Summer 2011 was the summer of road trips. I graduated from college in early June without any plan in terms of jobs. My travel plans, however, were plenty. But first, I had to make it back to Montana.
I had my car out in Bellingham with me, but my mom and sister had driven out for my graduation as well. So we formed a mini caravan (with my sister bouncing back and forth between cars to alternately keep my mom and me company) and headed for Montana. Since it was the last time we’d be making this drive for the foreseeable future, we decided to take the scenic route. We left Bellingham and headed south on I-5 for a few miles before exiting onto WA Highway 20 – the North Cascades Highway. It’s the slow way home, adding about an hour and a half of driving time (though mileage-wise it’s actually a bit shorter), but it’s a very worthwhile detour.
The Cascade Mountains are beautiful: lush forests, rugged peaks, turquoise lakes, and just generally unspoiled wilderness. North Cascades National Park is huge, spanning more than half a million acres. It’s divided into a north and south unit, separated by the Ross Lake National Recreation Area. Though the Cascade Mountains were visible from Highway 20, our drive actually took us through Ross Lake NRA but not the National Park itself. Regardless, the entire area is utterly scenic.
We stopped briefly at the visitor center and pulled over at all of the viewpoints, but this was a driving trip, not a hiking and camping one, so we had to settle for seeing what we could see from the road. And despite the fact that we barely left the pavement, the scenery was unbelievable! I absolutely plan to spend more time exploring the Cascades. I can only imagine what lies within these incredible mountains.
The Important Stuff:
- Getting there: WA Highway 20 (the North Cascades Highway) cuts through Ross Lake Nat’l Rec Area, running right between the two units of North Cascades National Park
- Fees & passes: there is no charge associated with driving the North Cascades Highway or entering the National Park
- Camping: there are many campgrounds in the North Cascades
- Hiking: there are also 100s of miles of hiking trails in the Cascades
- Other: we were there in mid-June and there was still quite a bit of snow at the higher elevations;July and August are probably the optimal time to visit if you plan on heading back into the mountains