Watching Wildlife in North Cascades National Park

North Cascades National Park is a cherished American park located in the state of Washington. It houses more than 500,000 acres of land, making it one of the largest of the National Park Service units in the greater North Cascades National Park Complex. The park has a northern and southern portion that are divided by the Skagit River. The area is also home to protected national forests, wilderness areas, provincial parks, and other incredible outdoor activities.

The park is known for the rugged mountain peaks of the North Cascades Range, which encompasses the most expansive system in the greater contiguous United States.

Initially inhabited by the Skagit tribes, by the 19th century, the region had become a major fur trapping post managed by several British and American companies that were fighting for control of the fur trade. This went on for some years, until the area became more popularly accessed for logging and mining. As communities built out in the region, environmentalists lobbied to protect the land. By 1968, North Cascades National Park was established.

The park is not home to the most hospitable weather on the planet, with heavy snows, high risk avalanches, rain storms, and other icy conditions that make it hard to maneuver in the wintertime. Most access into the park is off of State Route 20, which follows the Skagit River. For those wishing to camp, almost all locations are accessed by hiking or horseback riding only.

Today, the park is home to a diversity of animal species, including 75 mammal species like coyote, bobcat, lynx, cougar, mink, river otter, and black bear. More than two dozen species of rodents can be observed in the park as well, from pikas to beavers, and ten species of bats. The endangered species of the timber wolf, as well as the threatened grizzly bear, can also be viewed in the park. In fact, the park is considered a primary habitat for grizzly bears, which is why the park was added to the National Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan in 1997.

There are also 200 species of birds that pass through the park, including golden and bald eagles, owls, ducks, swans, and woodpeckers. Lastly, there are 28 species of fish that can be found in rivers, like the Pacific salmon and trout.

Note: the Great Cascades National Park has experienced glacial retreat the last 20 years. The retreat is causing adverse effects to the surrounding plants and animals.

North Cascades National Park’s Top Animals

  • Coyotes
  • Bobcats
  • Lynx
  • Cougars
  • Mink
  • River otters
  • Black bears
  • Deer
  • Elk
  • Moose
  • Bighorn sheep
  • Mountain goats
  • Beavers
  • Pikas
  • Bats
  • Wolves
  • Wolverines
    • Although present in small numbers, the park is still one of the best places to get a peek at this endangered North American mammal. Gray wolves and fisher foxes can also be viewed here.

Viewing Locations

Blue Lake Trail: One of the best wildlife viewing hikes in the park, you can see sheep, goats, deer, elk, moose, bears, and bobcats. Practice safe distancing on trails in the event that a grizzly bear is in the area.
Cascade Pass: One of the area’s longer hikes, you can see just about every common mammal in the park along this trail, but tread with caution.
Sahale Arm Trail: This is a great hike for spotting mountain goats. They can be hard to see at times, so if you manage to catch a glimpse, take a photo! Considered part of the Sahale Arm Trail, the “Arm” portion of the trail is a great place to spot black bears.

When Should You Go?

Winter conditions are too advanced for beginners in this park, which is why it’s recommended you visit the park between May and October. If you do go during the winter months, prepare for difficult road conditions, snow, and partial park shutdowns. If you want to catch many of these mammals mating or migrating, then the months of May and September/October are your best bet.

For summer hikes and park exploration, bring bug spray! The park is notorious for intense bugs and gnats.