Driving Through the North Cascades Pass

100t3157_lucidAfter our awesome motorcycle trip around the Olympic Peninsula for my birthday, I wanted to get back on the road for another long weekend trip on the bikes.

Brian spent some time making sure they were still in good order, and I researched and booked a Labor Day weekend getaway to Winthrop via the North Cascades Highway.

When we first moved here people told us how many awesome scenic byways there are, both for cars and motorcycles. However the Northern Cascades Highway came up on every blog I read as the best one for motorcycles.

One of my work colleagues said her husband had done it on his bike and was jealous we were planning the trip—it was one of his favorites!

Unfortunately, despite my planning and Brian’s work on our bikes, the motorcycle part of our weekend getaway was not meant to be. We kept checking the weather, which did not look good, and sure enough Saturday morning it was pouring. We waited a little bit as we finished loading up the bikes and taking care of the cat, but as we set off north on 99 I could barely see through the raindrops covering my helmet shield and after a couple of blocks I was completely soaked right through my gear.

There was just no way I could do this for hours. I knew I wouldn’t enjoy the ride from a comfort standpoint or a safety standpoint. I don’t love riding in the rain, especially on steep, curvy hills through the mountains.

We have headsets in our helmets and I told Brian we had to turn around—I couldn’t do it. I felt terrible—we had planned the whole trip around the bikes and had carefully packed all of our gear in our limited bags and had spent quite some time getting them ready. Thankfully he didn’t mind—he’s the best travel companion ever. We ran back inside, stripped out of our gear and hung it up to dry, tossed our clothes from the tank bags into a couple of duffle bags, and set off in my Vue instead.

Although I was sad we didn’t get to do the weekend as a bike trip, we definitely made the right decision. It rained off and on the entire weekend, and we were simply more comfortable in the car.

Our first stop heading north was Sedro-Wooley so we could get my mom a Row by Row quilt pattern from a local store. We had been picking them up for her all over Washington and this was the last weekend they were available.

I’d like to go back and just explore Sedro-Wooley—it had a distinctive main street full of old buildings, murals and statues, and eclectic shops and cafes. We were there just as the quilt store opened and the woman was very friendly and set us up with her pattern, which featured Sasquatch! It was cute and I knew my mom would like it!




From there we headed toward the Cascade Mountains and up to Marblemount where we stopped at the Wilderness Information Center. I wanted to see if they had any hiking or trail maps, and I’m really glad we stopped—they actually a had a number of trail maps posted with information about how long each one takes to hike, things to note on the trail and more. I took a picture of the display so we could reference it later as we were figuring out what we wanted to do.

We also learned that one of the activities I had on my list—the Diablo Lake boat tour—is not a real thing! The ranger asked me where I had heard about it, and I wasn’t sure—I read so many blogs and forums while planning our trip that I couldn’t remember.

He said he’d had a number of people asking about it and that he was trying to track down the misinformation because it’s not true. What I read was that you could hike a trail at Diablo Lake and then catch a boat ride back to the trail head. It seemed like a great idea, but unfortunately it’s not real!

After picking up some information we continued on to Newhalem, to see the General Store, Trail of the Cedars, Ladder Creek Falls and the Gorge Powerhouse, which I’ll actually write about in another post. It’s a great stop along the way, and we spent several hours there exploring.



Once we headed up into the mountains we officially entered the North Cascades National Park. The gray clouds began to turn white and the blue sky was even becoming visible. We pulled over at Diablo Dam, which you can drive across to park and access the Diablo Lake trailhead.

I’ve never driven across a major dam like that—it was narrow and made me a little nervous, but on the other side we had some great views of the lake and mountains.

After that stop we pulled over again at the Diablo Lake Overlook. It was packed, which was no surprise because the view was breathtaking.

You could see the whole lake and mountain range, and the water was this incredible green. We read several of the plaques that had information about the material in the mountains that trickles down during the glacier melts in the summer into the water where it floats and makes it that unique color—the pictures don’t even quite do it justice, it’s so bright and green!





It was early afternoon as we made our final stop at the Washington Pass Overlook, which is at 5,477 foot elevation. It’s always interesting how different the mountains and climate are depending on which side of the Cascades you’re experiencing. The eastern side it so rugged with tons of exposed rock and it had a more wild beauty.

There was a short trail we took from the parking lot up to some viewpoints before making our way back around to the car and on to Winthrop so we could check into our hotel for the night.

Although we didn’t get to experience it on motorcycle, the North Cascades Scenic Byway was amazing and beautiful by car.

Maybe next time we will do the full Cascade Loop on the bikes, which comprises the route we took from Lynnwood to Winthrop on Rt. 20 as well as a drive along the eastern side of the mountains and Leavenworth to Mulkilteo on Rt. 2.

Having done bits and pieces of both passes now, I’m sure the full loop on the bikes would be incredible. Next time!





6 thoughts on “Driving Through the North Cascades Pass

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