There’s nothing like hitting the open road for an adventure, and that’s exactly what the Cascade Loop Scenic Highway in Washington provides. Soak up your fill of Pacific Northwest wonders and stunning destinations along the 440-mile route, which begins and ends along Puget Sound, and is open year-round except for a 50-mile section that’s closed from mid-November to mid-April, weather depending.
Whether you choose to fly into Seattle–Tacoma International Airport or Paine Field Passenger Terminal in Everett, pick up a rental car or make your way in an RV, allowing at least five days to complete the whole loop, though you can always linger longer with various opportunities for side trips. Read on for the best ways to maximize your great American road trip, check out the latest video and request a free travel guide for even more inspiration.
Kick Off Your Trip in Seattle NorthCountry
Head north of Seattle just 28 miles to reach the first stop on the byway, Everett. This urban port city boasts family-friendly sights like a marina boardwalk with outstanding Puget Sound views, the Imagine Children’s Museum which will keep the kiddos happy for hours with hands-on activities, and the Paine Field Aviation District, home to numerous aviation attractions including the Boeing Future of Flight, the Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum, the Museum of Flight Restoration Center, the Historic Flight Foundation, Paine Field Passenger Terminal and High Trek Adventures. Further into the Snohomish River Valley pop into the historic small town of Snohomish, a prime spot for an afternoon of antiquing. Monroe is a perfect spot to stock up on supplies for your journey and fuel up before heading for the hills!
Go Wild on the Stevens Pass Greenway
The next segment of the Cascade Loop will take you deeper into the wilds of Washington. A designated National Scenic Byway, the Stevens Pass Greenway winds through a forest-dense region packed with opportunities for hiking, whitewater rafting and kayaking on the Skykomish River. Rustic towns like Sultan, Gold Bar and Index dot the area. Stop into the Sky Valley Visit Center in Sultan for super friendly, first-hand advisement for your trip. Sultan’s Osprey Park is a great place for a picnic and is a must-see stop in fall as salmon make their way upriver every other fall to spawn. The Stevens Pass Greenway is an epic fall colors destination. Expect to see tamarack dotting the peaks, and brilliant orange and gold hardwoods lining the roadway from mid-September through mid-October.
Get a Taste of Bavaria in Leavenworth
Next, the roadway leads you through the absolutely gorgeous Tumwater Canyon towards the Bavarian Village of Leavenworth. Starting at Coles Corner near Lake Wenatchee, follow the tree-lined rushing river. In fall this area draws visitors from around the globe to see the awesome combination of fiery red vine maple, brilliant gold quaking aspens and flaming orange hardwoods that line the river banks. There are numerous photo ops and turnoffs here. Continue on toward the Cascade Foothills and the Bavarian-themed hamlet of Leavenworth. Explore exceptional restaurants, beer gardens and culinary boutiques for a sampling of handmade chocolates, cheeses, wine, cured meats and more. The village is especially festive around the holidays. Autumnleaf Festival, Oktoberfest and their monthlong Christmas Lighting celebration draws wild numbers of guests to the area. Just minutes from town is the Icicle River Valley, not only home to jawdropping views, and plentiful hikes—it’s also home to world-class rock climbing and bouldering. Next, follow along the Wenatchee River, and stop in to the humble community of Cashmere. This small town is an idyllic place to stretch your legs--pay a visit to the Aplets & Cotlets Candy Factory and the Cashmere Pioneer Museum—both are family favorites!
Discover Wine & Sunshine in the Wenatchee/Columbia River and Lake Chelan Valleys
Moving down the loop, the Wenatchee/Columbia River Valley has grown into a thriving wine destination, with wineries and tasting rooms sprinkled about. Located at the confluence of the Wenatchee and Columbia rivers, Wenatchee is known as the Apple Capital of the World, evident by the numerous local fruit stands lining the highway. Stop by the waterfront Pybus Public Market to stock up on goodies for your cooler. At Ohme Gardens, treat yourself to an alpine oasis with amazing views overlooking the river and valley, open from mid-April to mid-October. Need to stretch your legs a little more? Wenatchee has easy access to numerous foothills hikes and a paved trail system that winds for over ten miles around the Columbia River.
