North Cascades Highway


Liberty Bell from North Cascades Highway

The North Cascades Highway (also known as Highway 20) crosses the rugged North Cascades mountain range in Washington State.

Completed in 1972, this highway connects the Skagit Valley (on the west side) to the Methow Valley on the east.

The concept of a road traversing the North Cascades originated in the 1890’s. At one point a route was mapped from the north end of Lake Chelan, over Cascade Pass. Another route which was started went over Harts Pass and yet a third was a short-lived route over Whatcom Pass/Hannegan Pass and then down what is now the Mount Baker Highway.

The construction of the highway was an on and off affair, with lots of bickering and dithering by both businessmen and politicians. The final route of the highway was settled partly due to the work already completed by Seattle City Light; having created roads along the Skagit River to build Gorge, Diablo and Ross Dams.

Gathering the necessary agreement to start also included a plan to log off some of the last Old Growth forests. Fortunately the North Cascades National Park bill was signed by President Johnson in 1968, effectively saving this fantastic resource.

The North Cascades Highway closes each winter: the snow fall in the North Cascades is significant! In fact the highest annual snowfall, anywhere in the world (29 meters, more than 95 feet!) was recorded nearby, at Mount Baker.

Each year varies a bit, but the highway usually closes in November and re-opens in May or June. Each years reopening of the North Cascades Highway brings a celebration (from my view, at least!) as in hearkens the beginning of spring and a new hiking season!

The highway crosses two mountain passes, Rainy Pass at 4,800 ft, and Washington Pass at 5,400 ft. The Pacific Crest Trail bisects the highway at Rainy Pass and there are many trail heads along the road heading both north and south. North Cascades Photo Tours are available to anyone who would like a guided photo tour of the back country of the region.

I am quite happy to live along the highway, and travel up to the passes to hike and take pictures regularly. I lead Night Sky Photo Tours to both Diablo and Washington Pass Overlooks.

Liberty Bell Mountain looms above the North Cascades Highway at Washington Pass.

The Diablo Lake Overlook provides a fantastic viewpoint of Diablo Lake.

Diablo Overlook

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *