Cascade Loop Scenic Highway: Best Washington Road Trip

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The Ultimate Washington Road Trip

The Cascade Loop Scenic Highway quickly became one of our favorite road trip adventures to date! We’ve embarked on some pretty incredible road trips throughout our travels – the North Coast 500 in Scotland and Ring Road in Iceland quickly come to mind. In fact, scenic drives are our preferred way to see the world! As you’ll soon come to find out, we take A LOT of pictures, so it’s nice being able to take our time and really enjoy the scenery as we travel. As one of the best scenic drives in Washington State, the views along the Cascade Loop clearly didn’t disappoint!

Cascade Loop Scenic Highway

 Why the Cascade Loop?

A few years back, we did a road trip around the Olympic Peninsula in Washington and completely fell in love with the region. As we started planning our next visit to the Pacific Northwest, we enlisted the help of our friend, a Washington native, to give us some suggestions. We already had a few days planned in the San Juan Islands in order to cross another item off of our bucket list – seeing orcas in the wild, so she suggested the nearby Cascade Loop Scenic Highway and boy, are we glad she did! Now that we’ve done the drive ourselves, we can wholeheartedly recommend it to you. So if you fancy scenic road trips like we do, you’ll want to go ahead and put this one on your list!

Video of the Cascade Loop

Want to tag along on this ultimate Pacific Northwest road trip with us? Check out our video below:

 

Cascade Loop Scenic Highway

The Cascade Loop is a scenic 440-mile drive taking you past some of the most spectacular Washington State scenery! The journey starts in northern Washington near Everett, about 30 miles north of Seattle. Head east on Highway 2 and you’re on your way! Could the drive be done in a day or two? Technically, yes, but you would miss out on soooo much! We’ve put together this Cascade Loop road trip guide to 1) showcase the endless things to see and do along the route and 2) to convince you that this Pacific Northwest road trip is a vacation destination in and of itself! Our ultimate goal is to persuade you to start planning your own trip along the Cascade Loop in Washington, so by the end of this post, we’ll see if we’ve met that goal!

Cascade Loop Map

In late September, we spent 9 glorious days driving and exploring the Cascade Loop Washington, and as such we were able to pack in quite a lot! Spending an average of two nights in each place gave us adequate time to explore the gorgeous Washington scenery. If your schedule doesn’t allow more than a week, you could stay in each of our recommended destinations for just one night, but you really wouldn’t want to spend any less than 5 days on the route. (Stay tuned until the very end to see our Cascade Loop lodging recommendations.)

Things to Do Along the Cascade Loop Drive

In this post, we’ll cover all of the wonderful things we experienced along the Cascade Loop drive! Because there is way too much information to cover in just one post, you’ll notice several links to other posts we’ve written from our adventures along the route. Hopefully this will help you plan your own Cascade Loop itinerary. So, without further adieu, let’s start the drive on this incredible Washington road trip!

Snohomish River Valley

Coming from Seattle, the road trip officially begins when you peel off from Interstate 5 onto Highway 2 in Everett. You’ll first pass through the Snohomish River Valley. If you’re into antiques, it’s important to note that the town of Snohomish is known as the Antique Capital of the Northwest. Or maybe you’re more of a water enthusiast. If that’s the case, be sure to visit the town of Monroe where you’ll find plenty of opportunities for fishing, rafting, and other water sports. Got a sweet tooth? You’ll definitely want to stop by the Sultan Bakery for a delicious snack. And to work off that tasty treat, you can take a hike to the 265-ft Wallace Falls.

Cascade Loop

Index

A must-stop in the town of Index is the Espresso Chalet (Milepost 36). Here, you will find plenty of beverage options and even more scrumptious eats. Just beyond the chalet are scenic views of Bridal View Falls. And don’t miss the opportunity to take your picture with (wooden) Sasquatch, marking the location where Harry and the Hendersons was filmed in 1987. 

