The North Cascade loop offers one of the most scenic and impressive highway drives in the US. Vast forests, towering cliffs, and imposing snow topped peaks line the two mountain passes connecting Western and Eastern Washington included in this drive. Without even exiting your vehicle you will be astounded by the wilderness beauty passing by.
This drive can be done in a day if you can resist pulling over to explore the various outlooks, trails, and camping areas, but to fully experience the scenery, several days is an ideal amount of time. There are several beautiful, unique mountain towns (Winthrop and Leavenworth notably) that provide charming little hotels for an unforgettable over-night experience and deserve an article in their own right.
In addition to hiking and camping, there are many other outdoors activities to enjoy, including white water rafting, fishing, berry-picking, photography, skiing, kayaking, bicycling, seasonal fairs and events, eagle watching, and much more!
Starting and ending in Seattle, the whole drive is roughly 450 miles and offers almost limitless opportunities for exploration. Several lakes and numerous wineries also make the drive particularly dangerous for those attempting to complete the entire loop in one day: few who leave in the morning will return by evening.
From Seattle, head north on I-5 roughly 60 miles to Burlington and then head east on highway 20, driving roughly 130 miles to Winthrop.
From Winthrop, continue South on highway 20 out of town.
After approximately 10 miles highway 20 turns into highway 153, and after another 30 miles turn right onto US 97 south.
Continue for 50 miles, then look for Hwy 2 to Leavenworth and drive 20 more miles to Leavenworth, where you will most likely want to stop and wander.
From Leavenworth, drive West 100 miles on highway 2 to Everett and then take I-5 south to Seattle (approx 30 miles), resisting the urge to turn North and complete the loop a second time.
Total drive – Approx 450 miles.
This drive is most enjoyable in the summer but can also make for a stunning winter drive as well, provided no avalanches close the passes. Be sure to have snow chains with you before attempting this drive in the winter.
If you are one who enjoys wine, visit the Washington State Wine page, and try the Explore tool to map out all the wineries for Leavenworth, Lake Chelan, and North Sound areas.
If you have more than a few days, also explore deception pass, Bellingham, and the San Juan Islands. Nowhere else in the world can you begin your day in the desert with some wine tasting, enjoy some skiing in the mountains, and finish the day with a sunset and whale watching between gorgeous untouched islands.