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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. Seattle City Light offers summer cruises – Skagit Tours – on Diablo Lake and provides a regularly scheduled shuttle service between Diablo and Ross lakes. 

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 of 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. Stop and grab a bite to eat at the Buffalo Run Inn & Restaurant before venturing on. Rockport State Park offers numerous places to hike through forests with sweeping views of the Skagit River. The upper Skagit Valley supports a growing list of recreational experiences including fishing, camping, river rafting, snowmobiling, hiking and wildlife watching. Make sure to stop at the Cascadian Farm Organic Roadside Stand. 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

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
Historic Dams
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Back Country
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Climb On!
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Mt. Baker
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On the Water
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EV Charging Stations
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Side Trip: Bellingham
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Images from the North Cascades
Wildflowers on Cascade Pass, Photo by Andy Porter
Burlington Summer Nights Concerts
Vintage Farming Days
12s Fan Fest & Discover Birch Bay Days
Northwest Washington Fair
Identifying Raptors on the Cascade Loop
It’s a bird .. it’s a plane … what exactly is that in the sky? As you travel around the Cascade Loop you will likely see a variety of wildlife, including some very large birds that live in our region. This article will help you to accurately identify some of the most common of our raptors: osprey, bald and golden eagles, red-tail hawks and turkey vultures. The time of year you travel will affect your chances of seeing some of these incredible birds. Read More >>>>
Three Delightful Wagons Straight Out of a Fairyland--Now on Whidbey Island!
A bit of European history has found its way onto Whidbey Island.  And, if the woman responsible for bringing them here has her way, you’ll soon be able to see them.  But first, Carol Kildow has the job of restoring them to their original splendor.Two belonged to the nomadic Romani people of England, while the third was commissioned by the Church of England. She discovered them in Wales and lived in one for two years as a student.“I fell in love with the lifestyle. I fell in love with the… Read More >>>>
Bird of the Week: The Ruddy Duck
With a cinnamon body and bright blue bill, the male Ruddy Duck is one of our most noticeable and memorable ducks. But look closer and longer and you'll notice that their mannerisms and behavior are just as fascinating. Unlike many of our migratory duck species who might only be in Okanogan County 2-3 months, the Ruddys are generally here from early April through October. Look for these small, compact diving ducks on just about any pond or small lake. Read More >>>>
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      Leavenworth Cascade Foothills
      Methow Valley
      North Cascades
      Seattle Northcountry
      Skagit Valley & Fidalgo Island
      Stevens Pass Greenway
      Wenatchee Columbia River Valley
      Whidbey Scenic Isle Way
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