Exploring North Cascades National Park

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The North Cascades National Park is located in Washington State, you may not have heard of this National Park but you will have heard of a major city nearby – Seattle. Whether you’re staying in Seattle or just passing through spending a couple of days exploring the North Cascades National Park is something you will never forget.

Driving through the North Cascades National Park

Here is our 3 day loop road trip exploring the North Cascades National Park from Seattle. This itinerary is perfect for a weekend getaway from late May through October, see for yourself why Washington gets called the Evergreen State.

Day 1 – Seattle to Leavenworth

Today head north through Seattle to Everett. From here you will start the Cascade Loop.

There isn’t a huge amount of driving any day on this road trip and for good reason – you need time to explore on foot! The Cascade Loop which this road trip roughly follows claims the title for Washington States Ultimate Road Trip.

From Everett you will follow Highway 2 across the mountains through lush forests. You will drive alongside the Skykomish River at points during this first days drive, you will also want to keep an eye out for waterfalls which can be seen from the side of the road.

Highway 2 takes you all the way to Leavenworth which is a great place for your first over night stop on the Cascade Loop. Leavenworth is a bit unusual in that it’s styled as a Bavarian town, which does suit its mountain setting! It’s only a small town so you will have plenty of time with just a one night stay to get a good feel for the place. Take your time getting there as there is plenty of spectacular scenery on this drive.

To keep you on track you will notice small signs at the side of the road highlighting the Cascade Loop, they look like this;

The Cascade Loop road marker

Day 2 – Leavenworth to Winthrop

From Leavenworth to Winthrop is another fairly short driving day but there are a couple of options for slight detours on route.

The two main highlights we recommend are;

  1. Taking a boat trip on Lake Chelan. Lady of the Lake offer tours year round departing from Chelan, which is conveniently located on the Cascade Loop.
  2. Detouring a bit further and heading to Grand Coulee Dam. It is a huge concrete gravity dam on the Columbia River and you can take a tour to get a close look at the dam and even go inside.
The Grand Coulee Dam

The Grand Coulee is the largest power station in the United States by nameplate-capacity at 6,809 MW, worthy of a detour on your Washington State road trip to check out.

After visiting Lake Chelan and the Grand Coulee Dam continue onto Winthrop. It’s a great little town on the edge of the North Cascades National Park – the highlight of this area of Washington State. Staying here for the night will give you a feeling of being in the Wild West.

If you really want to experience this towns Wild West side you can take a horse trail ride or go on a cowboy cookout. Tours depart from nearby Sun Mountain Lodge and you don’t need to be staying at the lodge to join their tours.

Winthrop Washington
Shafer Museum, Winthrop
Keep your eyes out for locals!
Winthrop store fronts

Day 3 – Winthrop to Seattle

Most of the day today will be spent exploring the North Cascades National Park before returning to Seattle.

Highway 20 cuts through the North Cascades National Park and is part of the Cascades Loop. There are plenty of spectacular views from this road, and plenty of wildlife roaming this area, so you will want to take your time.

North Cascades National Park

If you don’t want to take all day doing this drive there are a few stops we consider as must stops. These stops give you awesome scenery without having to venture off the main road, so you can enjoy exploring the North Cascades National Park even if you’re struggling for time.

View from highway 20 in the North Cascades National Park

Our first must stops are spectacular alpine lakes. Firstly Ross Lake Overlook followed by Diablo Lake Vista Point. These viewing points are signposted from the road. Try to be ready to turn as there isn’t much notice that the car park is coming up.

Parking for Diablo Lake Vista Point

You will want your camera with you at these vista points, especially Diablo Lake. The colours in our photographs are the same as you see in person, it is a fantastic lake in the North Cascades National Park and the scenery in this area is beautiful.

Diablo Lake
View from Diablo Lake Vista Point

Moving further along highway 2 the next point not to miss is Gorge Creek. Parking is available here and if you want to stretch your legs there is an easy hike from the car park, the Gorge Overlook Trail.

Gorge Creek

The North Cascades National Park Visitors Centre is up next however we wouldn’t say it’s a must stop but it’s worth a stop if you have some time to spare. It’s quite small and when travelling west on highway 2 you have already seen most of the sights they have information on.

From this point the forest views will start thinning and you will come out of the North Cascades National Park into a more suburban landscape. However before you’re totally out of the natural scenery there are some lay-bys along the Skagit River where you can stop for a picnic if you haven’t already.

From here head back to Seattle.

Seattle Waterfront

Got longer to spend in the Washington State? We have put together our ultimate road trip itinerary for Washington State which not only covers the North Cascades National Park but also takes in Olympic National Park, Mount Rainer and the San Juan Islands all in just two weeks! You can read about it here – Road Trip Itinerary for Washington State.

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