Sunday, September 4, 2011

North Cascades Highway in Washington State

Washington's State Route 20 is the northernmost route across the Cascade Mountain Range in Washington and is commonly referred to as the North Cascades Highway. It crosses Washington Pass at an elevation of 5,477 feet and Rainy Pass at 4,860 feet and follows an old Native American trading route. Interestingly, the route was originally deemed impractical for a route back in 1896, and a road was instead built several miles to the south. But that road was washed out by floods regularly and was abandoned as a waste of money.  An easier, safer southern route was constructed.  Finally in 1972, the current Route 20 over Washington Pass was opened.

The massive bulk of 7,600 foot Liberty Bell Mountain seems to block any passage through the mountain fortress.  Just when it seems impossible, the highway makes a great horseshoe bend and clambers up the face of Liberty Bell. The off-road viewpoint at the top of the pass (where this photo was taken) provides splendid views of the mountain-ringed valley.

The highway traverses Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Okanagon National Forest, Wenatchee National Forest, and North Cascades National Park, and is the northernmost route through the rugged Cascade Mountains. It is the only highway through the otherwise impassable North Cascades NAtional Park.

This inhospitable terrain, seemingly tamed by man, turns vicious every winter just to show who is really boss. A 37-mile section of the North Cascades Highway 20 between Newhalem and Mazama closes each winter, generally mid-November through mid-April. The Washington State Department of Transportation is responsible for clearing the highway of snow and avalanche danger, and repairing any damage incurred during the winter. Avalanches regularly deposit 20 feet of snow on the road.

Diablo Lake is created by one of three dams along the road, run by the Seattle City Light on the Skagit River.

There are 300 glaciers in North Cascades National Park (which the road runs through) and these glaciers grind rock against rock which creates a fine silt that gets suspended in the water and reflects the green of the forest, giving Diablo Lake the lovely jade green hue seen in the photo below.

Gorge Falls was huge and awesome to see and hear, just one of many along the road.


Anonymous said...

Rainy - that name rings a bell. There was a falls called Rainy Falls on the Rogue River in OR, I hiked to it couple years ago when I did a four day hike from lodge to lodge along the Rogue River (48miles) I wonder if it was the same Rainy that your pass in WA was named after. Now this is really beautiful country, truly God's creation. A joy to behold. thanks for sharing. ellen

Nancy said...

I love your photos of the North Cascades - especially those with the highway showing. Would you consider submitting them to us (The Cascade Loop Scenic Highway) for possible inclusion in our annual travel guide? It's hard to find photos that include the highway... If you have questions and/or would like to submit some photos for consideration, please e-mail Nancy at
Thanks for the great blog and photos. Best, Nancy

vabna islam said...
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