If you like taking the family on a road trip in the Pacific Northwest, there’s few stretches of road that can compete with the North Cascades Highway. This stretch of road spans the high North Cascade Mountains and features a long list of great historical and scenic stops along the way. Each end of the North Cascades Highway also features some great small communities to experience.
11 North Cascades Highway Family Travel Tips
#1. VISIT WINTHROP, WA!
One of the best of the many communities to visit on the North Cascade Highway is Winthrop. This little town on the eastern slopes of the mountains is a true gem of the old west. You’ll be able to dine at saloons, walk wooden planked sidewalks, shop for western wear, and have the time of your life. Make sure to visit the Shafer Museum too!
#2. PACK A PICNIC LUNCH
There are many miles to explore along the North Cascades Highway, and much of that distance runs right through the North Cascades National Park. This makes it the perfect place to pull off the road, enjoy a scenic vista, waterfall, or hiking trail, and of course a great place to have a picnic lunch. Getting out and stretching their legs is also a wonderful way for the kids to relieve some stress and tension too.
#3. EXPLORE CONCRETE, WA
The small town of Concrete sits in the Skagit Valley and is a fun little historic community to explore. It offers some nice eating out opportunities and features a self-guided walking tour too. The Henry Thompson Bridge, famous concrete silos, high school you can drive under, and Downtown Concrete are some of the can’t-miss features there. Also take some time to just drive out from the community into the beautiful surroundings.
#4. STOP AT DIABLO LAKE VISTA POINT
The water of Diablo Lake won’t only appeal to adults but to kids too. The bright turquoise water is pretty striking while surrounded by such rugged landscape. Kids will love looking at it from all angles. This is one of the top spots on the North Cascades Highway to get your family photo taken too!
#5. WALK THE TRAIL OF THE CEDARS
Newhalem, Washington is a fun little spot to stop on the North Cascades Highway. It’s a company town that has deep ties to the building of several dams and other formative features that makes this area of the state available to visit. The Trail of the Cedars takes off on the southern end of town by first crossing a small suspension bridge over the Skagit River. Next you’ll walk through some beautiful old growth forest before reaching the old powerplant. A return walk forms a loop and you’ll be back in the parking lot in no time.
#6. EAT AT A CABOOSE!
A long drive across the North Cascades means sooner or later your family is going to be hungry. Stop in tiny Marblemount and blow your kids’ minds by getting some tasty barbecue food from an actual caboose that dates back to 1944. Order some ribs or a delicious sandwich and then eat right there or take it with you in the car.
#7. VISIT A STATE OR NATIONAL PARK!
While you drive across the North Cascades Highway you’ll be going through some gorgeous scenery. Much of this has been set aside for visitors and locals to explore in the form of parks. Just north of Winthrop is Pearrygin Lake State Park, then there are miles and miles of scenic area known as Ross Lake National Recreation Area and North Cascades National Park, and finally just outside the boundaries of the national park near the town of Rockport is Rockport State Park. These areas offer picnic spots, hiking trails, scenic vistas, historic sites, camping opportunities, playground areas, and accessible water. Don’t forget to stop at the North Cascades Visitor Center at Newhalem.
#8. TAKE A SELFIE AT WASHINGTON PASS OBSERVATION SITE
High up in the North Cascades, is the Washington Pass Observation Site. This makes a great spot for the whole family to get out and stretch their legs. It’s also a great selfie spot, or a family photo spot if you can find a friendly traveler. Behind you will be the impressive Early Winters Spires which make a great backdrop. You can also look down on the somewhat famous horseshoe corner of Highway 20 either before or after you drive it. This is another fine example of the great scenery this part of Washington State offers.
#9. GO HIKING!
If you or members of your family would like to do some hiking then you will love picking the North Cascades Highway as your road trip destination. There are several great hiking opportunities along the route that offer everything from flat manageable paths, some even paved and perfect for wheelchair access, to strenuous expert level trails that lead far off into the wilderness or high up in the mountains. Some popular trails include Twisp Pass, Heather – Maple Pass Loop, Hidden Lake Lookout, Ruby Mountain, Thornton Lakes, Rainbow-McAlester Loop, Terrace Mountain, Sauk Mountain, Pacific Crest Trail Rainy Pass to Manning Park, Copper Ridge Loop, Hock Mountain, Easy Pass, and Diablo Lake.
#10. CLIMB ON OLD NUMBER SIX
Old Number Six is the name of a proud steam locomotive, built in 1924, that played an essential role in the early days of the Skagit River Railway and the building of the three impressive dams of the upper Skagit River. Today, this historic steam engine sits right alongside the North Cascades Highway in the town of Newhalem. This is a great picnic spot and you can even get some food and drinks at the nearby historic Skagit General Store. Kids are even allowed to climb up on Old Number Six and getting your photo taken in front of or up on the steam engine is somewhat of a tradition.
#11. VISIT A DAM
Some of the top attractions along the North Cascades Highway are the historic dams located either right along the highway or via a short drive. These dams include Ross Dam, Diablo Dam, and Gorge Dam which are famous for being part of the Skagit River Hydroelectric Project. You can also visit both Lower Baker Dam and Upper Baker Dam located north of the town of Concrete. The various dams offer picnic spots, water recreation, historical information and more either right at the dam or along the nearby water. Some of the dams also offer the very unique experience of driving across them which can be extremely memorable.
Driving across the North Cascades Highway is a great family vacation idea. You really can’t go wrong with the wide variety of things there are to do, see, and experience.