Our Life in the Pacific Northwest

North Cascades Highway

Highway 20/Washington

North Cascades Hwy

August 28, 2007




For our summer vacation we decided as a family to drive to Idaho to go to Silverwood theme park. We also wanted to camp a few days so we found a perfect place near Winthrop called Pearrygin State Park. To get to Winthrop the best way and most scenic way to go would be Hwy 20, the North Cascades Hwy. which is considered one of the most scenic routes in Washington. The highway starts in Skagit County, ascends onto Washington Pass (elevation 5477ft) and finally descends into the Methow valley, pronounced “Met-How.”



We joined up with the highway in Burlington and headed for Sedro Wooley. The towns of Concrete and Marblemount were to follow. I have been on this highway before many years ago but didn’t remember the monstrous concrete silos that read “Welcome to Concrete” as you drive by. It’s not too pretty of a display if you ask me but surely it must be a significant landmark for the town. During the first half of the venture the Skagit River follows along the highway and there are what looks to be some good fishing spots, according to my husband. After passing quickly through Marblemount you enter the North Cascades National Park and eventually the Okanogan Forest.


As you make your way further you can see the wondrous Cascade Mountains in the distance. (See photo at top of page) There are a few scenic designated areas to stop and take a photo or two. We stopped at one that had a maintained trail where we saw a few impressive cascading waterfalls. I believe it was called Happy Creek Forest Walk.



There are two popular lakes in the region, Diablo Lake and Ross Lake. We had to pull over to get a better view of Diablo Lake as the color was such an amazing shade of emerald green. It was a bit windy here but well worth it.




Diablo Lake


I believe this was Ross Lake.

As we crossed Rainy Pass, (elev. 4860 feet) the Pacific Crest National Trail crosses the highway. There are many amazing trails along Highway 20 that I will most definitely be considering in the future. With over 300 miles of maintained trails and at least 100 backcountry campsites, there are sure to be some great hikes. The incredible views of the rugged mountain peaks and pristine wilderness are reasons alone to come back.



Liberty Bell Mountain is an impressive granite rock which towers over the pass. You have to gaze in awe at its height and presentation. It is a very popular destination for rock climbers. Unfortunately we were driving when I took this photo so the quality isn’t very good. I am sure I will be coming back to this area so next time the photos will be better.


Liberty Bell Mountain

Just past Washington Pass when you reach Mazama there is a turn off to Hart’s Pass which reaches 7400 feet, the highest point accessible by vehicles in Washington State. From the top you can view unending views of the Cascade Mountains. Someone on another website wrote “You feel like you are on the top of the world” when he described his experience. I was thinking this would be a great side trip on the way to Winthrop but then I read that it is quite possibly the most terrifying road in the state, so I quickly reconsidered. Maybe someday when I have an all terrain vehicle and no children with us we may entertain the idea again.



 I can see why Mazama is known for being winter outdoor recreation area. It is widely popular for cross country skiing, snowmobiling and snowshoeing, with miles of groomed nordic ski trails. The area is beautiful in the summer as well. The terrain is mostly flat with farms scattered throughout. I almost felt like I wasn’t in Washington any longer. The evergreens were sparse and the landscape a deep yellow rather than the dark green we are used to here west of the cascades. It was rather reminiscent of California where I grew up.


When we reached Winthrop it was just as I had remembered it. The kids were fascinated by the historic old west atmosphere. The building facades are straight out of the old spaghetti westerns and the sidewalks are wooden. and even though it is buzzing with tourists it still has that old west feel. The kid’s interest was peaked and the discussion turned to history, one of my favorite subjects. While camping we did spend an afternoon in Winthrop, but I’ll go into more detail in a later blog.



Pearrygin campground, yes those are deer grazing.


Pearrygin Lake is very close to Winthrop and we were there within minutes. When we stepped out of the car you could feel the dryness in the air and a calm, warm breeze. The hills around the lake were rolling and covered with a yellow/brown brush, again I was reminded of California.


The hills above the lake.

  After a few days of camping we headed back to Hwy 20 to make our way to Spokane, and then on to Post Falls Idaho. Highway 20, the North Cascades Hwy continues on to a small town called Omak and then turns into either hwy 97 or hwy 155, we chose 155 to head southeast to the Grand Coulee Dam and then east to Spokane.



I really enjoyed the North Cascades Hwy. Next time I will definitely stop more along the way and allow more time to check out a few local trails. Next summer we will without a doubt plan a few hikes in this region. The view from the car was breathtaking but I am anxious to see how beautiful it really is while actually experiencing it.


*Please note that there are no gas stations, restaurants, or other facilities (except restrooms at Washington Pass) found along the 75 miles of Hwy. 20 between Ross Dam and Mazama. We filled up in Burlington.

**Hwy 20 is closed in the winter over Washington Pass between Newhalem and Mazama  after the first major snowfall because of avalanche danger, and doesn’t open again until late April, sometimes nearly June, depending on the amount of snow. 


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