If you're looking for sheer wildness and first-rate alpine climbing, this area may be your best choice in the Lower 48. The North Cascades National Park "Complex" consists of three units: North Cascades National Park; Ross Lake National Recreation Area, a slim piece of land just east of the park; and the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area, at the southeast corner of the park.
These three components are combined into the Stephen Mather Wilderness, a huge and tremendously rugged piece of earth with jagged glaciated peaks above narrow stream drainages and densely forested U-shaped valleys.
The Pacific Crest Trail crosses the southeastern corner of the area for about 13 miles, but most of the trails tend to be long and crudely rambling. Maps show about 390 miles of pathways, but if trail access determines what you see, you'll see little of this Wilderness. Reaching huge sections of the area can entail multiday hikes, often combined with mountaineering, through remote, trail-less territory. A Wilderness experience of the highest order awaits the prepared.
Leave No Trace
How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Stephen Mather Wilderness.
The Stephen Mather Wilderness in North Cascades National Park Service Complex is located in northwestern Washington State, sharing a northern border with Canada.
Digital and paper maps are critical tools for wilderness visitors. Online maps can help you plan and prepare for your visit ahead of time. You can also carry digital maps with you on your GPS unit or other handheld GPS device. Having a paper map with you in the backcountry, as well as solid orienteering skills, however, ensures that you can still route-find in the event that your electronic device fails.
Motorized equipment and equipment used for mechanical transport is generally prohibited in all wilderness areas.
This includes the use of motor vehicles, motorboats, motorized equipment, bicycles, hang gliders, wagons, carts, portage wheels, and the landing of aircraft including helicopters.
North Cascades National Park Service Complex Fish Stocking Act - Public law 113-137 (7/25/2014) To direct the Secretary of the Interior to continue stocking fish in certain lakes in the North Cascades National Park, Ross Lake National Recreation Area, and Lake Chelan National Recreation Area.
National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 - Public law 113-291 (12/19/2014) To authorize appropriations for fiscal year 2015 for military activities of the Department of Defense, for military construction, and for defense activities of the Department of Energy, to prescribe military personnel strengths for such fiscal year, and for other purposes.
The most common recreational opportunities in this very rugged mountain wilderness are hiking, mountaineering,and fishing. Outside the wilderness, but within the park complex, there are also boating opportunities (small motor, kayak and canoeing).
Climate and Special Equipment Needs
This northwest temperate climate is volatile and often challenging for trip planning. The utmost of preparedness is required for visiting this wilderness. Rain and inclement weather are common for much of the year, and occur even in the best season - summer.
Safety and Current Conditions
Wilderness travel skills and experience is highly recommended for venturing very far into the Stephen Mather Wilderness. Current conditions are available from area ranger stations.
Want to Volunteer for Wilderness?
Citizens who volunteer their time to steward our wilderness areas are an essential part of wilderness management. Contact the following groups to inquire about volunteer opportunities.