One of the best things about our plan to bring our daughters to all of the national parks is that we are proactively thinking about vacations and securing time for our own personal relaxation. In the past, we didn’t plan for vacations as well and often would scramble to piece something together. We’re fortunate enough that we get a decent amount of vacation time and can explore this great country during that time.

This year’s “big trip” has us exploring Washington, the Evergreen State.  We plan on visiting all three of their national parks: North Cascades, Mount Rainier, and Olympic. Each one is so unique and different, even though they are just a few hours apart. We’ll share our plan for each park and the explorations in between as well.

trip map
Our trip is a clockwise loop starting in Seattle


We’ll fly into Seattle on the evening of the 3rd, get our rental car, and drive north of Seattle to get ahead of traffic for an early start on the 4th. We’ll be flying Southwest to take advantage of the free checked bags now that we have four ticketed passengers with the girls being over two years old. Fingers crossed we dont actually have eight bags!

We won’t be bringing our car seats and instead will be renting them through the car rental. This is much easier than lugging them through the airport.  In terms of a vehicle, we are getting an SUV with decent ground clearance because some of the trails we’ll be driving to are on dirt roads.

We’re flying with most of our camp gear. This year’s packing list is a bit different than last year’s big trip. We’ll have to bring a tent and some other camp basics with us. The hard part is making them pack easy and efficiently. We’ll also have our clothes, sleeping bags, sleep pad, and the Kelty Kids Carriers. We’ll be quite the show checking our gear at the airport.

There’s also a new addition to our travel gear: a collapsible children’s toilet. Over Memorial Day Weekend, we tackled potty-training with our kids. It has been successful, and we want to maintain that success. We also know that we’ll have some long drives in remote areas, so we’ll have the porta-potty at the ready. We purchased one that has disposable liners that we can tie up and store in a larger bag so nothing spills.

Other than that, we’ll be car camping our way through the state of Washington.


Our big camping trip actually starts off in a hotel north of Seattle near a Target and REI so we can load up on food and supplies.  After that, we’ll car camp at Newhalem campground for a few nights. On last year’s trip to northern California and Oregon, we rented an RV on Craigslist. This year, we are going with an SUV and tent camping at each park. We found that the RV, although only 22’, was restrictive in some of our explorations. We’ll have more flexibility with the SUV and can keep camp set up for our daily adventures. During some of our drives from one park to another, we’ll be staying in hotels to make make sure the girls can get a good bath, clean some clothes and save some time on setting up camp.

Newhalem looks to be a popular campground with a visitor’s center nearby and a river running along the campground so it will give us some good distractions for the girls if needed. The other key factor with planning for these trips is knowing when campsites open up for online reservations. We booked all these campgrounds six months in advance on the day they were open for reservations.  We try and find some that are scenic, but also safe and not right next to a river or stream.


Kid factors

This trip will have us taking the following kid factors into consideration:

-Camping in a more lush and green environment than we are used to, we need to make sure that while the girls explore around the campsites and on the trails, they stay away from poison ivy. Normally, we are looking out for cactus and cholla in the desert, so we’ll just shift our attention to that.

-The weather will hopefully be favorable, but we will be focusing on managing Quincy and Leona’s clothing systems. Most of their clothes are made of cotton, which isnt great for the PNW where we might have some wet and damp environments. That could leave the kids cold.  We looked into some tech fabric clothes from Columbia and Amazon and got them some synthetic layers that should dry quicker and keep them warmer. We hope these work out well so they can be as comfortable as possible. We also know that while we are hiking and sweating, they are resting and not generating as much body heat. Frequent check-ins with them to make sure they are comfortable will be important. 

-We’ll be in grizzly bear country, so we have to expect to see them. Hopefully, they will be far away and move on when they hear us coming. We’ll have bear bells and make sure to talk a lot. We’ll also buy bear spray when we get to Seattle.  The slightly humorous concern is that the kids currently don’t see bears as predators, but as a fluffy animal they carry around all the time and want to hug. As Quincy might say, “Me hug bear!” As advised in all of the books and NPS documents we’ve read, we just need to keep them well-supervised and close by when they want to walk or explore on their own 2 feet.

-This is a kid factor for us as parents, but they are getting bigger, which makes them heavier to carry. We still carry them in the Kelty Kids Carrier when hiking, but they are both around 25 pounds now, making our packs about 35 pounds when we add water, snacks, and a portable kids toilet!

-Potty Training: our girls are doing great in terms of potty training, but they still have some accidents. We are thinking of using sleep diapers as special “camping underwear” to cut down on the stress of someone making a mess in the middle of the night which would result in a wet and cold child and a wet sleeping bag. When they wake up, we’ll have the portable potty nearby to use and then dispose of the “special camping underwear.”


It looks like the local ranger station has a junior rangers program, but the girls still dont have the attention span to complete it. We’ll stop by and see what we can do to get some stickers or other goodies for the girls though. 

Since we’ve been slowly adding gear to a giant pile in the garage for the trip, the girls have been excited about hiking and camping. They will probably help with camp set up gathering sticks and twigs for the fire and help roll out the sleeping pad and sleeping bags.

Leona testing out the hiking poles while Quincy chews another hole in my Camelbak hose

Reference materials

For Father’s Day, I bought Sean a new cookbook, The Great Outdoors, that is focused on being efficient and using camp gear to make some delicious meals. We’ve tested a few at the house and are excited to try some out on this trip.


I also talked with a co-worker who lived in Seattle and she suggested that we take on the Hidden Lake Lookout Trail, an eight mile roundtrip hike with 3,300 feet of elevation gain. It will be our longest hike with the girls, but it looks amazing.  Right now trail reports still indicate a decent amount of snow and a frozen lake, so we will try it out and turn around when we no longer think it is safe. 

hidden lake
Hidden Lake Lookout

I also did some serious research on to maximize the miles we get out on the trails. If all goes according to schedule, we’re going to see some amazing landscapes: glaciers, alpine lakes, snowy peaks, etc. We’re also going to mix in some nature walks and loops that are short and near parking lots so the girls can run around and stretch their legs.

cascadepass trail jay thompson
Cascade Pass Trail, source: Jay Thompson

Cascade Pass Trail -4-6 miles

Trail of the Cedars Nature Walk – 2 miles

Gorge Creek Falls– 0.5 miles

Ladder Creek Falls Trail – 0.5 miles

Happy Creek Forest Walk to Ross Dam Trail – 2-5 miles

Rainy Pass/Rainy Lake Trail -2 miles

Washington Pass Overlook– 0.25 miles

Alta Lake Trail on way to Ellensburg – 1 mile

If you’ve been to North Cascades, tell us what you loved about it!

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