Seattle to North Cascades National Park Road Trip

The spectacular North Cascades National Park in northern Washington State is just a 2-hour drive from nearby Seattle. It’s a popular day trip destination, but it also warrants an extended visit. Not only is the final destination worth more than a few hours of your time, but there are also plenty of things to see and do on the way there.

Throughout this guide, we’ll examine how to get to North Cascades National Park. We’ll explore the different route options available and highlight the best things to see along the way. While it’s only 108 miles from Seattle to North Cascades National Park, there’s still plenty of opportunity to make this a memorable road trip adventure. 

Distance From Seattle to North Cascades National Park

It’s just 108 miles from downtown Seattle to the West Gate of North Cascades National Park. This assumes you travel by the fastest and most direct route, State Route 530, via the town of Darrington. It’s a journey that can be completed in just 2 hours if you’re lucky enough to have good weather conditions and light traffic.

Sign denoting the boundaries of the North Cascade National Park
Spectacular North Cascades National Park is the final destination for this road trip.

Best Road Trip Routes Between Seattle and North Cascades National Park

The only way to reach North Cascades National Park by road is by traveling along the North Cascades Highway, which runs east to west across the park. Given Seattle’s location to the southwest of the park, we’ve focused on road trip routes to the West Entrance. There are two possible routes that you can take to get there.

The first route is the quickest and most direct route. It follows the I-5 north before turning east on SR 530, just after Arlington Municipal Airport. SR 530 continues to Rockport, where you continue on SR 20, the North Cascades Highway. It’s a total journey of 108 miles, and it should take you around 2 hours. 

The second route is a little longer and sticks to the major roads and highways. It starts on the I-5 out of Seattle and continues north to Burlington. At exit 230, you turn eastbound on SR 20, the North Cascades Highway. This road travels via the towns of Hamilton, Concrete, and Rockport before finally reaching the West Entrance of the park. The journey is a little longer at 118 miles in distance and 2 hours and 10 minutes in duration.


Main Attractions


Driving Time

Direct Route via State Route 530

  • Boeing Future of Flight Aviation Center

  • Outback Kangaroo Farm

  • Neiderprum Trail

  • North Mountain Fire Lookout

  • Rockport State Park

108 miles

2 hours

I-5 Route via Burlington

  • Boeing Future of Flight Aviation Center

  • Eagle Haven Winery

  • Lake Shannon

  • Sauk Mountain Pottery

  • Rockport State Park

118 miles

2 hours 10 minutes

Direct Route via State Route 530

The Direct Route via SR 530 starts in downtown Seattle. You travel north on the I-5, which travels through Seattle’s northern suburbs. The suburb of Mukilteo is home to your first potential stop on the way, Boeing’s excellent Future of Flight Museum. The northbound journey continues on the I-5 until Arlington Municipal Airport, where you turn off and head east along SR530.

After turning off the I-5, you’ll pass another possible stop, the Outback Kangaroo Farm. Further along SR 530 is the Neiderprum Trailhead, which offers an excellent but challenging hike. A slightly more sedate hike is a few miles later, up to the North Mountain Fire Lookout, and the view from the top is exceptional. 

SR 530 then turns northwards and joins the North Cascades Highway at Rockport. Immediately to the town’s north is the impressive Rockport State Park, the final stop before arriving at the West Entrance to the park. 

Best Things to see on the Direct Route via State Route 530

The short journey from Seattle to North Cascades via SR 530 has some interesting stops and something for all ages and interests.

Here are the five best things to see along the route:

Boeing Future of Flight Aviation Center – This great museum is at the Boeing Factory in Everett, just off the I-5. Admission includes a tour of the factory, the museum, and access to the sky deck to see the workings of a busy airport close up. The sky deck even provides a panoramic view of the North Cascade Mountains. A taste of what’s to come!

Outback Kangaroo Farm – This fun small farm is located just outside Arlington and is an excellent family stop. It offers 45-minute tours with its range of animals, which includes kangaroos, wallabies, lemurs, and even Nigerian dwarf goats. It’s open each week from Thursday through Sunday, with tours departing at 10 am, midday, 2 pm and 4 pm daily.

