“Sometimes you just need to change your altitude.” — Unknown
In our last photography post, we traveled from Oso to Rockport, WA.
This exploration continues from Rockport on Highway 530 onto the North Cascades Highway 20 and over one of Washington state’s most beautiful and dramatic mountain passes.
Google Maps calculates the drive as almost two and one-half hours from Rockport, to Marblemount, through the Newhalem dam region, onto Washington Pass Lookout in the N. Stehekin region, and then to the three small towns in the Methow Valley.
There are frequent points of interest along the way. Be sure to schedule most of the day so you can leisurely explore the highlights.
After driving over the pass, you will enter the Methow Valley corridor. The first town to visit is Mazama. This area is the hub of a vast hiking trail system. Twisp and Winthrop are the next stops on our journey.
We stop for the night in the small community of Carlton to spend the night. We stay at a friend’s Straw Bale home that sits on a ridge with an expansive view of the area.
Points of Interest Along the Way
The town of Marblemount is your last chance to grab a snack or meal and refuel your vehicle before heading over the scenic pass. Here you’ll find a Wilderness Information Center that is the main backcountry permit office for North Cascades National Park and the adjacent Ross Lake and Lake Chelan National Recreation Areas.
Learn more, click > Marblemount
Thornton Lakes Road & Hikes
The turn-off to Thornton Lake Road is eleven miles east of Rockport. There is a five-mile drive to get to the trailhead leading to the lakeside. It is best to drive the route in a high clearance or a 4-wheel drive vehicle. The dirt road is steep and rugged in quite a few places.
The hike is another five miles once you arrive at the trailhead. The first two miles are along an old logging road system built in the 1960s, and this part of the trail is easy to navigate. After that, the hike is strenuous and not recommended for the faint of heart.
To learn more, click > Thornton Lake and Ridge and Meadow Trails
The North Cascades Visitor Center is in Newhalem. You can attend their multimedia exhibit to learn more about the natural and cultural history of the Ross Lake Recreational area. A theatre offers large format slide shows and video presentations. Their store has maps, books, literature, trail interpretations, and historical information. Schools and other interested groups can schedule to see various presentations describing the region and its history.
Exploring the vast Ross Lake Recreation trail system that surrounds Newhalem is a photographer and hiker’s dream.
A few of the most popular trails include:
- The Sterling Munro Trail
- River Loop Trail
- “To Know a Tree” Trail
- Rock Shelter Trail
- “Trail of the Cedars” Nature Walk
You can also book camping time for future trips at the Newhalem Creek and Goodell Creek campgrounds.
Newhalem is a company town owned by Seattle City Light. The three hydroelectric dams in the region are Gorge Dam, Ross Dam, and Diablo Dam.
Seattle City Light also offers tours of all three Hydroelectric dams.
To view some great pictures and see the entire region, click > The Skagit Tours.
Gorge Dam and Falls
At the Gorge Falls Overlook enjoy a walk on a leisurely trail to a footbridge where you can take in views of the falls. After parking, the paved trail leads to an unpaved path. Here it makes a loop offering views of the dam and lake. In the summer the waterfalls are not very spectacular, but this scenic stop is an opportunity to stop, stretch, and breathe in the fresh air.
For a view, click > Gorge Creek Falls Overlook
Diablo Dam and Lake Overlook
Be sure to schedule a stop at the Diablo Overlook. A short walk from the parking area along the wide-open paths has stunning views on clear or even semi-cloudy days. Diablo Lake’s blue waters sparkle and various North Cascades mountain peaks tower above.
For insight on hiking into the lake, click > Diablo Lake Hike
Ross Dam and Lake Overlook
Ross Lake is a large reservoir created by Ross Dam. The lake spans twenty-three miles in length and up to one and a half miles in width in some areas. It also extends into British Columbia, Canada. This man-made lake sits at 1,604 feet above sea level and is a breathtaking wilderness wonderland.
From the Ross Lake Overlook, you have expansive views to capture the region’s natural beauty. To experience the available wilderness activities, turn off the highway and visit the Ross Lake Resort.
