Along the Cascade Loop, you’ll see a little slice of everything that makes Washington great: a series of mountain passes, rivers, and lakes that feel distinctly Pacific Northwest. The road winds through the sharp peaks of North Cascades National Park, past the fertile fields of the Skagit Valley and the apple orchards of Wenatchee, and along the shores of Lake Chelan. They stop in charming small towns like Bavarian-style Leavenworth and Western-style Winthrop. Yes, we claim this is one of the most scenic road trips in the United States, and we’re not alone in that opinion: In January 2021, the Cascade Loop was named one of the country’s 34 National Scenic Byways.
You could ride the Cascade Loop in a weekend, but give yourself four or five days to really experience it. The North Cascades Highway, or State Route 20, is closed during the winter and reopens each spring, usually in late May. Plan your departure between June and October, but check the Washington State Department of Transportation’s website for the latest information on opening dates. drive an electric car? You will find numerous charging stations along the way. Although you can ride the loop either way, go counter-clockwise for the best views. Start in the city of Everett, 30 minutes north of Seattle, then head east on Highway 2 along the Skykomish River and over Stevens Pass. Here are some stops worth jumping into.
Mile 29: Wallace Falls State Park
Grab a coffee and a homemade buttermilk cookie and egg sandwich from Narrative Coffee in the port city of Everett. Then enter Snohomish – the ancient capital of the Northwest – into your navigation system. If you like collecting funky antiques or just browsing, stop by the Antique Warehouse or Remember When Antique Mall to find relics from a bygone era. Then stretch your legs at Wallace Falls State Park, where the 9-kilometer Woody Trail winds past nine waterfalls, including the 265-foot Middle Falls.
Mile 65: Stevens Pass Bike Park
Stevens Pass Bike Park is scheduled to reopen this summer after a short hiatus. This is Washington’s only lift mountain biking, with purpose-built singletrack and flowtrails, jumps, tabletops, drops, berms, and a pump track. If you’re not a biker, there’s still plenty to do at Stevens Pass in the summer, including hiking, scenic lift rides, and an 18-hole disc golf course.
Mile 100: Leavenworth
Spend a night or two at the faux Bavaria that is Leavenworth. Budget-friendly hotel brand Loge opened a downtown outpost here in 2020 with equipment and bike rentals, live music, free morning yoga, and an outdoor beer garden (from $109). This Alpine-style town has plenty of places to sip beer, but we like Yodelin for rice bowls and cocktails, or the Bushel and Bee Taproom for cider. The next morning, treat yourself to coffee and a breakfast burrito at the Argonaut before embarking on the 4.2-mile Icicle Gorge Trail, a popular hike in the Icicle Creek Valley.
Mile 123: Wenatchee
Wenatchee feels a world away from the mountain passes you’ve ridden before. This hilly, fertile farmland is teeming with apple orchards and fruit stands during the late summer and fall growing season. Visit the Pybus Public Market for shops, cafes and tasting rooms in a former steel factory and Stutzman Ranch for peaches or cherries. Just before reaching Lake Chelan, stop at Lone Pine Fruit and Espresso, a roadside stand on the banks of the Columbia River that sells coffee and other seasonal produce.
Mile 152: Lake Chelan
The state’s largest lake and the third deepest in the United States, this natural wonder is 50 miles long and about 1,500 feet deep. Ditch your car and hop aboard the Lady of the Lake ferry to Stehekin, a roadless lakefront community accessible only by hiking or boating. Once there, you can buy strawberry rhubarb pie and a log cabin to sleep in at Stehekin Pastry Company (from $240) or stay at the 27-room North Cascades Lodge at Stehekin (from $249), which is directly at is the landing stage of the ferry. From there you have a prime location for paddling, kayaking or hiking.
Mile 207: Twist
In the winter, the 60-mile Methow Valley is known for its 200 kilometers of cross-country ski trails. But in the summer, they’re great for hiking, mountain biking, and trail running. The town of Twisp is known for its arts and culture scene thanks to its festivals, downtown art galleries and maker’s markets. Locally grown produce and handmade goods are sold at the Methow Valley Farmers’ Market, held in Twisp on Saturdays from April to October. Don’t miss a visit to Blue Star Coffee Roasters and Cinnamon Twisp Bakery, both in town.
Mile 215: Winthrop
The town of Winthrop, eight miles down State Route 20 from Twisp and still part of the Methow Valley, feels like a place locked in time — the main street is designed to resemble an 1850s western town looks like years. Here you can snap old photos, fish for trout in the Methow River, or stay in a covered wagon at Winthrop KOA (from $142). For a cozier base camp, stay in one of six rustic Rolling Huts (from $135), tiny valley homes with design edge, or a guest room at the 18-room Inn at Mazama (from $150) in nearby Mazama. Make sure to fill up there because next it’s up and over the remote North Cascades Highway.
Mile 286: Diablo Lake Overlook and Trail
Take your time driving over this pass. It’s downright beautiful. Stop at the Diablo Lake Overlook for a view of the turquoise waters in North Cascades National Park. Hike the 7.6-mile Diablo Lake Trail, accessible off the highway, and cross the lake on a high-span suspension bridge. If you want to stay overnight in the park, there are a handful of campgrounds – check availability at the drive-in Goodell Creek Campground (from $20). Alternatively, the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center, an educational campus, offers lodging options (from $81) near the shore of Diablo Lake. Treat yourself to pizza at The Eatery at Glacier Peak Resort in Rockport, a winery that also has campgrounds.
Mile 336: Edison
End your road trip in the lush Skagit Valley, known for its springtime tulip festival. Stay at the Smith and Vallee Guest House (from $350), a three bedroom apartment in an old schoolhouse attached to a contemporary art gallery in the village of Edison. The city’s popular Tweets Café is worth the wait for its creative sandwiches. Need a souvenir? Stop by El Sage Designs in the nearby town of Mount Vernon to shop for a sweatshirt designed by a local artist and printed on site.