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On the Loop: North Cascades National Park & Scenic Byway

Marked by the massive bulk of Liberty Bell and Early Winters spires, Highway 20 — also known as the North Cascades Scenic Highway — is a designated byway located on the Cascade Loop. It is surrounded by jagged peaks and valleys, waterfalls and more than 300 glaciers within the North Cascades National Park. Several peaks rise well above 9,000 feet in elevation! Not surprisingly, hiking, climbing and camping are hugely popular here. (A nice perk about North Cascades National Park is that there is no entry fee, a rarity among national parks.) Get complete contact details for the North Cascades National Park inside the pullout map in this guide.

Continue onward and upward until you reach the brilliant turquoise-colored Ross and Diablo lakes. Views from these glacier-fed lakes reach north to Canada and south into the most-glaciated valley in North America outside of Alaska. Colonial Creek and Newhalem campgrounds offer the most vehicle-accessible campsites in the park with summer programs and ancient forest hikes.

The North Cascades Institute offers year-round, nature-based learning adventures for people of all ages at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center (milepost 127.5). People interested in exploring and learning can participate in a variety of programs, including family getaways, art classes, natural history excursions and the popular Base Camp overnight learning and lodging program.

Near Newhalem, chat with park rangers, check out maps, exhibits, audio-visual displays, trails and viewpoints at the North Cascades National Park Visitor Center. Learn about local history and stretch your legs at the Skagit Information Center, nearby Ladder Creek Falls Trail, and the Trail of the Cedars (see permit info.)

Marblemount is the first full-service community you reach on the western slope of Highway 20. Rockport State Park offers numerous places to hike through forests with sweeping views of the Skagit River (see permit info.) The upper Skagit Valley supports a growing list of recreational experiences including fishing, camping, river rafting, snowmobiling, hiking and wildlife watching. Our friends at Cascadian Farm Organic Roadside Stand are closed for the 2021 season, but when you plan your next visit you can check out their acres of berries and pick up snacks for the road!

Next, continue west toward the Skagit Wild and Scenic River System, which includes the Cascade, Sauk and Suiattle rivers. These clean, rushing waters are home to five species of Pacific salmon, as well as two species of trout. Nearly 300 species of wildlife populate the area, including black-tailed deer, elk, black bear, bald eagle, great blue heron and osprey. High-mountain glaciers feed the Skagit watershed, flowing south from British Columbia to provide ideal conditions for migratory birds. Bird-watchers, this is a place where you’ll want to have your binoculars handy!

The historic town of Concrete was fittingly named when it served as a cement production center that supplied cement for neighboring Ross and Diablo dams. Start your day here with an epic cinnamon roll served up by the friendly staff at 5b’s Bakery. Then, for lunch or dinner, grab an award-winning slice of pizza, calzone or the signature cal-sub at Annie’s Pizza Station. Stroll the historic town center, visit the community garden, or get wet in the spray park at Silo Park.

Next Region: Skagit Valley & Fidalgo Island

Important Note About Winter

The North Cascades receive incredible amounts of snowfall each winter. Because of this abundant precipitation, Highway 20 will be closed from milepost 171 (west of Mazama) to milepost 134 (East of Diablo) each year, usually late November through late April. Check out the pass’s historic opening and closing dates at https://www.wsdot.wa.gov/travel/highways-bridges/passes/closures-openings

North Cascades Visitor Services

This region is also home to its very own Scenic Byway, the North Cascades Scenic Byway, part of the Cascade Loop. Check out current conditions below:

Traffic Conditions 

WSDOT Traffic Cameras

WSDOT Projects on SR 20

Current Weather

North Cascades Pass

North Cascade Pass Closure Info

Heritage & History

Historians believe that the human history in the region now part of North Cascades National Park dates back to the end of the last glacial period and the region has been continuously inhabited for the last 8-10,000 years. Ancestors of the Skagit Tribe fished, hunted and gathered resources in the North Cascades for thousands of years, and forged ancient travel and trade routes around the mountain peaks. The Skagits used Cascade Pass to connect to Stehekin, at the head of Lake Chelan, as a primary trade route with the people of the Columbia River Basin. Inland and residing to the north and east of the Skagits, the Nlaka'pamux (or Thompson Indians and named after explorer David Thompson), Chelan, Okanogan and Wenatchi tribes lived partly or year-round in the eastern sections of the North Cascades.

Gold was discovered in the North Cascades in the late 1800s, but many miners were disillusioned and instead began logging in the Skagit and Stehekin valleys. Many who stayed became shopkeepers and supported needs of trappers and prospectors. A base for miners was established at Marblemount. 

By the 1900s, people began to recognize that the North Cascades’ rivers had tremendous potential for hydropower. Major hydroelectric development of the Skagit River began in 1918. A railroad eventually linked Newhalem and Diablo, company towns built for employees of the Skagit River Hydroelectric Project. Diablo Dam was completed in 1930, Ross Dam in 1949, and Gorge Dam in 1961. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed a bill to establish the North Cascades National Park in 1968. In 1972, the modern road was built to traverse the North Cascades.

Plan Your Adventure

Wildlife & Birding
Read More >>>>
Historic Dams
Read More >>>>
Back Country
Read More >>>>
Climb On!
Read More >>>>
Winter
Read More >>>>
Mt. Baker
Read More >>>>
On the Water
Read More >>>>
HIking
Read More >>>>
EV Charging Stations
Read More >>>>
Side Trip: Bellingham
Read More >>>>

Images from the North Cascades

Wildflowers on Cascade Pass, Photo by Andy Porter

Stories and Events in the Area

Filmed on the Cascade Loop
6/09/2022
When you are surrounded with the kind of beauty we have on the Cascade Loop, its not surprising that movie crews have been coming to the area for years to film movies. Read More >>>>
Deer Sightings Along the Loop
12/06/2021
The best times of year to spot deer is fall through spring, when they tend to forage in orchards and yards (they are fond of black sunflowers from bird feeders). The heat of summer sends them to the higher elevations where it is cool, but you will still see have plenty of opportunity to see them as you drive Stevens and North Cascades passes Read More >>>>
Celebrating Native American Heritage
11/10/2021
Since time immemorial, Coast Salish and Columbia Plateau tribes and bands have lived throughout the regions that the Cascade Loop now connects. For thousands of years and up until a few hundred years ago, Native Americans were the only humans living in the area we now call Washington. Two primary cultural groups were geographically divided by the Cascades—the Coast Salish or coastal tribes living west of the mountains, near Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean, and the Plateau tribes living inland, east of the mountains on the Columbia Plateau. Read More >>>>
Great Horned Owl
4/14/2021
The most common owl found on the North American continent is the great horned owl -- and they are what most people imagine when they think of owls in storybooks. They live all across the country, and are at home in secluded forest lands up to the tree line, or in busy neighborhood parks. Read More >>>>
Salmon Viewing Locations on the Loop
10/01/2020
Fall marks the season when Salmon can be seen in the waterways along the Cascade Loop. Check this list for some of our favorites! Read More >>>>
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