North Cascades Scenic Highway

As the North Cascades Scenic Byway loops between massive peaks and along lakes colored turquoise by glacial silt, you’ll see why these mountains are called “the American Alps.” Many argue that the North Cascades Highway is the most scenic in Washington State.

Of all the passes that traverse the Cascades, this is the most mountainous, with high hairpin turns and jaw-dropping vistas. It’s so rugged, it closes during winter months. And it’s so stunning that travelers line up before sunrise on the day it reopens in the spring in order to be among the first across.

Here you’ll find 1920s-era company towns, organic farms selling their produce and, at journey’s end, one of Washington's most beautiful outdoor recreation destinations—the Methow Valley. Load up your mountain bike, grab your hiking boots, bring your appetite and enjoy.

CLICK TO EXPLORE ON MAP to find more things to do, places to stay and eat along this route.

1. Burlington

From the mountains to the sound, Burlington is located in the heart of area activity. Within two hours of Deception Pass, Chuckanut Drive, Whidbey Island, the San Juan Islands Ferry, Seattle and the Canadian Border, Burlington is a great starting point for a fun vacation. It is also located at the intersection of Interstate-5 and SR-20, also known as the North Cascades Highway.

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2. Sedro-Woolley

History-rich Sedro-Woolley is named for two towns with logging and railroad origins that were combined in 1898. As the home of the North Cascades National Park headquarters office and the gateway to the North Cascades, Sedro-Woolley prides itself in providing great outdoor recreation as well as dining options for travelers through the region. Throughout the downtown you will see amazing wooden chainsaw carvings – as varied as the shops themselves. Riverfront Park and off-leash Bark Park are great opportunities for you and your pup to stretch your legs! The annual Loggerodeo event is the longest running Fourth of July celebration in the state.

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3. Newhalem

The Newhalem area is home to a handful of accessible trails, including the nearby Sterling Munro Boardwalk, the Trail of the Cedars, and the Rock Shelter Trail. By crossing the Skagit River via a footbridge at the Gorge Powerhouse, visitors can hike to the top of Ladder Creek Falls and soak up the sights and sounds of a glacially fed waterfall. The nearby Gorge Powerhouse contains a visitor gallery that is open to the public and provides a look at the workings of a hydroelectric powerhouse, as well as the history of the Skagit Hydroelectric Project.

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4. Diablo Lake Overlook

Enjoy views of glacial-fed Diablo Lake, located within the heart of the North Cascades. See rugged mountains that rise around the lake and the historic Diablo Dam in the distance. Learn about water, geology, glaciers, and the plants and animals that call this place home. In summer, the distinctive turquoise color of the lake is the result of suspended fine rock particles refracting sunlight. These rock particles, called glacial flour, enter the lake when rock from the surrounding mountains is eroded by ice and flows into the water through glacial streams. The color is most vibrant on sunny days in July, August, and September when seasonal glacial melt occurs.

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5. Washington Pass Overlook

Quite possibly one of the most scenic rest areas in Washington - with iconic Liberty Bell Mountain towering over Highway 20 as you approach from east to west. Pull over at the overlook and follow a wheelchair accessible, paved trail to a lookout with incredible views of the mountains above and the valley below. Many hiking trails are in the area, including access to the famous Pacific Crest Trail. This roadway closes every winter for several months between Mazama and Diablo, so be sure to plan your trip accordingly. Mother Nature sets her own schedule on when conditions will mean time to close. The area can receive 700 inches of snow in a season!

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6. Winthrop

Welcome to Winthrop - a tiny old Western town with old-time boardwalks, fabulous boutiques, restaurants, luxurious to cozy overnight options, and every outdoor recreational pursuit you could ask for! The pristine Okanogan National Forestis our backyard and your playground. Winthrop is a year-round wonderland acclaimed for the largest network of cross-country ski trails in the Western Hemisphere. We are a year-round getaway destination you'll want to experience for yourself.

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7. Twisp

Located in the heart of the Methow Valley, nestled into the foothills of the North Cascades, Twisp is a dynamic center for art, culture and adventure, with a down-to-earth atmosphere and friendly attitude. Swing by Twisp’s downtown art gallery, play in its riverside park, relax at its boutique spa, or take in an evening of theater. Enjoy Italian fine dining, finger-licking BBQ, pizza, burgers, tacos and more – or stop in to enjoy international wine tastings, sip award-winning microbrews from an on-site taproom, or get energized with world-class, locally-brewed coffee.

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