Shorter days and cooler weather signal that it is time for deciduous
trees to change their leaves from green to red and yellows, before
falling off. October is the perfect month to take a trip to the
Cascades to see some of this glorious color set against the lush
backdrop of evergreens.
One of my favorite, and I think most beautiful, drives is through the
North Cascades on Highway 20, from Sedro Woolley to Winthrop. The
fastest route is Interstate 5 to Highway 20 (near Burlington), but I
enjoy the more scenic Highway 9 (starting off Highway 522 near
Woodinville) to get to Highway 20.
Before leaving home, check on the weather conditions on Highway 20. It
can be raining in Seattle and snowing in the North Cascades! In the
winter, the pass is closed from Diablo to Mazama because of heavy snow.
Check the website at www.wsdot.wa.gov/northcascades.
On the way, I like to stop at the Stocker Farms in Snohomish. This
10-acre organic family farm is located right at Airport Way and Hwy 9.
In the fall, children will enjoy the corn maze and pumpkin fields. They
also grow and sell a number of other vegetables (like unique squashes)
that are pesticide-free. During fall they are open from 9 a.m. to dusk
Monday-Saturday, and 10:30 a.m. to dusk on Sunday. For more information,
check the Web site at www.stockerfarms.com.
Stay on Highway 9 until you run into Highway 20, around Sedro Woolley.
Gas and food facilities are few on the road between Marblemount and
Mazama. Make sure you have a full tank of gas, and if you haven't
packed a picnic lunch, there are fast food places here and a few
The color of changing trees begins shortly as you head to Marblemount.
There are several turnouts to pull over and take a look or snap a
picture. The area between Concrete and Marblemount follows the Skagit
River. This is a prime place for spotting bald eagles in the winter.
Fifteen miles east is Newhalem. Here you'll find the North Cascades
Visitor Center (at milepost 120), open daily through mid-October, then
only on weekends. Stop and see the exhibits on the geology of the North
Cascades, as well as what animals and plants are found in this area.
Make a stop at the restroom facilities as there aren't many indoor
Newhalem is a company town -- owned and managed by Seattle City Light
as part of the hydroelectric project along the Skagit River. The
Information and Tour Center, where you can pick up a self-guided
walking tour pamphlet, is located right off the highway. Children will
enjoy seeing the locomotive in front of the City Light homes.
The Trail of Cedars nature walk begins at the end of the main street in
Newhalem. It is a half-mile-long trail through red cedar trees. As you
cross the Skagit River on the suspension bridge, look for spawning
salmon in the clear waters below. Next to the powerhouse is the Ladder
Creek Falls. There is a trail, but it is a bit narrow and not for those
Just past milepost 123, Gorge Creek Falls can be seen from the road.
There is a turnout on the right side by the Gorge Creek bridge. You can
walk across the bridge for a closer view of the falls.
Drive on to Diablo Lake and Ross Lake Overlooks. This view is worth a
stop. There are several pullouts along the road and small picnic areas.
The two highest points on your trip will be Rainy Pass at 4,860 feet
and Washington Pass at 5,477 feet. Here you may also see the golden
larch, which looks like a yellow pine! Larches, generally found at the
higher elevations, are the only conifer in Washington that changes
color in the fall.
At the summit of Rainy Pass, past milepost 157, you can pull off to a
parking and picnic area to hike up to Rainy Lake, a glacier-carved
lake. It is a fairly easy paved walk of about 1 mile each way.
Head on to the Methow Valley towns of Mazama (milepost 180) where you
can stop and have a snack at the deli, as well as find inside
facilities. About 10 miles beyond is Winthrop, a Western-themed town.
This is a good turnaround point, or a place to spend the night if you
want to make a weekend trip.
Janice Lovelace is a freelance writer and photographer living in the Seattle area