Mountains to Sound Greenway (I90)
Pass through the Cascades
|Mileage||97 miles (157 km)|
|DurationThe duration is an estimate of a one-way drive and does not include any stops or side-trips.||2 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.||All Seasons|
|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.||Seattle, WA▼, North Bend, WA▼, and Ellensburg, WA▼|
4.0 average from 49 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.
Completed in 1978, I-90 is one of the country’s most traveled mountain highways. It connects Puget Sound over Snoqualmie Pass to Central Washington. The area offers a bounty of hiking trails, camping, fishing, wildlife watching, and ski hills, making it a popular day-trip destination as a veritable playground for the city-dwellers of Seattle. The road is open year-round, though in winter, some portions do require chains.
This scenic drive can be done in either direction, but we describe it starting in Seattle and ending in Ellensburg. To begin, take the I-90 exit from I-5 S.
Stunning views of Lake Washington, and if the skies are clear, Mt. Rainier await as you cross Lake Washington on the Lacey V. Murrow Memorial Bridge, more commonly known as the I-90 floating bridge. At Exit 13, Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park (H7) offers a variety of trails, waterfalls, forests, and wetlands.
Passing Issaquah, consider a detour to the Issaquah State Salmon Hatchery (A3), especially in fall. A variety of hand-on exhibits explore the salmon life-cycle, and their epic journey as they travel from river to ocean, and back again. September is the best time to observe salmon as they return to spawn in Issaquah Creek. That’s when knowledgeable docents are on-site offering a wealth of information, plus the chance to watch thousands of salmon swimming through the fish ladder is mesmerizing. There is no entrance fee to the Hatchery. At the end of Sept. or early Oct., enjoy Salmon Days, which celebrates the return of the salmon with educational programs, arts and crafts booths, carnival rides, live music, and more.
The drive continues on I-90 though we recommend another side trip by taking Exit 25 to Snoqualmie Falls (H8). The 270-foot Snoqualmie Falls were formed during the last Ice Age as glaciers receded and viewing its cascade is easily accessible from the parking area. The surrounding park is beautifully-landscaped, and features multiple observation decks, trails and picnic areas.
Train buffs will love the Northwest Railway Museum (M3). Learn about the history of the railroad, and explore Snoqualmie Depot which was built in 1890 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There is no admission charge to visit the depot and Centennial Trail, which features historic (albeit rusty) trains with interpretive signage. Or step back in time aboard a steam train — trips are offered on Saturdays and Sundays, April — October. Don’t miss the special events such as Day Out With Thomas, where kids get to meet and ride the beloved Thomas the Tank Engine in July, or the popular Santa Train in December. August is host to Railroad Days, which includes living history demonstrations by re-enactors wearing 19ht-century fashion, parade, car show and vendors.
The city of North Bend offers much to do. At the 2,500 acre Olallie State Park (H9) enjoy a picnic amid old-growth forest, hike to the dramatic Twin Falls and Weeks Falls, enjoy rock climbing, fishing, and wildlife watching. Here you’ll also find access to the Iron Horse Trail, popular for biking and horseback riding. A Discover Pass is required to enter or pay a day use fee on-site. The area boasts many trailheads offering hikes for every level. At nearby Rattlesnake Mountain, hike a series of switchbacks which culminate at Rattlesnake Ledge (H3), and a fabulous panorama of the Cascades, Or Mount Little Si, which is a 4.7-mile round trip, gaining 1300-feet. Up for a challenge? Don’t miss hiking Mount Si (H4) which climbs 3,150-feet in just 4 miles. If you’re a shopper, you’ll love the North Bend Premium Outlets, and strolling the quaint downtown. And if you’re a fan of the show Twin Peaks, dine at Twede’s Cafe - that cherry pie is worth a stop.
Ten miles from North Bend, the Alpine Lakes Wilderness (H10) is home to the most glaciated areas of the continental United States. Flanked by steep, jagged mountains, are more than 700 lakes waiting to be explored. Most require more than just a casual hike, such as Rachel Lake, Melakwa Lake, and a 67-mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail, but you will be well-rewarded with breathtaking views.
For a taste of road-tripping prior to the completion of I-90, take the windy Forest Road 58 (T1) from Exit 47 to 52. For information about the Snoqualmie Pass and the region, stop at the Snoqualmie Pass Forest Service Visitor Information Center (I1). At Exit 52, you will find access to another myriad of trailheads including the popular Snow Lake Trail (H11) which heads to magnificent views of the Cascade Mountains and Snow Lake, the largest alpine lake in the area. The water is brilliant blue and icy cold, but on hot days is irresistibly refreshing. A Pacific Northwest Forest Pass or America the Beautiful Pass is required to park at most trailheads.
From this point on, the drive ascends to Snoqualmie Pass at 3,022 feet. The pass is well-known for winter skiing at the Summit at Snoqualmie (MM) which is comprised of 4 ski areas, Summit Central, Summit West, Summit East and Alpental. Full-service amenities include complimentary shuttle between base areas, equipment rentals, lessons, cross-country, telemark, and snowshoe trails, a tubing center, and variety of dining facilities. Lodging options are available nearby.
The Iron Horse State Park (H12) and the John Wayne Pioneer Trail re-purpose an abandoned railroad-bed suitable for hiking and biking. This trail runs from North Bend to Vantage, near Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park (H1).
Lake Easton State Park (H6) is open year-round. Activities include hiking, swimming, fresh-water fishing, non-motorized boating and camping for tents and RV’s. In winter, trails are open for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling.
In Cle Elum, consider getting off at exit 85 and taking WA-970 (T2) which is a little more scenic than I-90. From here, turn South onto WA-10 and follow it to Ellensburg. While here, consider stopping at the Cle Elum Historic Telephone Museum (M1), where in 1901, the first phone call in this region was made. The museum features the original equipment from that era.
The town of Thorp began as a depot on the Northern Pacific Railroad, and is home to the only remaining mill that made the transition from stone buhr to modern rollers. Thorp Grist Mill (A1) is on the National Register of Historic Places and is open for tours in spring and summer.
Our drive ends in Ellensburg. From here, consider driving up to Blewett Pass through our Peshastin to Ellensburg drive (in reverse, of course), to the Yakima Valley, or continue on I-90 and join up with our Coulee Corridor Scenic Byway drive.