Cascades Scenic Loop, Washington - One Week Itinerary
This 7 day road trip takes you counter clockwise on the Cascades Scenic Loop. With plenty of opportunities to hike, kayak, rock climb, or fish, this itinerary is perfect for those who like to be active and outside.
The ideal time of year is late summer or early fall. We went too early in the summer and found that some of the mountain roads and trails were still snow covered and closed, particularly in North Cascades National Park. So to avoid disappointment, wait to do this trip until at least August.
Day 1: Stevens Pass Greenway
Today will be spent driving east along the stretch of Highway 2 between Sultan and Leavenworth called Stevens Pass Greenway. If you are coming from SeaTac, the most direct way to Highway 2 is to take 405 north through Bellevue. If you have time, though, consider taking a detour to Snoqualmie Falls. This 270ft waterfall is a great photo opportunity and it’s free. The drive from SeaTac to Snoqualmie Falls is about 40 mins and then it’s another hour drive through mostly farmland to Sultan.
There are many things to see in Stevens Pass. If you need some help narrowing down your options, stop by the Sky Valley Information Center in Sultan. Stops you might consider are:
- Wallace Falls State Park
- Rock climbing at Index Town Hall
- Heybrook Lookout
- Deception Falls
- Iron Goat Trail
- Stevens Pass (Ski area in winter and bike park in summer)
For those that are interested in history, I recommend the Iron Goat Trail which follows the route of an old railway. Signs along the way detail the history of the railway in the area. For spectacular views, I recommend the hike up to Heybrook Lookout. FYI to anyone scared of heights: you will need to climb the wooden tower in order to see the view. The trees are too thick to see anything from the ground.
With just one day, you will not have time for everything, so research ahead of time so that you can prioritize. We stopped at Heybrook Lookout and Deception Falls on our way through.
Finish up the day in the Bavarian-style town of Leavenworth. Try some traditional German food at one of the many restaurants and spend the night in one of the town’s quaint inns.
Day 2: Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest
The best way to see and appreciate the stunning mountain scenery of this area is to ditch the car and head out on a hike. There are so many trails to choose from so I highly recommend resources like Washington Trails Association and AllTrails to narrow down the options based on length, elevation gain, and ratings from fellow hikers.
We chose to hike the Colchuck Lake Trail, a challenging but rewarding hike to a picturesque alpine lake framed by two mountain peaks. See my hiking guide for details.
If you head out early, which is recommended for the more popular trailheads, you will have time to go back and continue exploring the town of Leavenworth in the evening.
If you normally live in an area close to sea-level, be aware that it's possible to experience mild symptoms of altitude sickness at as little as 5000 ft. Both my boyfriend and I experienced some nausea on the nights following hikes.
Day 3: Wenatchee to Winthrop
As you exit the Cascade mountain range, you will notice a dramatic change in the landscape. If, like me, your mental images of this state are built on movies like Twilight, you probably associate Washington with rain and lush green forests. While that is accurate in the west, east of the Cascade mountains is a completely different story. Here the dry, hilly landscape and endless vineyards remind me of rural Spain.
The stretch of the scenic loop between Wenatchee and Winthrop is mostly rural agricultural land, so I suggest you stock up on supplies in Wenatchee. Some activities you might consider on the route include:
- White water rafting on the Wenatchee River
- Wine tasting in Chelan Valley
- Water sports on Lake Chelan
- Exploring the western-themed town of Winthrop
Winthrop is the last town before North Cascades National Park. You will find very few accommodation options beyond this point.
Day 4: North Cascades National Park
Head back into the mountains on North Cascades Highway, or route 20. The section of highway between Winthrop and Ross Lake is not technically inside North Cascades National Park, but it might as well be. The road carves through towering peaks on both sides.
I suggest your first stop be Washington Pass Observation Site. The road up to the parking lot is well-maintained and it’s only a short walk out to the viewpoint. It’s one of the few places you can get panoramic views of the mountains without hiking. The site also has public restrooms.
If you do want to hike, there are some fantastic trails along this stretch of road. Some of the most highly rated ones are Maple Pass Loop and Blue Lake. Maple Pass Loop will give you those classic views over the Cascade Mountain Range but you have to go on a clear day, which means either being flexible with the timing or having some good luck.
Besides hiking, some possible activities include fishing, kayaking or canoeing on Ross Lake.
Accommodation is limited inside the park. Ross Lake Resort rents out cabins on the water, but these are only accessible by boat or by hiking. There are also several campsites. Otherwise, your options are to drive back to Winthrop or on to the towns of Marblemount and Concrete.
Day 5: North Cascades National Park
Today you could keep exploring North Cascades National Park or you could check out the area just west of the park called Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Again, the hiking possibilities are endless. Some of the most popular include Cascade Pass, Hidden Lake Lookout, and Sauk Mountain.
Day 6: Skagit Valley
Continue west on highway 20 out of the Cascade Mountains. The area of mostly farmland between Concrete and Fidalgo Island is known as Skagit Valley. This region is most famous for its fields of blooming flowers in the spring. The Skagit Tulip Festival is held annually from April 1st to April 30th. Outside of spring, the most popular tourist activities are along the water.
From the marina in Anacortes on Fidalgo Island you can find whale watching, fishing, and kayaking tours. I highly recommend the Outer Islands Expeditions whale watching tour. You are most likely to see Orcas but it’s also possible to see Humpback, Minke and Grey whales as well as other wildlife like bald eagles and seals.
Between Fidalgo Island and Whidbey Island is Deception Pass State Park where you will find beaches and viewpoints looking over Deception Pass Bridge.
Day 7: Whidbey Island
Highway 20 on Whidbey Island stretches almost 50 miles from Deception Pass in the north to the town of Clinton in the south. As you make your way south there are a number of small towns you can explore including: Oak Harbor, Coupeville, Freeland, and Langley. To get back to the mainland, you have to take the ferry across the Puget Sound from Clinton to Mulkiteo.
This completes the Cascade Scenic Loop. If you want to make this a longer trip consider combining this itinerary together with my 5 day itinerary of Seattle and the Olympic Peninsula.
About the Author
Lauren K. www.wayscaped.com
Lauren works a regular 9-5 day job, but traveling and sharing her experiences is her passion. She prefers nature to the cities and her favorite vacations are ones that involve hiking in the mountains.