Cascade Loop

Stevens Pass

Beautiful Washington scenery is present throughout the entire drive, but the natural beauty really starts to pick up during the journey through Stevens Pass. In the early summer months, this region becomes a go-to destination for whitewater rafting. And in late September/early October, when we visited, the leaves are beginning to turn beautiful shades of red and yellow. Come winter, Stevens Pass becomes a popular snow resort destination. (Washington state highways can close frequently during the winter months, so visit the Washington State Department of Transportation website before setting out.)

Cascade Loop Washington

Leavenworth

After passing through the oh-so-scenic Tumwater Canyon, you’ll come to the charming town of Leavenworth, resting at the foothills of the Cascade mountains. Leavenworth is set up like a Bavarian village in Germany complete with alpine-style lodging, beer gardens, and a plenty of events and festivities taking place throughout the year. To read more about our two-night stay in this adorable German-themed village, check out our post about Leavenworth, WA.  

Leavenworth WA

Cashmere

Leaving Leavenworth behind, we continued on toward the town of Cashmere. Once in Cashmere, we stopped by Liberty Orchards, a candy factory where they make Aplets & Cotlets (fruit and nut candy similar to Turkish delight). Liberty Orchards has been giving free samples and free tours since 1920! It was a quick stop, but a tasty one nonetheless. 

The Cascade Loop

Wenatchee

The town of Wenatchee is known as the Apple Capital of the World and we could not believe the size of the apples we saw! We didn’t spend too much time in Wenatchee, though we did peruse the Pybus Public Market, which houses a few shops and restaurants within a renovated steel factory. After a quick bite, we relaxed along the shores of the Columbia River just behind the market, before making our way to our next overnight destination. 

Washington Road Trip

Columbia River Valley

One of the many things we loved about this Washington State road trip was that the scenery was always changing! One minute we’d be driving through a small town in forested mountains and the next we’d find ourselves in a seemingly more arid environment surrounded by rocks, orchards, vineyards, rivers, and lakes. Once you reach the Columbia River Valley, you’ll leave Highway 2 behind and hop on to Highway 97 for a short while. 

Cascade Loop Highway

Manson

Lake Chelan is the third deepest lake in the US and is a major attraction along the Cascade Loop Scenic Byway. The lake has 50+ miles of shoreline, and while the town of Chelan may be more well known at the moment, we’d encourage you to visit the equally charming (and less crowded) town of Manson, just 7 miles further down the road on State Road 150. We regrettably only stayed one night in Manson, but between driving the Scenic Manson Loop and taking a helicopter tour of the area with Lake Chelan Helicopters, we’d say we fit in quite a bit! Be sure to check out our post covering the Top 5 Things to Do in Manson WA

Manson WA

Methow Valley

And wow, we thought the views were good before… the Methow Valley takes it to a whole new level! THIS is why you need more than just a day or two for this entire drive – you’ll want to keep pulling over to take pictures of the beautiful Washington scenery. Also, on a clear night in the Methow Valley, the stargazing will blow your mind! 

Cascade Loop Road Trip

Twisp

Twisp is the Methow Valley’s largest town and is also considered to be the arts and cultural center of the region. The downtown is quite quaint and you’ll find creative pieces of artwork all over the town. Don’t miss a stop at Blue Star Coffee, as both their coffee and iced chai tea are delicious! 

Twisp WA

What would the arts center of the region be without a collection of artisan studios? Be sure to swing into TwispWorks, a 6+ acre campus supporting creativity, innovation, education, and the economic vitality of the community. 

Twisp Washington

Winthrop

Just a few minutes down the road from Twisp, you’ll pass over the Spring Creek Bridge and cross into the western-themed town of Winthrop

Winthrop WA

You’ll feel like you’ve taken a step back in time to the old Wild West as you stroll along the wooden boardwalks past several storefronts still maintaining their 1890 facades. 

Winthrop Washington

The main drag is easily walkable with many interesting places to explore. You’ll find several dining options, boutique shops, art galleries, sporting goods shops, and more! And if you couldn’t already tell, we love our sweets, so we’d be remiss if we didn’t recommend a visit to Sheri’s Sweet Shoppe

Winthrop WA

And oh man, does this drive just keep getting better and better! We leave the charming town of Winthrop behind and head out on the ridiculously scenic North Cascades Highway (also known as Highway 20 Washington State). 

