This is glacier country - the North Cascades is the most heavily glaciated area in the continental United States. The current park glacier census stands at 318 with countless more snowfields that are fed by some of the heaviest snowfalls in the world, between 400 and 700 inches in an average year. The millions of North Cascades acres have been carved up among various federal agencies since 1968 but most of the region - 93% - has been designated as the Stephen Mather Wilderness Area, named after the first director of the National Park Service.
Dog owners must approach the North Cascades like working a jigsaw puzzle. Dogs are banned from the North Cascades National Park North Unit and South Unit (except on the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail) but are permitted in the Ross Lake National Recreation Area sandwiched between. Dogs are also allowed in the limited-access Lake Chelan National Recreation Area to the south. The only paved access road to the area is Washington State Route 20, the North Cascades Highway that, to the good fortune of canine hikers, runs across the dog-friendly Ross Lake National Recreation Area (NRA), splatterd with outings from long day hikes to overnight expeditions.
Quick leg stretchers introduce the natural and human history of the mountains at the Visitor Center in the Newhalem Area. The River Loop picks its way through alpine forests to a free-flowing section of the Skagit River. Diablo Lake, with its rich turquoise waters, is the central jewel of the Ross Lake NRA and several canine hiking opportunities exist here. The Diablo Lake Trail on the north shore is an out-and-back affair of nearly four miles with just a modest elevation gain. Thunder Creek, that feeds the lake with fine glacial sediment, is shadowed by a 38-mile trail but the first steps are an easy canine hike of less than a mile to a crossing suspension bridge. The popular Thunder Knob Trail crawls through dry forest terrain to views of Diablo Lake and surrounding peaks.
More long-distance outings are available upstream at Ross Lake, the largest of the three man-made reservoirs on the Skagit River. The East Bank Trail runs 17 non-strenuous miles along the shore of the lake. At Ross Dam a short walk of less than a mile leads down to the 540-foot tall dam and across the road the Happy Creek Forest Walk takes a short stroll through an ancient creekside forest.
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