Continue on toward the vineyard lined Lake Chelan Valley. The crystal clear, sparkling blue body of water presents a wealth of activities, from swimming and paddleboarding to jet skiing and boating. The Lake Chelan Viticultural Area is world renowned for its award-winning boutique wineries and tasting rooms. On the south shore, Lake Chelan State Park’s campgrounds are a perfect place to pitch a tent or hook up an RV for the night, and you might just spot a bear or deer. Hop aboard the Lady of the Lake excursion boat for a cruise up the narrow lake from Chelan to Stehekin, a tiny off-the-grid village set in the heart of wilderness. Rent a bike and tour up toward Rainbow Falls, of course stopping in at the local bakery on your way back to the boat dock.
Adventures Await in Methow Valley & the North Cascades National Park
Head north and then westward up to the beautiful Methow Valley which serves as the eastern gateway to the North Cascades. Stop into the super-friendly town of Twisp, home to a thriving arts scene. Grab an award-winning cup of coffee at Blue Star Coffee Roasters as you pull into town. Then, head toward their little downtown to hit the shops and stop in at the Confluence Galley to check out locally crafted works of art and take home a one-of-a-kind souvenir. Next, follow the Methow River and on toward the western-themed town of Winthrop. It’s not uncommon to see folks riding their horses to town here as this is the genuine wild west of Washington State! Explore local boutiques and restaurants in this fun western main street or spend your time exploring the outdoors and enjoying tons of outdoor activities including inner tubing and fly fishing the Methow river, hiking and climbing during the warm season, or skiing over 200 km of groomed Nordic ski trails in the winter.
Turn left onto Highway 20 from Winthrop’s main street and follow along the Methow River toward the North Cascades. Pop into Mazama for a fuel-up and stock up on supplies at their country store. Missing any needed outdoor supplies? Visit their hiking shop, the Goats Beard. Continue on toward the North Cascades National Park. Pull into the Washington Pass Overlook for a quick stretch of the legs and mind blowing views of Liberty Bell spires and Washington Pass. Continue along the winding road toward the Ross and Diablo Lakes Overlooks—two iconic, massively photogenic views featuring jade colored waters with jagged alpine peaks in the background. No trip to a national park would be complete without partaking in some hiking, camping or climbing which the North Cascades has in spades. Once you’ve passed through to the western side of the range, break to visit the Skagit River Bald Eagle Interpretive Center in Rockport and the Bald Eagle Natural Area just across the water, the winter home of the largest bald eagle population in the lower 48 states. The entire corridor stretching from the beginning of the Methow Valley through the western edge of the North Cascades is prime territory for fall colors as well.
Frolic Among Flowers in the Skagit Valley & Fidalgo Island
The Skagit Valley is home to rich agricultural lands, just what’s needed for flowers to grow. The valley happens to be the site of the largest commercial flower-bulb industry outside of the Netherlands, and each spring the fields turn into a colorful carpet of tulips, daffodils and other blooms, with visitors drawn from around the world to the La Conner Daffodil Festival in March and April’s Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. Looking for a rustic, family-friendly community event? Sedro-Woolley put its logging-industry roots on display during the Loggerrodeo each July, along with a side of classic Americana.
Travel westward and on to the northern tip of Fidalgo Island and the bustling port town of Anacortes. This pedestrian-friendly downtown is home to some amazing locally-owned shops and hosts the Anacortes Arts Festival in August. Anacortes is also a great jumping-off point to reach four of the San Juan Islands — San Juan, Lopez, Shaw and Orcas — by ferry.
Wrap Up Your Journey on the Whidbey Scenic Isle Way
Wind down your time on the road with one final stretch, the Whidbey Scenic Isle Way. Park your vehicle and traverse the soaring Deception Pass bridge on foot. Snag jaw dropping photos from this spectacular vantage point. Continue down the island exploring a variety of communities along the way: Oak Harbor, Coupeville, Langley and Freeland each bring their own flavor to the byway with exceptional locally-sourced seafood and family-owned boutique shopping. Walk along scenic beaches and forested shorelines. Visit the Admiralty Head Lighthouse in the Fort Casey Historical State Park. Tour acres of blooming plants in Meerkerk Gardens. Ferry off the island from Clinton and make your way across Puget Sound back to Mukilteo in Seattle NorthCountry.
Want More Info?
Photos courtesy of the Cascade Loop Association