The photography guide to United States North Cascades
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North Cascades photography guide

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The North Cascades offer endless opportunities for landscape photographers; lakes, meadows, mountains. Fall time, when the needles of the larch trees turn a brilliant yellow then mellow into a vibrant orange is one of the best times visit. Equally appealing in the fall, are the high meadows were the leaves of the huckleberries turn a brilliant red, and the berries are ripe.

Due to the ruggedness of the area, the North Cascades offer only a few easy access points. Most photographers find themselves frustrated by the lack of entry into this mountainous region unless they are prepared and willing to hike into the wilds.

The North Cascades is an area of rugged, glaciated mountains located in Washington State near the northern end of the Cascade Mountain Range. This area boasts a National Park complex that encompasses Lake Chelan and Ross Lake National Recreation Areas and the North and South Units of North Cascades National Park. The park itself is surrounded by the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest and included therein are the Mount Baker, Pasayten, and Lake Chelan-Sawtooth Wilderness Areas. Highway 20, a Scenic Byway, is the only road that actually runs across the North Cascades. In this guide are all the scenic locations that can be accessed by road or trail between the Canadian border at the northern end, and Lake Chelan at the southern end.

Access to the North Cascades is extremely limited during winter and spring. If you prefer green meadows with alpine flowers, plan your visit for late-July to mid-August. Fall is the season when the most photographers visit. The sun has moved south and the light is softer. Fall color of the meadows and larch trees brings out locals and tourists who come to savor the warm colors and sunshine before the winter rains set in. Best time for fall color is between the last week of September and mid-October.

Most popular North Cascades photo spots

Top Picks

1) Heather Meadows National Recreation Area. Make sure you spend an evening photographing Mount Shuksan reflecting in Picture or Highwood Lakes. Other highlights of the area are Table Mountain, Artist Point, and Lake Ann.

2) Cascade Pass; especially in the fall when the meadows turn red and orange.

3) Easy Pass for a view of Mount Logan, located off the North Cascades Highway 20. This location is also at its best in the fall when the larches turn yellow.

4) The Maple Pass Loop for fall color and mountains starting from Rainy Pass on the North Cascades Highway.

5) Washington Pass Overlook for views of Liberty Bell and the Early Winters Spires.


The only way to get around this area is by car. Visitors arriving without a car are advised to rent one. Make sure you do not leave the urban areas without a full tank of gas, it is not uncommon to go 90 miles (140 km) without encountering a gas station.

Accommodations near scenic photographic locations are very rare; with Stehekin, Ross Lake and the towns of Winthrop and Glacier being the only exceptions. Photographers should come prepared to camp or rent an RV unit.

Winter sees numerous road closures in this area. The North Cascades Highway from Newhalem to Early Winters closes after the first good winter storm, usually in late October to early November and does not reopen until late-April or May. The Cascade Road is never plowed, so it closes with the first snowfall. The best winter access is Highway 542 from Bellingham which ends at the popular Heather Meadows National Recreation Area and Mount Baker Ski Area.

The towns of Winthrop and Stehekin have cell phone service.


Check out the Winthrop events calendar for dates and events. Photographing potential includes rodeos, historic 49's weekend, and a hot air balloon festival.

Event calendar may be found at


Explore more photo spots in United States

If you want to explore beyond North Cascades, we have 1877 photo spots and 15 events that you can visit in United States.

Curated By

T. Kirkendall and V. Spring Author
Tom Kirkendall and Vicky Spring are both photographers and authors. Along with a massive file of landscape images, they have written 10 guidebooks for cyclists, cross-country skiers, and hikers.
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