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The Route

Passing by the massive bulk of Liberty Bell and Early Winters spires, the North Cascades Highway 20 climbs steadily through expansive, rugged beauty toward Washington and Rainy Pass viewpoints (milepost 157.6). The North Cascades Scenic Byway is a designated byway located on the Cascade Loop and 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 the North Cascades National Park is that there is no entry fee, a huge rarity among national parks.) Get complete contact details for the North Cascades National Park inside our pull-out map in this guide.

Continue onward and upward until you reach the brilliantly 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 provide a regularly scheduled shuttle service between Diablo and Ross lakes. 

The North Cascades Environmental Learning Center (milepost 127.5) offers year-round, nature-based learning adventures for people of all ages interested in exploring the national park, including family getaways, art classes, natural history excursions and the popular Base Campovernight 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 while grabbing a quick stretch of the 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 (see permit info.) 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 and providing 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 supplying cement for neighboring Ross and Diablo dams. Start your day here with an epic cinnamon roll served up by the friendly staff of the 5 B’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.

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 wsdot.wa.gov/Traffic/Passes/NorthCascades/closurehistory.htm

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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Side Trip: Darrington/Osso
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Climb On!
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Winter
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Mt. Baker
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Wildlife
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On the Water
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Hiking
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EV Charging Stations
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Back Country
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Images from the North Cascades
Wildflowers on Cascade Pass, Photo by Andy Porter
Not All Hummingbirds Hum
One of the favorite birds to migrate to the state of Washington are hummingbirds. Three species can be found from early spring until late fall when they migrate back to spend the winter in the tropics. Of course, there are exceptions, like A male Anna that stays around our place all winter. I wrap my feeder in Christmas lights in an attempt to keep it from freezing. Read More >>>>
Top Ten Things to do in the North Cascades
The North Cascades’ 13 million acre ecosystem includes 7 million acres of protected public lands on both sides of the border – and endless opportunities for recreation, exploration, naturalizing and recharging one’s soul. Here are some of my favorite places from the northern end of the range, where I’ve lived, worked and taught for more than three decades. Read More >>>>
Is it a chipmunk or a squirrel?
When I was small and we would camp near Lake Chelan, my dad and I would challenge each other to be the first to spot the wildlife, and I would always see what I called "chickmunks" first. Later in life I learned that what I saw most was a Douglas squirrel, but any time I see these critters, I think of my dad. Read More >>>>
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+ Destinations
      Lake Chelan Valley
      Leavenworth Cascade Foothills
      Methow Valley
      North Cascades
      Skagit Valley & Fidalgo Island
      Snohomish River Valley
      Stevens Pass Greenway
      Wenatchee Columbia River Valley
      Whidbey Scenic Isle Way
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+ Dining & Wineries
+ Indoor Activities
+ The Great Outdoors
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