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INTRODUCTION: Seattle Recreation and the North Cascades

Highway 20 / North Cascades Highway Recreation

Highway 20 / North Cascades Highway Hiking
Highway 20 / North Cascades Highway Campgrounds
Highway 20 / North Cascades Highway Biking

By Robert Rousseau, Copyright © 2008,

If you love the kind of recreation that only raw wilderness and majestic views can offer, then take a drive along Highway 20 for a journey into God's Country — straight into the heart of the North Cascades.

Highway 20, also known as the North Cascades Scenic Highway, is what keeps the lower mid-drift of the North Cascades Mountain Range relevant to the majority of us, as it's the only real way to get to that portion of the range. What's more, Highway 20 has been called the "most scenic mountain drive in Washington." So in addition to utility, Highway 20 boasts some of the most magnificent and nearly untouched scenery that the Ross Lake National Recreation Area and beyond has to offer.

But if you don't know what to look for while driving the highway, opportunities could easily slip by. Take the time to research information about recreation spots along the North Cascades Highway and mark out on a map where you want to stop. Driving along at sixty miles an hour, it may not be the best idea to hit your brakes as you pass by a trailhead, lake, creek, river or side road you want to explore.

Most popular recreation stops on Highway 20 / North Cascades Highway

Just for grins, it would seem important to note that the highway is impassable during the winter months. Thus, the communities of Gorge and Diablo can simply not be reached by a land based vehicle at that time.

Now onto the hot spots, almost all of which have something to do with the area's beautiful forests, lakes, and natural surroundings.

Baker Lake:For this nine mile recreational reservoir, turn off at Milepost 82. Campgrounds here can be utilized off of Baker Lake Highway. Further, Maple Grove Campground (on the lake's eastern shore) can be accessed by boaters and hikers traveling on the East Bank Trail. The Baker Lake Resort also has a store, which comes in handy, and cabin and boat rentals can also be had.

You also might choose to walk Cascade River Road because if you cross a certain bridge over the Skagit River there you'll be well on your way to the Cascade Pass trailhead in North Cascades National Park.

Colonial Creek Campground: At Milepost 130 (Diablo Lake) you can find yourself a floating cabin and more at Ross Lake Resort. More conventional camping and fishing is also available.

Diablo Lake Overlook: To see Diablo Lake, Sourdough Mountain, Davis Peak, Colonial Peak, Pyramid Peak, and the Skagit River drainage, this is the place to be.

Gorge Creek Falls-Off of Milepost 120, be sure to check out this magnificent 242-foot waterfall four miles east of town.

Happy Creek Forest Walk: Want to walk a short boardwalk through an old forest? Then this unique treat is for you. Even better, it's wheelchair accessible.

Ladder Creek Falls: Located behind Gorge Power House, their flower gardens and pools light up the night. A breathtaking sight for sure at Milepost 120!

Marblemount: Located at Milepost 106, Marblemount holds many distinctions. The bottom line is that when you do finally reach this area, do consider getting gas and buying whatever supplies you might need, as once you leave here such things will become quite scarce for approximately 70 miles.

There are several places to eat in Marblemount (the Buffalo Run Restaurant and Marblemount Diner are just two). There are also farmer's markets. If you don't know much about where you're going -- or just want more information -- the Wilderness Information Center on Ranger Station Rd. is a good place to stop.

Mt. Baker National Recreation Area: At Milepost 82, Mt. Baker NRA Trailhead Camp can be found here, available for one night to hikers and horse users.

North Cascades Visitor Center: Check in at Milepost 120 for more information on your travels.

Rainy Pass: The Rainy Lake National Recreation Trail begins at the rest stop here. The one mile walk to the lake accommodates wheelchairs, and Rainy Pass is a fine place to sit back and have a picnic.

Rockport: This is at Milepost 98. You'll really begin to get the mountain feel here, where views and the Skagit River can be accessed. Look for eagle viewing here as well.

Ross Lake National Recreation Area: You can find the 117,574 acres of wilderness exploration that Ross Lake National Recreation Area represents starting at Milepost 112. There are many things to do in here, including camping (Newhalem Creek Campground at Milepost 130), boating and fishing at Diablo and Ross Lake (Diablo is open year round to boating and fishing), and hiking. In fact, there are several trails worth mentioning along the way on Highway 20 in the Ross Lake area including Thornton Lakes Trail (Milepost 117), Sterling Munro Trail (Milepost 120), River Loop Trail (Milepost 120), Pyramid Lake Trail (Milepost 127), Diablo Lake Trail (Milepost 128), Thunder Creek Trail (Milepost 130), Fourth of July Pass/ Panther Creek (Mileposts 130 and 138), Ross Dam Trail (Milepost 134), Happy Creed Forest Walk (Milepost 134.5), and East Bank Trail (Milepost 138).

For a more detailed description of these trails, see this link:

Washington Pass: With an elevation of 5,477 feet, Washington Pass offers breathtaking views. It's also a great place to picnic. You can find it as the highway climbs at Milepost 162.

With a few minutes of planning, Washington's Highway 20 is the place to drive if you love unspoiled natural settings.

While you're up in the North Cascades, be sure to remember that the outdoors can be beautiful and deadly. So please don't do anything in this article or otherwise that could be construed as dangerous (including certain hikes, etc.) without first contacting an appropriate guide, ranger, or book (that's not outdated; avalanches and rockslides can erase the existence of portions of a trail... leaving you with the possibility of becoming lost, should you attempt to traverse the slide or go around it, by cutting through the forest).

In addition, be sure to always pack your bag with the possibility of becoming lost, injured, or caught in a sudden storm. A light tent, tarp, raingear, food rations, and emergency fire starter are just a few of the essentials to hiking in a wilderness like the North Cascades.

References gorp/resource/us_national_park/wa/drv_nor.htm output.cfm?id=1213885 wa/marblemount

Find a Hike in the North Cascades

Primitive Camping in the North Cascades
Hikes for Children - The Boulder River Trail
Highway 20 Hiking
Mountain Loop Highway Hiking
Mt Baker Highway Hiking
Highway 2 Hiking attempts to list hiking trails as we either trek them ourselves, have them recommended by friends or other readers, or read about them through other resources, such as books, news articles, and websites.

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