North Cascades Highway
Follow the Skagit River through the Northern Cascades
|Mileage||127 miles (205 km)|
|DurationThe duration is an estimate of a one-way drive and does not include any stops or side-trips.||3 hours|
|SeasonsThe seasons listed are the best seasons for this scenic drive. If Winter is not mentioned, the road may be closed during the winter.||Spring, Summer, and Fall|
|Roadways||Washington Highway 20|
|Forest PassesSome of the adventures on this scenic drive require an admission fee that these passes cover. Please read the drive description for more information.||Pacific Northwest Forest Pass|
|ServicesThe cities or towns listed have either Food or Services such as gas, hotels, pharmacies, etc.||Winthrop, WA▼, Concrete, WA▼, Mount Vernon, WA▼, and Sedro Woolley, WA▼|
4.1 average from 50 votes
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Natural areas along this route require an entrance fee used to protect and maintain our most scenic treasures. Save time by purchasing your forest passes before you go.
The North Cascades Highway is the first National Scenic Highway in the United States. The mountain scenic drive begins in Sedro Woolley and follows the green-blue Skagit River for most of the drive. To get to Sedro Woolley, take Exit 230 off of I-5 and follow WA-20 East, or head North on WA-9.
The drive starts traveling through farm lands and small towns. To the south side of the road, you will have views of the Skagit River and its bluish-greenish color will surely grab your attention.
Twenty-four miles into the drive, you will approach the town of Concrete. It is very hard to miss with the concrete silos saying “Welcome to Concrete” and it will definitely bring a smile to your face. From Concrete, you can reach Shannon Lake (W3) and Baker Lake (W2) by following Baker River Road and Baker Lake Road.
As you continue east on WA-20 from Concrete, be on the lookout for eagles during the winter, as this is the second largest eagle gathering location in the United States, the first being Alaska.
Rockport State Park (H1) is a beautiful, old growth forest that has never been logged. This creates a dense canopy where minimal sunlight reaches the ground and the original ecosystem still remains. Sauk Mountain touches the park and has several foot trails. The park is a few miles west of the town of Rockport.
At Rockport, the WA-530 joins the WA-20. Our drive continues east on the WA-20, but the drive to Darrington on the WA-530 is very beautiful and in Darrington, you can reach the Mountain Loop Highway.
As you approach Marblemount, you should note that there are very few gas stations for the next 90 miles, making now a good time to make sure you have plenty.
Six miles east of Marblemount is the Ross Lake National Recreation Area (H5). This area includes Ross Lake, Gorge Lake, and Diablo Lake (W1). Views in this area are breathtaking. You will definitely want to take advantage of the many turn outs to take pictures of the Skagit River and the surrounding scenery.
About nine miles from here is the North Cascades Visitor Center (I2) in Newhalem and is a great place to learn more about the area. From here there are a few trails, including a recommended 200-foot paved trail to the overlook of the Picket Range, a mountain range entirely contained within the North Cascades National Park, and if you want to see the Skagit River up close, there is a mile long trail to it from here as well.
Just past the Gorge Dam, a bridge spans over the Gorge Creek Falls (H6) and they are not to be missed. These falls pour into the emerald green Gorge Lake. The color is caused by glaciers creating a powder when moving over rocks and once the right concentrations are suspended in the water, the sunlight reflects off of the powder to make this amazing color.
Moments after this, you will be in Diablo and Diablo Lake (W1) where people are always playing in the water. Just after the bridge, the Lake Diablo Overlook (V1) is a must stop; you will see the surrounding Cascades, Pickets, Diablo Lake, and more. Words cannot even begin to describe this view.
There are many hiking opportunities here. Just after the Overlook, the Happy Creek Forest Walk (H7) is a boardwalk through the forest with interpretive signs.
24 miles from here will be Rainy Pass, the center of the North Cascades National Park; a 1 mile, paved road from here will bring you to the mountain surrounded Rainy Lake (W4).
Washington Pass (H3) is about six miles from Rainy Pass and is the highest elevation of the drive at 5,477 feet and it surrounds you with the peaks of the Cascades. Amazingly, this pass once was at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean!
The drive descends down a bit steeper than the previous sections of the drive. After a hairpin turn, the drive will smooth out and you will be back in farming valley.
In Mazama, there is a great side trip to Harts Pass (T1), the highest driving point in the state of Washington. To head there, turn onto Lost River Road and turn left onto Goat Creek Road. Drive up Goat Creek Road until the end, turn right onto Lost River Road, and join onto Forest Road 5400 until the end. The nearby Slate Peak has incredible panoramic views of the surrounding areas.
The drive continues smoothly until the end in Winthrop, known for the American Old West design of all the buildings in town. The climate here remarkably drier than most of our drive. The Shafer Museum (M1) in Winthrop is a great stop to learn about the Cascade Valley’s history.
If you are driving the drive in the opposite direction, WA-9 can lead you to either Mount Baker Highway by heading north or Mountain Loop Highway by heading south. Or for a ferry ride, continue to Horseshoe Highway on Orcas Island or Whidbey Island.