North Cascades Loop

Mazama

There isn’t much to the town of Mazama; just a country store and a handful of lodging and dining options. Mazama Store is worth checking out and is the perfect place for stocking up on supplies for long hikes! They also offer a delicious selection of draft beer and fresh-brewed coffee. You may even run into some adventurous hikers during their journey along the Pacific Crest Trail. (Please note that Mazama is your last opportunity for gas until Marblemount – 75 miles away.)

Mazama

Heather Maple Pass

Even with 9 full days on the route, we didn’t leave much time for hiking. We had read about Heather Maple Pass being one of the best hikes in the North Cascades and knew that this had to be our one big hiking adventure along the route. It was a longer and more strenuous hike than we were used to (7+miles, 2,000-ft elevation gain), but none of that really mattered when we were taking in the incredible views! For a more detailed look at our hike, check out our Maple Pass Loop post. 

Maple Pass Loop

North Cascades Highway

Wow. Wow. Wow. There isn’t much more we can say about the insanely gorgeous scenery along the North Cascades Highway, other than be prepared to be AMAZED! It is recommended that you travel the Cascade Highway Loop in a counter-clockwise direction, as the eastern approach into this region is not nearly as impressive when driving from west to east. Also, another thing we should definitely mention regarding the North Cascades Scenic Highway is that the road usually closes from mid November/December to around April. The exact dates can vary from year to year, depending upon the amount of snowfall, so again be sure to visit the Washington State Department of Transportation website for up-to-date information regarding Washington highway closures.

North Cascade Loop

A special thanks to Mitsubishi for loaning us a brand new Outlander Sport to test drive on our road trip. It turned out to be the perfect road trip companion, offering a smooth ride and handling the curves beautifully! The panoramic glass roof was ideal for gazing up at the towering mountains overhead. 

For one of the most iconic views along the Cascade mountain loop, be sure to stop off at the Washington Pass Overlook. Here you’ll have breathtaking views of the Cascade mountain range, including Liberty Bell Peak, Early Winters Spires, and the Methow Valley, along with the winding North Cascade Loop below. 

North Cascades Scenic Highway

North Cascades National Park

The gorgeous scenery just… keeps… coming! The North Cascades Loop runs right through the heart of North Cascades National Park with scenic overlooks at Ross Lake and Diablo Lake. To read more about our wonderful time in the national park, including our stay at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center, you’ll want to check out this post

North Cascades National Park

Marblemount

The only stop we made in Marblemount was at the Wildwood Chapel, across the street from The Eatery. We actually met a couple earlier in the day who told us about this little hidden gem, so we had to stop and have a look for ourselves. The chapel is so tiny and probably holds no more than 10 people!

Marblemount WA

Rockport

Another stop recommended to us was Cascadian Farm in Rockport. Funny enough we knew of Cascadian Farm because of their organic granola bars and cereals sold in grocery stores, but we had no idea we’d be passing right by their farm stand. Of course we had to stop in to have a look at their (seasonal) pumpkin patch and to sample their homemade ice cream!

Cascadian Farm

A few miles down the road from the farm is a wonderful park perfect for having a picnic and doing some bird-watching along the scenic Skagit River

Skagit River

Concrete

There isn’t a whole lot to do in the town of Concrete, though we did come upon 5b’s (a gluten-free bakery) and a cool abandoned train car. This more or less officially concluded our drive along the Cascade Loop WA. However, we have one more incredible place to tell you about!

Concrete WA

Whidbey Island

Most people will finish their drive along the Cascade Loop with a stay on Whidbey Island. We did the drive a little out of order and actually started along the route on Whidbey. Because the first part of our Washington trip included a visit to the San Juan Islands, it made more sense for us to visit Whidbey Island first, then continue on the route toward Leavenworth. Since most travelers end on Whidbey, we saved it until the end of our post. To read more about our time on the island, check out our post What to Do on Whidbey Island

Whidbey Island

Cascade Loop Lodging

We know this post is getting long and thanks for sticking with it! We hope it’s been helpful! Rather than putting together a completely separate post on where we stayed during the drive, we wanted to quickly highlight our picks for Cascade Loop lodging. 

