North Cascades Highway (Hwy 20)


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The North Cascades Highway is one of the most beautiful drives in the country. Beginning in Sedro-Wooley Washington, the highway has 127 miles of spectacular scenery. Used for years as a trade route to the coast by native americans and later, settlers, this route was partially completed in 1909. After some floods and persuading from politicians, lobbyists and business owners the original plan for the cascade pass was abandoned and new plans were drawn up for the rainy and washington pass route. The North Cascades Highway was completed finally in 1972 as the northernmost pass over the cascade mountains in Washington State. This highway is closed over the winter from milepost 134 to milepost 171 do to major snowfall. As part of the Cascade Loop, a 400 mile scenic tour of Washington’s most amazing landscapes, this highway is a must see road trip in Washington State.

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Diablo Lake

view from Diablo Lake overlook

Beginning in the lush Skagit Valley, the highway weaves through lush farmlands before paralleling the Skagit River on the trek upward towards the Cascades. As you climb higher you’ll see scenic mountain vistas, and breathtaking views of emerald-green lakes. This amazing green color is caused by glaciers high up in the mountains moving over the rocks creating a fine powder that gets reflected by the sunlight. The Diablo Lake scenic overlook is a must stop for your drive. Don’t worry there is RV parking. Further up the road you’ll get views of dramatic cliffs, and thick forests. You cross two passes on the route , Rainy Pass (elv 4875 ft) and Washington Pass (elv 5477 ft) where you get amazing views of steep mountain peaks including Liberty Bell Mountain. After a hairpin turn you descend down into the beautiful Methow Valley eventually ending up in the frontier town of Winthrop where the North Cascades portion of the Cascade Loop officially ends.

Points of Interest:

  • Rasar State Park: A fantastic campground with nice hiking trails which loop around giant fields where you can sometimes see Elk, and down to the Skagit River for some beautiful views.
  • Concrete: home of the Annual Skagit Eagle Festival this town is full of history, quaint shops, and cozy restaurants. You can’t miss the “Welcome to Concrete” cement silos from the days when Superior Portland Cement Company called this area home.
  • Rockport State Park: A day use only state park in an ancient old growth forest which has never been logged. There are several hiking trails here where you can explore under canopies of trees. Nearby, just outside of the state park is the Sauk Mountain Trail, a popular  hiking destination.
  • Marblemount: Your last stop for gas before going over the pass. There are two gas stations suitable for RV’s in town.
  • Newhalem: A small company town owned by Seattle City Light. Only employes of the Skagit River Hydroelectric Project are allowed residence here as well as local government officials. It is here you can catch the super popular Diablo Lake Boat Tour. Reservations required and they book up fast.
  • North Cascades Visitor Center: Here you can get a wealth of information about North Cascades National Park. It is located adjacent to the Newhalem Creek Campground one of the few forest camps with room for RVs(sorry no hookups).
  • Gorge Falls: There is a rest area here with RV parking that also has a couple trails where you can get some amazing views of Gorge Dam and Gorge Creek Falls.
  • Diablo Lake Overlook: As part of the Ross Lake Recreation Area, you get the best view of Diablo Lake from this overlook. It is a stunning view of Diablo Lake, a must stop viewpoint. Lots of room for RV’s in the parking lot.
  • Washington Pass Overlook: As you near Washington Pass you’ll get a full on view of Liberty Bell Mountain jutting out of the landscape. A really beautiful part of the drive as the landscape begins to change as you descend into Methow Valley.
  • Winthrop: A popular western themed tourist town and the last stop of the North Cascades Highway. Home of the Old Schoolhouse Brewery a popular brew pub and a highly recommended stop for lunch (or dinner). There are several campgrounds in the area including, Winthrop KOA, Pearrygin Lake State Park, and Riverbend RV Park in nearby Twisp.
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Downhill Grade

North Cascades Highway is perfectly suitable for RV travel. There are a couple of steep climbs but nothing that is not insurmountable. The road is plenty wide with not a lot of curves. There is one hairpin turn past Washington Pass just take your time. Along the route there are several pull outs and over looks if you need to take a break. You do go right through downtown Winthrop and across a narrow bridge there as you leave Winthrop, just watch for pedestrians. There is RV Parking in town as well. This is a beautiful drive to take while visiting Washington State. Always check the road conditions before you go. The highway is closed in the winter, and just this past summer has been closed several times due to mudslides from storms.

 

Have you been over the North Cascade Highway? We’d love to hear what you think in the comments below.

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  • Sherry in MT

    So happy to have found your blog – am in MT and looking to explore more in WA state so all of your reviews and travels are going to help me a bunch traveling with my trailer and my pups!

    • campingourway

      Glad to be of help. Give us a shout if you have any questions Washington is a great state to explore.