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North cascades

Dates: Many


Route: Drove from Seattle.

One of the thing we love about living in WA state is the sheer geographic diversity and landscapes. Just over 2 hours northeast of Seattle lies the North Cascades, locally known as ‘the American Alps’. The area resembles the Alps in Switzerland and France and people who see the photographs have a hard time telling them apart. The area is part of the North Cascades National Park and is a dream for outdoor adventure offering hiking trails, postcard-views, glacial lakes, pristine forests and campgrounds. It is also a road-biker’s dream as the elevation is very manageable for the first 50 miles. There are some quaint and unique towns along the way and a general lack of people. You can plan your trip at this excellent site.

Turning off I5 onto State Highway 20 is the start of what is called the Cascade Loop, a 140-mile span that ends in the town of Twisp. The first 30 miles of the drive is filled with farms and small towns that reflect the relaxed attitude of the countryside. After a 40 minute drive is the town of Concrete, which was created by the merger of the towns of Cement City and Baker, both of which contained cement plants. The item of note here is the monstrous silo that has the words ‘Welcome to Concrete’ which were painted for the 1993 Leonardo DiCaprio film, This Boy’s Life. There is also the Devil’s Tower, an abandoned cement factory, but we have not been there yet.

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After concrete begins the journey into the mountains which begins in earnest at the town of Marblemount which proudly proclaims ‘Welcome to the American Alps’. Driving on brings you to Newhalem which exists to house the employees who work at the Gorge Powerhouse which is a hydroelectric dam. The tour is supposed to be good and on our list for a future visit.

A few miles up the road is the star of the North Cascades which is Diablo Lake. Take Banff (in Canada) and add a dash of the Swiss Alps and you have the amazing views that Diablo offers. There are two separate places to explore here, the first one being the massive dam. Taking an exit off Highway 20 onto Diablo Dam Road brings you onto a small road that runs on top of the dam. We parked on the north side and walked around. The thundering water is a sight to see and the backdrop of snow-capped mountains is reminiscent of Switzerland.


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Driving farther up the highway get you to the Diablo Lake Vista Point where most of the photographs are taken. If you park and walk just down the road, there are entire vistas that are devoid of people. A sight to see in winter and early spring is the wall of icicles that are on the rocks bordering the road. Another good place for photography is the Colonial Creek Campground that is a mile before the Vista Point. There are some fantastic views of the mountains reflected on the lake here. Diablo is one of the must-see places in WA state and well worth the drive from Seattle, especially on a sunny day.


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Beyond Diablo, Highway 20 continues deeper into the Cascades and finally ending in the town of Winthrop. Note that the highway is closed from sometime in Dec to mid April. The drive is spectacular with many places to stop and photograph the grandeur of mountains that make this are so popular. You finally emerge from the mountains into the Methow Valley where the town of Winthrop is located. If you every wanted to go to a small, town in the Old West this is it. While Winthrop is small, there are a lot of quaint shops and bars to explore. Many of the buildings still retain their old charm and architecture. Thought a bit touristy, there is enough charm in the town and friendly people to visit here.


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