How North Cascades National Park Manages 400+ Miles Of


Ranger Amanda working on the Cascade Pass Trail/NPS, Deby Dixon

Tales of the Trails: How North Cascades National Park Manages 400+ Miles Of Trails

By Kacee Saturay, Donor Stewardship & Social Media Manger at Washington’s National Park Fund

North Cascades National Park boasts an extensive network of trails, each with its own unique charm and breathtaking vistas. From the riverside view of Thunder Creek Trail to the more challenging and remote area of Copper Ridge Trail, there is something for every level of hiker. With over 400 miles of trails across the park complex’s 680,850 acres, you might wonder who exactly is behind this extensive trail network?

Meet the folks in the park’s Trails & Preservation Program.

They are a dedicated team consisting of crew leads, maintenance workers, laborers, and volunteers. Together, they form the backbone of trail maintenance efforts in North Cascades National Park, Ross Lake National Recreation Area, and Lake Chelan National Recreation Area – the three units that make up the North Cascades National Park Service Complex.

Washington’s National Park Fund joined Chief of Facilities — Bill Zimmer, who previously served as the Trails & Preservation Supervisor — for a virtual field trip where we learned all about the work that goes into maintaining the trails throughout the park complex. Bill gave us insight into how their crew manages trail work each season and the extensive planning and logistics that go into even the smallest section of a trail!

Behind the Scenes

Once the snow begins to melt and the team is ready to get their hands dirty in the spring, the bulk of their work begins with routine annual maintenance. This includes clearing trails, conducting basic tread maintenance, and assessing the upcoming season’s workload. Given the park’s location, where harsh winters prevail, a significant portion of their time is devoted to opening up trails and ensuring safe passage for visitors.

As part of routine annual maintenance, the team installs bridges to open up various trails. As of 2022, there were five seasonal bridges in the park/NPS, Bill Zimmer

Another critical area for the team is ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act)-accessible trail work. They diligently maintain trails such as the Gorge Overlook Trail and Happy Creek Forest Walk to meet accessibility standards. This involves removing debris, repairing asphalt surfaces, and ensuring compliance with the necessary requirements to make these trails accessible to all visitors, even those with mobility impairments.

As Bill mentions in the virtual field trip, each season, the team follows a structured approach. They prioritize routine maintenance initially to address immediate needs. Once the routine work is underway, they shift their focus to long-term projects. These projects involve major repairs to structures and addressing issues that require prolonged attention to ensure the sustainability of the trails. 

The park's mules and horses bring some of the heaviest gear to the most remote trails in the park. Bill describes them as "friends, coworkers, and major part of our crew!"/Mitch Pittman, WNPF Creative Partner

The park’s mules and horses bring some of the heaviest gear to the most remote trails in the park. Bill describes them as “friends, coworkers, and major part of our crew!”/Mitch Pittman, WNPF Creative Partner

Donors Making a Difference

Improving Visitors’ Experiences and Expanding Volunteerism and Stewardship are two of Washington’s National Park Fund’s project priorities that our donors support each year. As we learned in the virtual field trip, extensive training and certification, coordination of volunteers, and having a large collection of tools are a few examples of how donations can be put to work within the park.

“We couldn’t talk about what we do without talking about our partnerships because they are so important for getting this work done.” — Bill Zimmer

Thanks to generous Washington’s National Park Fund supporters, trail work is given the attention it deserves — and visitors get unforgettable experiences in the parks. As we like to say, “Trail work can’t happen overnight, but raising the funds for it can!”

Washington’s National Park Fund is the official philanthropic partner to Mount Rainier, North Cascades, and Olympic National Parks. We raise private support to preserve and protect Washington’s national parks by funding scientific research, youth and family experiences, and projects that will keep these parks strong and vital now and forever, for everyone.

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