Neiderprum Trail – This beautiful but challenging hiking trail is one of the best in the area. The initial part of the trail is just 1.75 miles long and leads you to the old mining trailhead. From here, it’s a steep ascent up to the peak of Whitehorse Mountain through a range of challenging terrains. Only attempt this latter part if you’re an experienced hiker and climber. 

North Mountain Fire Lookout – A more sedate and accessible hike in the area is the one to the North Mountain Fire Lookout. It’s a short 2.5-mile round trip, and the views from the now-disused fire tower are sensational. To get to the starting point of the hike, you’ll need to drive along a winding gravel track for the best part of 10 miles. We promise the views are worth it, though. 

Rockport State Park – This wonderful state park provides a glimpse of the past. It’s home to 632 acres of old-growth trees that have never been logged. The result is an incredibly dense forest with a unique ecosystem and trees covered in thick, eerie-looking moss. There are some excellent hikes in the park for all ability levels, while the amenities are also decent. 

I-5 Route via Burlington

The I-5 Route to North Cascades National Park starts like the Direct Route. You initially exit downtown Seattle on the northbound I-5, passing through the city’s northern suburbs. You can turn off to visit Boeing’s excellent Future of Flight Museum. Otherwise, you continue north towards Arlington. Whereas the Direct Route turns eastwards, the I-5 Route continues northbound on the I-5 for 27 miles. 

Once you reach Burlington, turn off the I-5 at Exit 230 and head east along SR 20, better known as the North Cascades Highway. The first potential stop along this stretch of road is Eagle Haven Winery, which produces local wines and fruit wines. Further along the highway is scenic Lake Shannon, a popular fishing, hiking, and swimming destination. 

Approaching the town of Rockport, it’s worth stopping by at Sauk Mountain Pottery. Situated in a beautiful old building and setting, there’s a shop on site selling some great locally-produced pottery. As you progress into Rockport, the route joins with the Direct Route at the potential final stop of Rockport State Park. It’s then just 14 miles and a 20-minute drive to the park’s West Entrance. 

Best Things to see on the I-5 Route via Burlington

The relatively short I-5 Route from Seattle to North Cascades National Park offers some good stops. Most of these stops are adult-centric, but there are still a few stops to keep kids interested. 

Here are the five best things to see along the route: 

Boeing Future of Flight Aviation Center – This is a fine museum at Boeing’s Factory in Everett, close to the I-5. Admission to the museum includes a tour of the factory and the gallery and access to the sky deck to view the airport. You’ll even catch glimpses of the North Cascade Mountains on the horizon.

Eagle Haven Winery – This tremendous little winery is set in the foothills of the North Cascades. It produces both wine and fruit wine from the fertile local soil. There’s a tasting room on-site to sample the various red, white, and rosé wines. There’s also a shop on site and the occasional concert if you’re lucky enough to visit at the right time. The winery is open from mid-May through to mid-October.

Lake Shannon – Located just to the north of the town of Concrete is the large reservoir known as Lake Shannon. Its fresh, clear waters are excellent for swimming, fishing, and various water sports. It’s a great little stopover if the weather is fine and a good hike from town. 

Sauk Mountain Pottery – This small local pottery business occupies a spectacular setting in a lovely home just outside Concrete. It’s here that the proprietors Stephen and Nicola create some beautiful pieces of pottery, which are available for sale. As well as a business, it’s also a labor of love for Stephen, whose passion for pottery remains undiminished. 

Rockport State Park – This excellent state park is home to 632 acres of old-growth trees that provide a glimpse of the past. The area features an incredibly dense forest, as it’s never been logged. This has created a unique ecosystem with trees covered in thick, eerie-looking moss. There are excellent hikes in the park for all ability levels, and there are also some good facilities. 

Moss covered trees in Rockport State Park
Eerie moss covered trees at Rockport State Park near North Cascades National Park

Best Time for a Road Trip Between Seattle and North Cascades National Park

Generally, the best time to visit North Cascades National Park is mid-June to September. These summer months are when the park has the warmest, clearest, and driest weather, which makes it the perfect time to visit. These same months are also the best time to take a road trip to North Cascades National Park to enjoy your end destination properly. The summer months are the busiest, so make sure you book ahead for any accommodations or tours that you intend to take.

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