North Cascades Hwy & National ParkDiablo, Newhalem, Marblemount, Rockport, Concrete
Washington Pass on the North Cascade Highway is magnificent! As the highway swings south, great walls of granite sweep upward. Dead ahead, the massive bulk of 7,600' Liberty Bell Mountain seems to block any passage through the mountain fortress. Just when it seems impossible, the highway makes a great horseshoe bend and clambers up the face of Liberty Bell. The off-road viewpoint at the top of the pass provides splendid views of the mountain-ringed valley.
The highway also crosses Washington Pass at 5,477'and Rainy Pass at 4,860'. Pack a picnic and take any of a number of short hikes that start just off the highway. The alpine meadows all along this crest of the Cascades are resplendent with wildflowers in July and August. Other trails, including the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, lead from roadside into the North Cascades National Park. None of this park is accessible by road.
The overlooks above Ross and Diablo Lakes make excellent vantage points. The distinctive color of each lake (Ross is teal, Diablo is jade) is caused by finely ground rock dust suspended in the water and reflecting the green of the forest and the blue of the sky.
At Newhalem, the North Cascades National Park Visitor Center provides exhibits, maps, information about the park and permits for back country travel and camping. Beyond Newhalem you enter the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest Preserve, a vast 1.7-million-acres. The first town with services is Marblemount where you can find accommodations, food and supplies.
Highway 20 follows the turbulent Skagit River, a popular whitewater rafting river in June and July. In December and January, dozens of bald eagles come here to feed on spawning salmon. You can often spot them perched in the tall trees or you can take a guided bird-watching float trip. The river is also popular for winter steelhead fishing.
The little town of Concrete has changed little since the days when it was a center for cement production and a stroll down the main street may evoke a sense of nostalgia.