North Cascades National Park was established in 1968, relatively more recently than Yellowstone, which was established in 1872 and Yosemite, established in 1890. The North Cascades NP is in our backyard, with the Western edge only about a 2-hour drive from our home in Kirkland, WA. It consists of two units, the north unit and the south unit, separated by the Ross Lake National Recreation Area. It contains some of the most remote areas of the National Parks, with Hwy 20 going through the middle of the Ross Lake National Recreation Area, and a few unpaved roads in the south unit.
We camped in the National Park 7-8 years ago with our son Tim, but we had never driven the Cascades Loop Scenic Byway out to the Methow (pronounced with a silent h and the syllable break between the e and the t, like meh-tow, rhyming with brow) and Twisp. This was a short trip: we left on Friday morning and returned late Saturday afternoon of Labor Day weekend. We did it as an out and back rather than completing the loop by driving to Wenatchee and Chelan and Leavenworth, towns we’ve visited previously.
Rockport State Park
This was once a great state park and it’s still a great park for hikers. With over 600 acres of old growth forest, there is something here for everyone, including the 35-minute portions of the West Loop Interpretive Trail and Evergreen trail that we followed through the park. If you’re ambitious, you can drive about 8 miles on U.S. Forest Service Road 1030, located on the west boundary of the park, to Sauk Mountain (4.2 miles round trip). Unfortunately, the camping facilities at Rockport State Park have been closed indefinitely. It must have been a great place to camp when it was open. Visiting requires a $10 day pass or the yearly Washington State Parks Discover Pass.
Gorge Creek Falls and Powerhouse
Washington State is the largest producer of hydroelectric power in the country, producing about one-fourth of the nation’s total hydroelectric power. We’re a net exporter of hydroelectric power, exporting to Canada and 14 other states in the Western United States. There are the large and very well known dams like the Grand Coulee and the Bonneville dams, which I’d love to see one day, but on this trip we visited some of the Skagit River dams and the Gorge Powerhouse in Newhalem, which produces light for the non-profit Seattle City Light.
We walked through the display of the history of the dams and the Powerhouse gardens, which should not be missed. If you have a little more time, you can also go on an insider’s tour of the powerhouse, Saturdays and Sundays during the Summer months. The cost is $20 for adults.
Ross Lake Overlook
A few miles further down SR 20 is the Ross Lake Overlook. Ross Lake and the connected Diablo Lake are glacier fed lakes and have that impossible blue-green color caused by glacial silt suspended in the water. It’s an amazing view. You can also take a short, .3 mile loop trail to Happy Creek Falls from here if you want to stretch your legs.
Washington Pass Overlook
If you’re a sucker for interesting geologic formations, as I am, Washington Pass Overlook won’t disappoint. The effects of glacier carving are readily apparent and well documented in the signage at this overlook. Washington Pass Overlook also has several different vantage points to see different aspects of the valley below and the mountains in the distance. This was one of my favorite stops on the drive, so don’t miss it.
We stayed one night at the Twisp Terrace Lodge in Twisp. This lodge, run by the husband and wife team of Eric and Beth, was previously the largest single-family residence in Washington State. Built for Lou and Diane Tice, the 23,000 square foot lodge was built in 1985 both for their personal use and to host guests of their educational and motivational programs. One of the early self-help gurus and motivational speakers, Lou grew up in Eastern Washington, attended college at Seattle University and founded the Pacific Institute in 1971. He died in 2012.
Eric and Beth bought the lodge in 2017, and spent 2 years converting it from a family residence/guest house to a commercial lodge. It’s eleven rooms are all individually decorated, and the attention to detail is fabulous. Beth welcomes everyone, checks you into your room, takes orders at dinner and does the social media and other marketing. Eric is the chef, and prepares a 5-course prix fix dinner every night for guests who want to stay at the lodge for dinner. He also creates a very special breakfast: Beth brought coffee and warm scones fresh out of the oven to our room at 8 am, and Beth and Eric served a full breakfast at 9 am on the Terrace.
The views from the lodge are fantastic. I particularly loved the skies there in the Methow valley, as you can tell from the photographs. Highly recommended.
We also walked through the Twisp Saturday market on our way out and bought some incredible nectarines from Smallwood Farms, which also has a family run fruit stand on Highway 20, two miles south of Okanogan.
On our way back, after visiting the farmer’s market in Twisp, we stopped at Rainy Pass for a hike. We chose to hike north, which is part of the Pacific Crest Trail, and encountered several hikers who had hiked all the way from the Mexican border, and were a few days from finishing the entire 2650 mile length of the PCT. Needless to say, they seemed very excited to be so close to such an incredible accomplishment.