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Exploring the Back Roads of Washington State: The Cascade Loop Byway

Updated on October 29, 2013

OVERVIEW

To see some of the most beautiful mountain scenery in the United States, few trips will be as rewarding as the Cascade Loop Highway in Washington State. You will be treated to breathtaking vistas, ragged peaks, a bounty of lakes and rivers, and the two tourist towns of Winthrop and Leavenworth.

The total driving distance is approximately 400 miles and yes, you could do it in one day, but anyone serious about absorbing the beauty of nature will want to plan on three or four days for this trip.

Finding motel accommodations is not a problem on this journey, and if you should choose to camp you will have no problem finding campsites throughout the four-hundred miles of forests and river valleys. Pack your fishing gear, swimsuits, cameras and binoculars. Whatever you enjoy doing on a vacation is available on this great trip.

Your map
Your map | Source

Driving Directions

From Everett, travel east on Highway 2 across Stevens Pass into eastern Washington to the city of Wenatchee. From there travel north on Highway 97 to Chelan, then north on SR 153 to Winthrop. From Winthrop you will drive west on Highway 20 through the North Cascades National Park to Burlington in western Washington, and then travel south on I-5 back to Everett.

Leavenworth
Leavenworth | Source

Travelling East from Everett

Everett is about 30 miles north of Seattle on I-5. From there you will head east on Highway 2 and follow the Skykomish River into the Cascade Mountains. You will drive along the river valley past former logging and mining towns like Snohomish, Sultan and Gold Bar as you gain elevation. The opportunities for picnicking and camping are numerous along this road; in fact, it would be impossible to travel more than twenty miles on the entire trip without finding a camping spot to pitch your tent on.

If you are a whitewater rafter or fly fisherman, the Skykomish will test your mettle, and if you are a hiker you will not be disappointed by the many trails along this section of highway.

You will cross over into eastern Washington at Stevens Pass, elevation 4,061. During the winter this is one of the premier locations for downhill and cross-country skiing. Shortly after the Pass you will come to Lake Wenatchee. The State Park there offers a beautiful sandy beach as well as hiking, camping, boating and swimming.

Continue along Highway 2 through the Tumwater Canyon, along the Wenatchee River, and into the town of Leavenworth. This quaint Bavarian village will provide all the tourist opportunities you could hope for, and you would do well to spend your first night here to completely enjoy this lovely alpine town. Festivals are held year-round in Leavenworth, but even if there are no festivals when you are there, you will be treated to an abundance of German restaurants, shops, and a more than a few beer gardens.

Leaving Leavenworth, you will now travel to the city of Wenatchee, the “Apple Capital of the World.” There is certainly no shortage of fruit stands in this area, and some of the best wineries in the state are nearby as well. The mighty Columbia River flows through Wenatchee, offering still more opportunities to swim, water ski, kayak or river raft. You might want to consider stopping at the Ohme Gardens, located on a bluff outside of town. From there you will experience a fantastic view of the river valley.

Lake Chelan
Lake Chelan | Source

Travelling North from Wenatchee

Now we head north on 97 and follow the Columbia River to the city of Chelan, a summer playground for many Washingtonians. Marvel at one of the deepest and clearest lakes in the United States. Enjoy the public swimming beaches, and if you have the time take the guided tour aboard the Lady of the Lake to Stehekin, the southern gateway to the North Cascades National Park. From Stehekin you can find numerous backcountry hiking trails, horseback riding and whitewater rafting. The 50 mile boat trip is narrated and is nothing short of spectacular.

Chelan will also give you an opportunity to gas up and enjoy a nice meal in one of the many restaurants.

Diablo Lake
Diablo Lake | Source
North Cascades National Park
North Cascades National Park | Source
Winthrop, Washington
Winthrop, Washington | Source
Skagit Tulip Festival
Skagit Tulip Festival | Source

Travelling West from Pateros

Once you leave Chelan you will continue north until you come to the town of Pateros where you will turn west and enter the Methow Valley. This river valley offers beautiful scenery, but don’t become so mesmerized by the sights that you forget to stop in the town of Winthrop. Strap on your six-shooter, pardner, because Winthrop is a Wild West town with boardwalks, hitching posts and gold panning. While there ask directions to the Sun Mountain Lodge where you can ride horses, mountain bike, and enjoy one of the best meals in Washington.

After you leave Winthrop you will shortly leave the valley itself as you enter the rugged North Cascades National Park. Known as the “Alps of the United States,” the North Cascades Wilderness offers some unforgettable views of jagged peaks and alpine lakes. Stop at Washington Pass, the highest road in Washington, and walk along the Outlook Trail for an incredible view of Liberty Bell and other Cascade peaks.

