Research at North Cascades


North Cascades NPS Complex (North Cascades National Park, Ross Lake National Recreation Area, and Lake Chelan National Recreation Area) covers 684,238 acres of the Cascade Range from the Canadian border south approximately 50 miles to the head of Lake Chelan. The Stephen Mather Wilderness encompasses approximately 93% of the Complex.

The topography, geology, and hydrology of the Complex are extremely varied. Local relief is approximately 8,800 feet, with the lowest point at 400 feet along the Skagit River at the Complex’s west boundary and several peaks over 9,000 feet. There are approximately 320 active glaciers in the Complex. The major watersheds are the Skagit River, and the Stehekin River. The Skagit River is the largest watershed in Puget Sound and is impounded by three Seattle City Light hydroelectric dams. The bedrock geology and geologic history is complex because of the location along the tectonically active western edge of the North American lithospheric plate. The accretion, metamorphism, and movement of exotic terrains and the intrusion of igneous and associated extrusive rocks have punctuated the area’s geologic history.

The great variety of plant species is a result of the extreme variation in elevations combined with the presence of ecosystems representing both the east and west side of the Cascades Range. Over 1,575 vascular plant species had been identified, however only 203 of these were collected for voucher specimens.

The variety of habitats in the park and recreation area supports over 320 vertebrate species. There are approximately 75 mammal species in 20 families and approximately 17 species of reptiles and amphibians representing at least five orders. The avian fauna of the Complex is comprised of roughly 200 species in 38 families. At least 28 species of fish are known to be present. Recent surveys have documented over 500 terrestrial invertebrate taxa and approximately 250 aquatic invertebrate taxa.

The rugged landscape of the North Cascades has been occupied and modified by human populations for thousands of years. Four Native American groups occupied the region: the Upper Skagit who utilized resources along the Skagit River and its tributaries up to the gorge at Newhalem; the Chilliwack who used the upper reach of the Chilliwack River; the Lower Thompson who occupied the upper reaches of the Skagit River in the area now covered by Ross Lake; and the Chelan in the southeast.

Early explorers and the Hudson Bay Company were among the first Europeans to visit the area. Settlement patterns focused on the Skagit River on the west and the Stehekin River on the east. Development included settlement by homesteaders in the valley bottoms and miners.

Inquiries should be directed to:
Dr. Regina Rochefort
North Cascades National Park Service Complex
2105 State Route 20
Sedro-Woolley, Washington 98284
(360) 856-5700 x 254

[email protected]