry permits in person for same-day or next-day reservations, so I'm wondering what the chances are that we would get stuck in a lame spot, especially because early August is a pretty popular time.

My feeling about it right now is that I'm leaning towards Cascades on the basis of its relative obscurity (and the extreme ecological diversity), and on the assumption that getting a solid campsite won't be a huge issue. It's all conjecture, though, since neither of us have been to either park, so your help will be much appreciated.
posted by invitapriore to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (6 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I have never been to the North Cascades, but I was in Glacier in late August/early September two years ago and there were quite a few areas where we never saw other people at all. There are heavily trafficked parts of the park, for sure, but it's huge and pretty remote in general.
posted by something something at 10:50 AM on June 19, 2012

Best answer: I, too, haven't been to North Cascades, but have been to Glacier a number of times. The big hotels in Glacier were booked last year. Most of the campgrounds at major spots were, too. There's a shuttle that runs up and down the Going to the Sun Road regularly, so you can settle at Apgar and shuttle to good spots easily.

You're driving, right?

Head up the west glacier road. Stop in Polebridge and get some awesome food, cookies, and beer. Camp at bowman or at Kintla. You've never known peace like Kintla lake. As long as you don't hurry, any passenger car can make it up there; I've done it in a lowered CRX, even.

Glacier's one of my favorite places on the planet - I almost didn't respond just to keep a little more of it for myself.
posted by notsnot at 11:40 AM on June 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Just south of North Cascades is Lake Chelan. You could drive to Chelan at the southern end, take an amaaaazing ferry ride up the lake, and then disembark at Holden Village, a Lutheran resort accessible only by ferry. You can take their bus up to the village or just hike from points along the road up. They have a kitchen where you can buy delicious meals and an old ball field you can camp in before heading up into the mountains.

From Holden Village you can link up with the PCT at some of its most remote points. There is amazing hiking and camping up there and the difficulty of getting there keeps the crowds down.

The ferry can also drop you off on trailheads along the lake if you ask for it, and then pick you up at those trailheads at a time you pre-determine. The ferry has some sort of shallow-draft front end and gangplank so it can do drop-offs even where there's no dock.
posted by MonsieurBon at 11:53 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have been to both parks many times. Glacier NP is an epic landscape just made for backpacking. Everything about it beckons you to head out on a trail, camp near a lake, fish, freak out that you are in Grizz country, revel in the scenery.It is also closer to you by a couple of days.
North Cascades is much less developed. there are no lodges, no centralized areas for supplying yourself, no giant campgrounds. Wildlife is also scarcer until you get waaaay into the backcountry, and even then you will likely see mule deer , maybe sheep, but not likely bears.
So, looking at your criteria, i would say that both places will easily meet 1&2. Glacier wins #3, Cascades wins #4. #5 probably favors Cascades too if solitude is a criteria for a nice spot, but you can't argue with either place really.
If you decide on Cascades memail me, i live a couple of hours from the park and visit it half a dozen times each summer and can gicve you some advice if you want it.
have a blast
posted by OHenryPacey at 11:16 PM on June 19, 2012

I just noticed who posted the question. Dude! just FYI, Glacier is right about 36 hours' drive from St. Louis. If you iron-butt it and platoon driving and sleeping, you get five or six days in the park (assuming using two weekends and one week of vacation time). I can recommend a few things on the way, if you like, pm me.
posted by notsnot at 5:33 AM on June 20, 2012

Response by poster: Okay, I'm convinced. I think it's going to be Glacier this time, though I still intend to get out to North Cascades some day. Thanks for all of the input!
posted by invitapriore at 8:09 AM on June 20, 2012

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