Best time to visit Washington

North Cascades Highway in Washington

Take the most northern route through the Cascade Mountain Range

Best time: early May–late November

North Cascades Highway
North Cascades Highway
North Cascades Highway
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North Cascades Highway, also known as the State Route 20 (SR20), is the longest highway in the state of Washington, USA. The road runs for 436 mi (702 km) from the Discovery Bay (the Olympic Peninsula) to Newport located near the Idaho state border.

The highway travels across many picturesque spots – Whidbey Island, the Okanagan Highland, the Kettle River Range, and the Selkirk Mountains. But the most scenic part of the path lies in the North Cascades National Park.

A 140-mile stretch of the road belongs to a so-called Cascade Loop. This section of the highway begins at Twisp (the Methow Valley), ascends to the North Cascades National Park, and follows to Sedro Woolley (the Skagit Valley).

On your way, you’ll pass by Diablo and Ross Lakes overlooks, Liberty Bell spire, over 300 glaciers, numerous waterfalls and mountain rivers, a historic town of Concrete. The road reaches its highest spot in Washington Pass located at 5,477 ft (1.669 m) above the sea level. The second most elevated point on your way would be Rainy Pass at 4,875 ft (1,486 m).

As the road passes across the North Cascades National Park, you have a chance to observe untouched alpine flora and watch the wildlife. Also, there are plenty of spots for hiking, climbing, and camping. The pleasant news is that the North Cascades National Park charges no entry fees.

The highway is closed during winter and early spring due to the risk of avalanches. Usually, it is open from early May till late November (around Thanksgiving Day). The precise dates depend on weather conditions.

Practical info

What are some notable places to visit when driving the North Cascades Highway?

While traversing the 140-mile-long North Cascades Highway, visitors will come across several breathtaking destinations, including stunning overlooks at Diablo and Ross Lakes and Liberty Bell Spire. The drive is also sprinkled with more than 300 glaciers, waterfalls, and mountain rivers, ending in the picturesque town of Concrete. A trip to the highway's highest point, Washington Pass, provides an unparalleled view of the surrounding landscape. Show more

What is the best way to access North Cascades National Park via the North Cascades Highway?

North Cascades National Park can easily be accessed through the 140-mile-long North Cascades Highway, with many lookout points and trails available, which offer visitors an unobstructed view of the magnificent scenery. The Washington Pass Overlook Trail gives you one of the state's most stunning views. You can go camping at one of the many developed campsites or take an overnight backpacking trip to the park's backcountry to extend your stay. Show more

What is the best time to embark on the North Cascades Highway?

The North Cascades Highway is usually open from early May through late November, with the optimal time to drive it being from mid-June through early October. This period provides more predictable weather, blooming wildflowers, and lush green landscapes. Summer is an excellent time to explore the park's high-altitude alpine regions, where hiking, camping, and other outdoor recreational opportunities await. Prior to commencing your trip, it's critical to verify road conditions. Show more

What activities are available at North Cascades National Park?

North Cascades National Park is a sanctuary for outdoor enthusiasts and provides endless possibilities for activities, including hiking, camping, climbing, fishing, kayaking, and wildlife viewing. Some of the park's most popular trails include the Cascade Pass Trail, Diablo Lake Trail, and Heather-Maple Pass Loop Trail. You can reserve a cabin at Stehekin Valley Ranch in the park, where you can hike on nature trails, ride horses, and mountain bike. You can even immerse yourself in its natural beauty by canoe camping. Show more

Is there an entrance fee to visit North Cascades National Park?

There are no charges for entry or camping at North Cascades National Park. Hiking trails within the park are also free, but overnight stays at campsites and permits for wilderness camping may have fees attached. To ascertain the costs of boat launches, ranger programs, and tours, visitors should check the park's website. North Cascades National Park does not accept cash, so ensure you carry a credit or debit card with you. Show more

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