North Cascades National Park

Scenic Driving

North Cascades Scenic Highway—Highway 20—the east/west girdle across the lower waist of North Cascades in Ross Lake National Recreation Area, is what keeps the region from being a roadless wilderness. Called the "most scenic mountain drive in Washington," Highway 20 was dedicated in 1972. As it is, the highway is closed through the winter because of snow, making the communities of Gorge and Diablo unreachable by overland vehicle. While some people might prefer roadlessness, you have to admit that Highway 20 makes for an awesome drive, with pristine mountain scenery almost unmarred by development.

Whatever else you do, you must stop at Diablo Lake Overlook for superb views of Diablo Lake, Sourdough Mountain, Davis Peak, Colonial Peak, Pyramid Peak, and spectacular features of the Skagit River drainage. Happy Creek Forest Walk is another good leg-stretcher, a short boardwalk through an old growth forest. And it's wheelchair accessible.

Rainy and Washington Passes in Okanogan National Forest to the east provide rest stop and picnic facilities. The Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail crosses the highway at Rainy Pass, elevation 4,860 feet. The Rainy Lake National Recreation Trail begins near Rainy Lake rest stop. This one-mile walk to a subalpine lake accommodates wheelchairs. At Washington Pass, elevation 5,477 feet, near the rest stop and picnic area, an overlook provides breathtaking up-close views of the rugged Cascade Mountains. The Baker Lake area of Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest offers camping, boating, fishing, hiking, and picnicking.

Posted speed limits for Highway 20 are often lower than the statewide limit. Use roadside turnouts for safe scenic viewing. While you're driving, watch for pedestrians and hikers on road shoulders, rocks in the roadway, and wildlife.

Here's a blow by blow of what to do along the way...

Baker Lake Milepost 82 (turn off State Route 20)
Nine-mile-long recreational reservoir. Developed campgrounds accessed off the Baker Lake Hwy. Maple Grove Campground on the lake's eastern shore is accessed by boaters or hikers along the East Bank Trail. The Baker Lake Resort has a store, camping, cabins, and boat rentals.

Mt. Baker National Recreation Area Milepost 82
Access via Forest Roads 12 and 13 off Baker Lake Highway. Mt. Baker NRA trailhead camp, available for one night for horse users and hikers.

Rockport Milepost 98
Sauk Mt. Trail access off Forest Road 1030. Switchbacks up south-facing slope to mountain ridgetop. Panoramic view. Rockport State Park Skagit View and Sauk Springs Trails loop south of SR 20 at Rockport State Park; five more miles of trail circle the park. Howard Miller Steelhead Park is located at Rockport along the Skagit River. There is eagle viewing on segments of the Skagit, Sauk, Suiattle, and Cascade Rivers in winter when spawning salmon attract many wintering bald eagles.

Marblemount Milepost 106
Wilderness Information Center (one mile north of SR 20 on Ranger Station Rd.) and North Cascades National Park Backcountry Permits. Permits free; available only in person.

Cascade River Road
Cross bridge over Skagit River at east end of town. Rough gravel road leads to Cascade Pass trailhead in North Cascades National Park.

Ross Lake National Recreation Area Milepost 112
117,574 acres; administered by North Cascades National Park Service Complex.

Thornton Lakes Road/Trail: Access 4.7 miles up windy, gravel road.

Goodell Creek Campground Milepost 119
Rustic sites along Skagit River; open year-round. Raft launch.

Newhalem Milepost 120

Newhalem Creek Campground—Open May to September.

North Cascades Visitor Center—Interpretive programs, books, and maps. Open daily mid-April through October. Open weekends in winter.

Skagit General Store—Supplies and souvenirs.

Ladder Creek Falls—Located behind Gorge Power House. Loop trail through flower gardens and pools; lit at night.

Gorge Creek Falls—242-foot waterfall four miles east of town.

Diablo Milepost 129
Seattle City Light tours of Ross and Diablo Dams. Informative presentation, boat trip, and dinner. Summer Thursday through Monday only. Fall weekend tours. Museum and snack bar at tour office.

Sourdough Trail: Strenuous five-mile hike up Sourdough Mountain.

Colonial Creek Campground Milepost 130
Campground on Diablo Lake.
Diablo and Ross Lake Overlooks.
Diablo Lake Overlook—Spectacular views and detailed geology exhibit.
Ross Dam Trailhead and Happy Creek Forest Walk.
Ross Lake Resort—Floating cabins, boat rentals, portage service, and water taxi.

East Bank Trailhead Milepost 138
Panther Creek Trail, East Bank Trail, and Ruby Creek Trails converge near here.

Rainy Pass Picnic Area Milepost 158
One-mile universally accessible paved trail leads to Rainy Lake, waterfall, and glacier view platform. Longer hikes to Lake Ann (two miles), or around Maple Pass loop (7.5 miles). Not snow-free until late July.

Washington Pass Milepost 162
Restroom facilities and universally accessible viewpoint trail open in July.

Upper Methow Valley Milepost 180
Mazama turnoff to Hart's Pass (22 miles); reaches highest point accessible by vehicles in Washington State (closed to trailers).

Methow Valley Visitor Center Milepost 192

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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