Shortly after Washington Pass you will begin to descend into western Washington. Great views of Ross Lake and Diablo Lake are available. You can book a tour on the Diablo Lake Boat Tour, or just pull off at one of the numerous trailheads and do some backcountry exploring.

Stop in the town of Newhalem and visit the North Cascades National Park Visitor’s Center where you can get more information on camping and hiking, and make sure you swing by the Skagit General Store to get a feeling of life one-hundred years ago.

Highway 20 will continue through the towns of Marblemount, Concrete and Sedro Woolley. You will be driving through the rich Skagit River Valley and some of the greatest eagle nesting grounds in the western United States. If you are there during the spring you will have to stop and enjoy the Tulip Festival. The entire valley explodes with color as tulips come into bloom.

San Juan Islands
San Juan Islands | Source

Travelling South from Burlington

You will leave Highway 20 in the city of Burlington and from there you can catch Interstate 5 south and return to Everett where your trip began. If, however, you feel like a side-trip, continue from Burlington on Highway 20 and drive to Fidalgo and Whidbey Islands. The town of Anacortes is on Fidalgo Island and that is the gateway to the San Juan Islands. You can catch a ferry there and roam through the gorgeous San Juan Island archipelago. If you are a kayaker or just a shutterbug, this is a must trip.

Anacortes is also a charming town with numerous artist studios; so too is the town of La Conner.

Continue on Highway 20 and go over Deception Pass, a must-see trip over a high bridge spanning a natural inlet. From there Highway 20 will eventually return you to Everett.

And There You Have It

400 miles of some of the prettiest scenery a person could ever hope to see. This writer recommends spending a night in Leavenworth and a night in either Chelan or Winthrop to fully appreciate this journey. A third night could easily be spent in Anacortes or in one of the towns in the San Juan Islands.

Why rush? This is a trip to be savored and slowly appreciated, so take your time and drink in all that is Washington State.

2013 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

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    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks DJ....we are heading out in an hour to visit a new town for this series...looking forward to the journey and the people we meet.

    • profile image

      DJ Anderson 4 years ago

      This article makes me want to head north, not south. You do make it

      sound like an incredible journey. I have never been in that part of the U.S. These pictures show some amazing scenery and charming villages.

      I am so hoping some issues clear up so that we can once again enjoy

      some road trips. Right now, it is point A to point B in the fastest mode

      possible.

      You should get a terrific response and some super hubs from this "back

      roads" article proposal.

      DJ.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Sha, it's chilly here too. I need some sunshine and warmth. :) Thanks my friend.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 4 years ago from Central Florida

      Oh my goodness, such beautiful countryside! And the villages are so quaint and warm. Thank you for the trip on this chilly day in Central Florida. I'm envious of the beauty your state has to offer, Bill!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Dianna, as an added bonus, you would get to meet Bev and I. :) Thank you and have a wonderful weekend.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

      Your photos were breathtaking and made me want to just take in their beauty. I would love a tour such as this, and the little towns would be such a great visit. Thanks for the share.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Jan, you have seen some great country. Tons of motorcycles in the Badlands, especially Sturgis. Thanks for the suggestions; I had not thought of that before.

    • JanMaklak profile image

      JanMaklak 4 years ago from Canada

      The trip you describe sounds great. There is a real market for this sort of review in the motorcycle community. When I used to have my Harley I was always looking for interesting roads to ride and spent many an hour researching fun places to go with twisty paved roads. Some of my more memorable rides took my through the entire Blue Ridge Parkway, into Tennessee where I spent some time in Nashville and Memphis where I met Elvis (yeah right) But I did get to go "Walking in Memphis with my feet 10 feet of the ground" as the song goes. I also got out to the Hills of South Dakota, the Badlands near Wall SD, through some mountain passes in Montana and of course Yellow Stone. If you can include some references to motorcycles I think you'll see extra traffic.

      Jan

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Ruchira....LOL...it does sound optimistic for sure. That's how I feel about your part of the country. Thank you!

    • Ruchira profile image

      Ruchira 4 years ago from United States

      Wow...your pix have personified this beautiful state. I have not yet visited that side of the country and dunno when I shall, but to have a vision to visit it one day...sounds optimistic :)

      great informative post, Bill

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Randi, it's a date then. :)

    • btrbell profile image

      Randi Benlulu 4 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Ah, Bill, too sweet! I would love to meet you both! Thank you!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Randi, if you ever make it up here, allow Bev and I to buy you lunch. :) It would be a pleasure.

