Do you like towering mountain peaks? Tight valleys and a road that zigs and zags back and forth? A drive not like many others? Do you love encountering breathtaking views? Peaks that hold snow almost an entire year?
The North Cascades Highway — SR20
If any of the above questions intrigued you, then State Route 20 is the drive for you. The entire highway does not look as appealing as the towering mountains, but for a few hours drive between Birdsview, WA and Twisp, WA the drive is unreal. If you were to start in Birdsview it would take you roughly two hours to crest over Raney and Washington pass. Then go around the Horseshoe Corner and into Mazama, through Winthrop and into Twisp.
But wait! Before you make the Sunday drive all the way over the Cascade Mountains, there are two incredible trails you must check out. They are easily accessible, easy going and the views are, well, too good to be true — just like the rest of the North Cascades National Park!
Two Easily Accessible Trails
Rainy Lake Trail
First though, Rainy Lake. It is first in your route over the mountains, and is the easiest. You will find it on the right side of the highway, only minutes from reaching Washington Pass. This trail is 2 miles round trip to the lake and is completely paved. It is wheelchair accessible and does not have more than 70 feet of elevation gain.
It is roughly 1 mile from the start of the trailhead, west of the parking lot, and to the viewpoint at the lake. The trail does however split partway into the hike and shoots up more into the mountains, leading into a foot path up to Lake Anne. So stay straight and before you know it, you will be at the tucked away lake, not too far off the main highway. The lake is surrounded by towering mountains whose steep banks come straight down to the edge of the lake. The water, so clear that fish can be seen swimming around the lake bottom with other neat rocks and old logs.
Cutthroat Lake Trail
The second, Cutthroat Lake Trail is only another 10 or so minutes from Rainy Lake and it is on the left side of the highway, shortly after descending from Washington Pass, and not too far beyond the Horseshoe Corner.
Cutthroat Lake Trailhead measures out to 3.8 miles round trip, almost 4 miles total. This gives the hiker only a rough 2-mile jaunt from the trailhead to the high country, tucked away lake. Along this trail, the hiker only gains about 400 feet of elevation over 2 miles. This makes it an easy hike for people to access and does not limit hikers based on their abilities and physical health. It is relatively flat and is dog friendly. Depending on the time of year, there might be waterways to cross through from the winter snow melt, so bring an extra pair of socks, something that is a good idea no matter the trail you are on. The lake however is NOT the end all sight of the trail. The entire trail is encompassed with towering mountain peaks, sturdy and tall evergreen trees and rocky outcroppings. The area is filled with wildlife, and if one so desires one can shoot off the lake trail and climb to the crest of Cutthroat Pass, entangling the explorer into a whole new set of green trails and adventures.
If we love the outdoors, we usually like to explore. We also love hearing about new places. But, we are also all different. We all have different physical capabilities. These two trails though: Cutthroat and Rainy Lake are both easily accessible trails along a beautiful drive over the North Cascades Highway. A drive and trails you will be happy you took, stopped and explored. Have fun and get out there!
Side note: The North Cascades Highway is closed for the winter season between mileposts 130 and 177. It typically closes around Thanksgiving Day and reopens near Memorial Day. During the winter season however, it is open for winter recreation if that is a way you want to explore the State Route 20 landscape during the winter months. Otherwise, plan your next trip before or after those dates!