Hotel Pension Anna – Leavenworth

Hotel Pension Anna offers 16 unique rooms adorned with traditional furnishings and décor imported from both Germany and Austria. Start the morning with a Bavarian-style breakfast and experience authentic Bavarian lodging in Leavenworth.

Cascade Loop LodgingCheck availability and current prices at Hotel Pension Anna

Mountain View Lodge & Resort – Manson

Mountain View Lodge is a 31-room boutique-style hotel with all of the modern luxuries of a resort, including plush bath robes, a refreshing pool, a soothing hot tub, community BBQ grills, and an inviting fire-pit! It’s also pet-friendly if you’re traveling with your furry friend(s)!

Cascade Loop AccommodationCheck availability and current prices at Mountain View Lodge

Mazama Country Inn – Mazama

Mazama Country Inn is located less than 30 minutes from the Maple Pass Loop trailhead and directly behind the Mazama Store. They offer 18 guestrooms at their cozy inn and have 30 privately owned vacation homes throughout the Mazama area. Without TVs or telephones in the rooms, it’s the perfect place to connect with nature. 

Mazama Country InnCheck current room rates at Mazama Country Inn

North Cascades Environmental Learning Center – Lake Diablo

For a truly unique lodging experience, stay in dorm-style housing at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center within North Cascades National Park. It’s like summer camp for adults (of course, kids are welcome too)! Access miles and miles of hiking trails right at your doorstep.

North Cascades highway lodgingLearn more about Base Camp at the North Cascades Institute

Garden Isle Cottages – Whidbey Island

Garden Isle Cottages in Coupeville on Whidbey Island offers two cozy garden cottages, along with a three-bedroom home. Take a dip in the hot tub, relax on the garden swing, and take a walk into Coupeville’s historic downtown area. 

Where to Stay on Whidbey Island Check availability and current prices at Garden Isle Cottages

So… have we met our ultimate goal?! Did we persuade you to start planning your own trip along the Cascade Loop Scenic Highway? Hopefully, now you can see why one or two days simply isn’t enough. With so much to do and see along the route, it’s clear as to why the loop drive can be a vacation destination all by itself. And keep in mind… we’ve only listed the sights and activities we personally did on the drive. If you can believe it, there’s even more to discover on this incredible Washington road trip!

FAQs About the Washington Cascade Loop

Where does the Cascade Loop begin?

The Cascade Loop officially begins when you turn onto Highway 2 from Interstate 5 in Everett, Washington, about 30 miles north of Seattle.

What is the Cascade Loop distance?

The Cascade Loop is a scenic 440-mile drive along Highway 2, Highway 97, and Highway 20 (North Cascades Highway) in Washington State. The scenic drive also includes a slight detour on State Road 150 to Manson, WA. 

How long does it take to drive the Cascade Loop?

Some may say you can do the drive in as little as 2 days. Of course, you’d be missing out on so much! Plus, that’s over 200 miles a day! We would recommend no less than 4 days for the drive and at least a week if you can afford the time.

When is the North Cascade Highway open?

The North Cascades Scenic Highway (Highway 20) is open typically from mid-late April to mid-November or early December. The exact dates can vary from year to year, depending upon the winter weather (i.e. – the amount of snowfall the region experiences). Visit the Washington State Department of Transportation website for up-to-date information regarding road closures.

North Cascades Highway Loop

FINAL TIPS FOR DRIVING THE CASCADE LOOP HIGHWAY

Cascade Loop

We’d like to thank the following for their support during our drive along the Cascade Loop: The Cascade  Loop Association, Leavenworth Chamber of Commerce, Hotel Pension Anna (Leavenworth), Leavenworth Ziplines, Mountain View Lodge & Resort (Manson), Lake Chelan Helicopters, Mazama Country Inn, The North Cascades Institute – Environmental Learning Center, Whidbey & Camano Island Tourism, Garden Isle Cottages (Whidbey Island) and Mazda. As always, all write-ups are an accurate reflection of the experiences we had. 