Our Stop at Washington Pass Summit Overlook
The Washington Pass Overlook is your first picture-perfect stop and where we stopped to take in the view. It is perched at 5,462 feet above sea level and offers a leisurely walk along several trails adjacent to the parking area.
You can see stunning views of the dramatic ridgeline, roadway below, and picturesque Liberty Bell Mountain (the first image in this post). The Gorge Dam is also visible from this scenic stop. The below pictures are a tutorial that is found at the area describing the formation of the terrain.
The North Cascade region provides some of the most rugged hikes and outdoor adventures available in Washington State’s mainly untouched wilderness. A million years of erosion created by the glacier’s movement over several creek valleys and the Skagit River are visible from this location.
Watch a short video of a 360 degree view when standing at the Washington Pass Overlook
Stehekin Region and Valley
You can only access the Stehekin Valley by hiking, flying in a plane, or by boat. For those who are adventurous and physically fit, an overnight backpacking trail leads into the valley. The beginning of the 19-mile hike is off Highway 20 on the Bridge Creek-McAlester Pass Trail. Most adventurers prefer the more relaxing route taken by boat from Lake Chelan. You can catch this ride with the Lady of the Lake from the Chelan lakeside just south of the Methow Valley.
Stehekin resort is a destination getaway. It is a unique community nestled along the water’s edge. Since it is only accessible by hiking, boating, or arriving by plane you can experience one of Washington state’s unique northern wildernesses. This area is also a nature photographer’s dream.
To learn more, click > Stehekin Resort Community
Dropping Into the Methow Valley
The Methow Valley is a mix of the Wild West with artistic and cultural experiences. Experience abundant outdoor activities and lodging options from rustic to fully inclusive resorts and lodges.
The small town of Mazama is located right off Highway 20 and 17 miles east of the Washington Overlook summit. It is also 14 miles northwest of Winthrop. The elevation is 2106 feet and, the 2019 population was only 963 people.
Mazama is a fun community fully embracing the best of what mountain culture can offer. Its residents are said to be adventurous, open-minded, and good-natured.
Those who pass through can experience a “green” climate-friendly attitude and vast opportunities to explore human-powered recreation. Here you can enjoy a wonderful mix of organic foods and a love of art and music.
Because Mazama is east of the Cascade Mountain range, the weather is much drier than in western Washington. The better weather permits outdoor activities most of the year.
One of the desired features of Mazama is the connection to the Methow Valley Sports Trails (https://www.methowtrails.org) and the activities available on the Methow River.
To learn more about, click > Mazama
Now we drop to an elevation of 1,768 feet. The small town of Winthrop (population 400) resembles an 1850’s western town from our past. Old-style building fronts, antique boardwalks, an emporium, and saloon take you back in time.
Like any good ole western town, the community offers a yearly rodeo on Labor Day weekend!
Winthrop is known for one of the best yearly Rhythm and Blues Festivals in WA state. This music event is well attended and has drawn over eighty thousand people during the past twenty-nine years.
The Winthrop area also offers year-round outdoor activities and some of the best cross country skiing in all of North America over the 120 miles of groomed trails.
Traveling a few more miles brings you to the town of Twisp. The elevation drops to 1,637 feet and the population is similar to Mazama (982 in 2019). Twisp is another creative town supporting great food, microbreweries, arts, crafts, and everything homegrown. During the growing season, you can frequent the well-known Methow Valley Farmer’s Market. Across the street, be sure and take time to explore TwispWorks, a 6-acre campus, and a fun and active creative hub for the artistic community.
After our day’s journey, we dropped another 200 feet in elevation to the next small town of Carlton (population 396). We arrived at the location of our dear friend’s Straw Bale home which is the subject of our next scenic and pictorial post.
In the meantime, here are some additional references about the Northern Cascade region and what this breathtaking wilderness has to offer.
Explore the North Cascades
- Hikes Near Ross Dam and Diablo Lake
- Top Rated North Cascades Hikes
- Learn More About: Gorge Dam, Diablo Dam and Ross Dam
- The OutDoor Project
If you missed the previous post where our journey began, click > Oso to Rockport, WA.