    • btrbell profile image

      Randi Benlulu 4 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Thank you, Bill! I love the way you took us on this journey! I do hope someday to visit this neck of the woods! It looks beautiful!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Russ, you won't be disappointed. Diablo Lake is pretty common for high alpine lakes....so clear and dark blue....and great fishing. :)

    • rfmoran profile image

      Russ Moran 4 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Thanks, Bill, for your personal itinerary. The photos are gorgeous. Diablo Lake looks other worldly. Added to my list of places to go. Russ

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Martin, we once did the same thing. Nowadays camping does not hold much appeal to me. Thank you Sir!

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 4 years ago from San Francisco

      Thank you for this. We always kept sleeping bags in trunk if the sudden mood for one of these trips hit us.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Alicia, I know you will love it when you see it. Of course, your area is every bit as pretty.

      Thank you!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Awww, thanks Mary! It's an easy state to write about; of course, it helps that I love it so much. :)

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      The photos are beautiful, Bill. This sounds like a lovely trip to take. I'm looking forward to exploring Washington!

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 4 years ago from New York

      These photos rival the beauty of Alaska, simply amazing. Sounds like things are set up to facilitate traveling with so many campgrounds, not to mention island hopping ;)

      Another great travel hub written by a pro!

      Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Vicki, we live in a beautiful part of North America for sure, and I agree with you that Oregon isn't too shabby either. Thank you my friend.

    • profile image

      Vickiw 4 years ago

      Have been to most of the places on your tour, Bill, and it is beautiful. Not too bad here either! Great travel Hub! Love Oregon too, and have a nephew there.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Ruby! Maybe some day you can come and visit. :)

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 4 years ago from Southern Illinois

      You really do live in a beautiful state Bill. I especially like the Diablo Lake photo. Thank's again for sharing...

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      For sure, Deb! Thanks for the visit.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      It sounds beautiful, Billy. Paradise!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Kathryn, thank you so much! It really is as beautiful as I have painted it.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      PS, that is wonderful news, and I insist, as if I have that right, that you pull through Olympia and let Bev and I share some time with you. We would love that.

      Blessings and hugs to you my friend. Thank you, as always, for the angels.

      bill

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Stephens, thank you so much. I hope you are able to visit some day soon.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Carol, there is no doubt that this is a beautiful state. I think those of us who live here take it for granted quite often. Thanks for the visit my friend.

    • Kathryn Stratford profile image

      Kathryn 4 years ago from Manchester, Connecticut

      Beautiful! This is better than a travel guide.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Kas, I hope you do; I'd love to meet you in person my friend. Thank you!

    • stephensaldana profile image

      stephensaldana 4 years ago from Chicago

      Great hub, Billy! It definitely makes me want to visit the Northwest.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 4 years ago from sunny Florida

      Being retired affords me the opportunity to travel to places Ihave longed to go. The beauty you have been sharing with us in your articles about what to see and do in WA have me ready to pack and head out. Alas I have to wait till summer...my plan is to travel with my sister this summer to some places we have not gone. WA is on our itinerary.

      Thanks for sharing this peek at your home state with us...shared and shared some more ... Sending you many Angels my friend. :) ps

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 4 years ago from Arizona

      I love these travel adventures. We spent some time in Wenatchee...Love the entire area..thought about moving there at one time. Washington and the total northwest is unsurpassed beauty. I feel like I am lifted into the beauty..Great job..Voting up++++ and pinning.

    • Kasman profile image

      Kas 4 years ago from Bartlett, Tennessee

      Well billy, I've been meaning to take a trip to Oregon or even my home state of Cali sometime. I might have to swing by Washington now! Looks like a pretty nice route.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Liz, how is that panning coming along? LOL

      Come visit; we'll be your tour guides at no charge.

    • Radcliff profile image

      Liz Davis 4 years ago from Hudson, FL

      So beautiful! I'd love to go to the tulip festival. They don't grow down here :( I'd love to pan for gold, too. Although I already do that every day, metaphorically speaking.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Good morning Janine, and as always, thank you for being so loyal. I hope you'll be able to visit one day. We'll leave the light on for you. :)

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 4 years ago from New York, New York

      You always make me wish I lived closer to check this part of the country out when you do tourist articles on here about Washington State. Thanks for sharing and seriously what a beautiful scenic part of the country you have described. Have, of course, voted up and shared all over!!