12 Comments:

  1. I’ve been to the North Cascades on a road trip through the US but otherwise haven’t seen too much of Washington. Thanks for the great tips! I’m moving to Vancouver Island after Christmas so will definitely pin this for reference!

  2. Thanks for the great tips.

    My husband & I have only 5 days after flying from Australia & before heading off on a cruise. We did the Olympic Peninsula last time & I was thinking of going back as I just loved the greenness of the area but your post has swayed me to see this section of Washington State instead. Thanks for helping make up our minds. We won’t be able to fit in the islands but the Cascade Loop looks great.
    Best wishes lyndal & Ian

    • Oh yay! We too LOVED the Olympic Peninsula, but also really enjoyed this drive as well! Washington State is so gorgeous! Glad we could introduce you to a new region; hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

  3. Planning to drive the loop this May! Will also try to squeeze in Olympic Peninsula. I’d love to see an Orca somewhere though (BUCKET LIST!) but I think that’d have to be near San Juan Islands and I don’t know how we could fit that in with (or even without) the Peninsula! We’ll arrive on a Friday evening in Seattle and depart the following week’s Saturday morning, so we’ll have 7 days to drive.

    • Hi Bridget! Orcas have been seen off the coast of Whidbey Island, which is a part of the Cascade Loop, so who knows… you may get lucky! Choosing between visiting the San Juan Islands and the Olympic Peninsula is a tough call. I honestly don’t think you’d have time to do the Cascade Loop, the Olympic Peninsula, and the San Juan Islands. Like us, you’ll probably return to Washington State again and again because there is just so much to discover! Now you’re making ME want to go back to Washington!

  4. What a great post! We are going to Seattle for the first time April 6-13 and have been doing a lot of research on things to do. I’m finding a lot of the roads are still closed this time of year. Is this road open? What part of the loop did you enjoy the most?
    So far, we are taking a ferry to the Orcas for a day, doing Skagit Valley for the tulips & Leavenworth. Any other suggestions?
    Thanks,
    Teresa

    • Hi Teresa. Unfortunately there’s a good chance the Cascade Highway will still be closed during your trip. For the past several years, the road has never been open that early. To provide some insight for you, the road has reopened on the following dates: May 11 (2018), May 16 (2017), April 22 (2016), April 3 (2015), May 8 (2014). As far as our favorite part of the Loop, I hate to say, it was actually the Cascade Highway (which will most likely still be closed during your visit). We still thoroughly enjoyed our time on the rest of the Loop, particularly Leavenworth and Whidbey Island… and our detour to the San Juan Islands. I’d recommend spending at least a night on Orcas Island, as you might feel rushed only doing it as a day trip. And definitely spend some time in Leavenworth and around Lake Chelan, if time allows. No matter what you do, it will be a wonderful trip. The PNW holds a special place in our hearts and we can’t wait to get back there!

  5. This looks amaZing! So, it looks like you did 4 nights along the route……would you recommend staying longer or a few more nights in certain parts before we plan for next summer? Thanks! Can’t wait – your review makes it so exciting to think about!

    • We actually did 8 nights along the route – we stayed in Leavenworth for 2 nights, Manson 1 night, Mazama 1 night, Diablo Lake 2 nights, and 2 nights on Whidbey Island. I certainly wouldn’t recommend any less than 4 nights along the route. Try to do longer if time allows. There is so much to see and do and you don’t want to spend your entire journey in the car! It really just depends on how much time you have and what you want to do along the way! Of course I’m going to plug the 16-page destination guide I created for the Cascade Loop, which includes a ‘create your own itinerary’ checklist that might be of great value when planning your trip! Get your guide here -> https://forgetsomeday.com/cascade-loop-scenic-highway-destination-guide/.

  6. Thanks for all your great tips!!! can’t wait to visit this fall.

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