Planning for the North Cascades

Had my original travel plans for this year panned out, I would be presently crossing the Atlantic ocean on the way to Great Britain for the next 2 weeks. Alas, COVID.

Mrs. Lite & I still wanted to do something away from our home geographic region this summer and felt it was worth the small risk to get on a plane and visit some remote location in the United States relatively devoid of people.

National parks are all the rage right now since international travel is on hold, but I did not particularly like the idea of sitting in bumper to bumper traffic at a park entrance to have the privilege of working my way through a large mass of spectators taking selfies with bison. Popular parks like Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Zion were automatically crossed off the list simply because of the potential for large crowds.

Instead, I did a Google search for “least visited national parks” and narrowed it down from there. The place we ended up choosing was North Cascades national park in Washington state. Prior to just a few months ago, I had no idea this place even existed. Less popular than the nearby Olympic and Mount Rainier national parks, North Cascades had only a hair above 38,000* visitors in all of 2019. So later this month, we will be heading over to Washington to spend some quiet time out in the middle of some mountains.

*The above figure is a bit misleading, as it only includes visitors to the North Cascades national park proper. If you look at a map of the park boundaries, you’ll understand why. The park complex includes a few other National Recreation Areas (Ross Lake and Lake Chelan) which contain nearly all the roads that run through this region. If you include these surrounding areas, the actual number for 2019 visits is closer to 1 million, with the vast majority of those visits in the Ross Lake area. To get to the boundaries of North Cascades, you have to go on foot, which most people do not do.

Since this will be a warm weather vacation, packing light will be easy. Other than my usual pack list, the only other items I’m taking are a couple of masks and some insect repellant wipes. I was able to procure a few authentic N95 masks for Mrs. Lite and me which we’ll be wearing on the plane ride over there, and some less heavy duty ones for the remainder of the vacation.

I made sure to book our flights on Delta, since they seem to be taking the pandemic more seriously than the other airlines that fly out of our small airport. Middle rows are blocked on all flights, and last I checked the back half of the plane where we’re sitting is almost empty. Other than the ever present risk of contracting a debilitating respiratory illness, this may end up being one of the most comfortable flights in recent memory.

After the year it’s been, it’ll be good to get away for a little while, and hopefully all our precautions will be enough to keep us safe. Happy travels to all of you out there doing some exploring this summer!

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