Will North Cascades National Park Get Bigger?

One of the United States' least-visited national parks may soon get an upgrade. A group of conservationists, led by former U.S. Senator Dan Evans and mountaineer Jim Wickwire, have proposed a 237,000 acre expansion of the 504,781 acre North Cascades National Park. If the proposal is successful, park boundaries will expand by about 50 percent, and $23 million will be spent to upgrade park amenities.

The goal of the project is to attract more visitors. Nestled in north-central Washington state just below the Canadian border, North Cascades National Park receives only about 20,000 visitors each year. Granted, the park has not done an aggressive advertising job. Until last month, the highway that runs through the park boundaries had no sign indicating the park's existence.The upgrades would, theoretically, help attract visitors by moving park boundaries closer to main access roads and providing additional amenities such as new campgrounds. 

Although park expansions sometimes occur, the plan will likely face serious challenges. Congress is notoriously stubborn when it comes to establishing new protected areas. To do so, both houses of Congress must pass a wilderness bill and the president must sign it into law.

But even if the plan doesn't go through, there are still plenty of reasons to visit the area.The North Cascades have over 300 glaciers—more than any other national park in the lower 48—which means they are a great spot for mixed mountaineering routes such as to the top of Mount Baker or The West Ridge of Forbidden, one of the 50 Classic Climbs of North America.

If you are feeling slightly less daring, the gorgeous setting and views (not to mention almost 140 available backcountry campsites) are also ideal for backpackers.