No one argues about the beauty of the North Cascades National Park. It's nicknamed the "American Alps" on account of its glacier-fed waterfalls and snowy mountain peaks.
But last year, a scant 19,208 people made a recreational trip there. Compare that to Yellowstone National Park's 3.39 million visitors that same year.
Apples and oranges, you say, to compare an internationally renowned park to the North Cascades?
OK then: What about Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota? Never heard of it, right? It attracted 563,407 visitors last year. Or George Rogers Clark National Historic Park in Indiana, which drew 145,596 visitors.
It's enough to make you scratch your head. Why don't more people visit the North Cascades?
This fall, you can buck the trend and boost the hidden gems numbers by using one of the park's greatest resources, the North Cascades Institute.
Located along Diablo Lake -- the park's massive, supernaturally blue pool -- the North Cascades Institute is a nonprofit institution that offers classes in the heart of the mountains. Late summer and early fall are ideal times to drive north and take part in some of its offerings.
There's an arts retreat from Sept. 6 through 9 that lets guests work with like-minded souls on painting, weaving and writing, all under the tutelage of a skilled instructor.
There's the institute's popular Sourdough Speaker Series, which kicks off its fall run on Sept. 29 with the editor of foodie magazine Edible Seattle, Jill Lightner. The overnight event also features a meal made from the best food the season has to offer -- fitting, considering Lightner also wrote "Edible Seattle: The Cookbook."
And there are the institute's ongoing offerings for guests at its base camp: overnight lodging for those who fear a tent, naturalist-guided hikes, the chance to go canoeing on Lake Diablo, or the chance to make s'mores over a campfire as the nights start getting noticeably longer.
In other words, there's a little bit of everything. There are even bragging rights.
You'll earn those by visiting one of the most pristine, and yet least visited, national parks in the country.
Andy Rathbun: 425-339-3479, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn more about recreational opportunities in the North Cascades National Park, or register for a class offered through the North Cascades Institute, by visiting www.ncascades.org or calling 360-854-2599.
A screening of the 30-minute documentary film "The Fire Inside: Place, Passion and Primacy of Nature" (www.fireinsidefilm.com) will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Village Books, 1200 11th St, Bellingham. The film, set in the San Juan Islands, asks the big questions about our relationships with the natural world.
It will be followed by a discussion with the film's producers and Saul Weisberg, executive director of the North Cascades Institute. Call 360-671-2626 for more information.
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