Driving North Cascades Highway
A year ago this past June, we visited North Cascades National Park for the first time. We loaded up the car bright and early, coffee in hand, and headed towards the North Cascades Highway. We spent the day driving along the park roads, stopping at overlooks, playing in the snow, and admiring the unreal bright blue lakes and jagged mountains. North Cascades National Park quickly became one of our favorite areas of Washington that day. We were blown away by how beautiful the area is and could not stop saying “oh my gosh this is incredible” and “this is the most insane drive ever!”
North Cascades National Park, nicknamed the “American Alps,” is a free (yes, you read that correctly!) National Park located about 2 hours from Seattle. Despite being so close to Seattle, it’s shockingly the 5th least visited U.S. National Park. According to the National Park Service, in 2019 there were only 38,208 visitors to the National Park. For reference, Mount Rainier had about 1.5 million visitors in 2019 and Olympic National Park had 3.2 million visitors…woah! Our minds were blown when we found this out, as North Cascades National Park is easily one of the most beautiful places we have ever been. But on the plus side, the park has never felt overly crowded the few times we have visited, which is a huge perk!
We are so excited to share a weekend guide that explores the North Cascades. This first day of this guide will take you to the stunning viewpoints throughout the park and squeeze in a quick hike before ending the day in Winthrop, a super cute Western-themed town 3.5-3.75 hours from Seattle (the drive is super scenic and we promise it doesn’t feel this long!) You’ll kickoff your second day in Winthrop before completing a gorgeous hike of your choice and heading back home. It’s a full itinerary full of lots of beauty and we hope you enjoy your time in the North Cascades as much as we did!
Where to Stay
We recommend staying in Winthrop during your North Cascades getaway. The cute little Western town has quite a few options when it comes to lodging, as well as restaurants to enjoy after a long day of adventuring. Most Airbnbs in Winthrop require you to stay for more than one night, so for this guide we will focus on other options instead–like inns, lodges and campsites.
Before setting out on this itinerary, be sure to check Highway 20 road conditions. The highway closes seasonally between November and April/May each winter.
- Wake up early, grab some coffee (a must!), pack a lunch, and head towards the North Cascades Highway.
- Stretch your legs while soaking up views of a waterfall and beautiful lake at Gorge Creek Falls Overlook.
- Hike the Thunder Knob Trail–3.6 miles, 635 ft elevation gain. This trail will give you mountain and water views and is good for all activity levels!
- Visit the insanely gorgeous Diablo Lake Overlook and admire the jaw-dropping turquoise water.
- Continue along the North Cascades Highway and stop at the Washington Pass Overlook. This spot, which overlooks the crazy peaks of the North Cascade Mountains, took our breath away.
- Walk around the shops and streets of Winthrop.
- Grab dinner in Winthrop. A few good options are Copper Glance, East 20 Pizza, Old Schoolhouse Brewery.
- For a sweet treat after dinner, we recommend some ice cream from Sheri’s Sweet Shop!
- Head to your lodging of choice in Winthrop and rest up for a big day of hiking and driving tomorrow!
- Grab breakfast and coffee at the Mazama Store. While you’re there, pick up lunch items for later!
- Spend the rest of the morning and afternoon hiking in the North Cascades. There are so many trails to choose from, but here are three popular options ranging in mileage and elevation gain:
More Food and Coffee Stops
- Rocking Horse Bakery (Winthrop)
- 3 Bears (Winthrop)
- Arrowleaf Bistro (Winthrop)
- Tappi (Twisp)
- Glover Street Market (Twisp)
- Cinnamon Twisp Bakery (Twisp)
Additional Hiking Trails and Camping
- Cascade Pass–7.0 miles, 1,800 ft elevation gain
- Anderson and Watson Lakes–6.0 miles, 1,100 ft elevation gain
- Lake Ann–3.4 miles, 700 ft elevation gain
- Backpack in the North Cascades! Make sure to grab a permit in advance. Some trail recommendations:
- Thunder Creek Trail–12.0 miles, 1,300 ft elevation gain
- Thornton Lakes and Trappers Peak–10.2 miles, 2,900 ft elevation gain. This could also be a day hike, but they have spots to camp.
- If you have extra time we recommend camping one night at North Cascades National Park as well! Gorge Lake and Colonial Creek campgrounds are both located near the water.
Adventures of A+K Bio
“We’re Adam and Kathryn, an adventurous married couple living in Seattle. You can often find us driving all around the PNW on the weekends, cuddling our fur child Kona, scoping out the best coffee shops, eating tacos, climbing mountains and dreaming about Hawaii.
We created “Adventures of A+K” to share our favorite spots in different destinations, give tips on how we save money and maximize our time wherever we go, and to make travel planning easy and fun. Our goal: help others find affordable and fun things to do wherever their travels take them and inspire them to live a life of adventure.”