North Cascades Highway, Washington State, USA
Let’s be honest here: when it comes to all out, take-your-breath-away roads and scenery, few places on earth can compare to the western United States.
While many areas, such as Yosemite and Yellowstone, are overrun with visitors and congested roads, there are some areas that are less travelled but equally spectacular.
The North Cascades Highway, or State Route 20, is a breathtaking road that runs for 75 uninterrupted miles from Mazama to Marblemount in Washington State. Departing Mazama and heading west, the road climbs out of the Methow Valley and starts to wind uphill through mature Douglas fir and ponderosa pine.
After ten miles, the highway enters an enormous cirque surrounded by glaciated peaks that climb to nearly 9,000 feet, and then does a sweeping hairpin as it makes its way up to the base of Liberty Bell Mountain.
It’s an imposing peak that rises more than 5,000 vertical feet from the road (and it’s impossible to not stop and take in the view – it’s spectacular). The highway then crosses the 5,500-foot Washington Pass and then Rainy Pass.
From that point on, the road is 50 plus miles of beautifully smooth tarmac that winds its way through the dramatic Cascade Mountains. Snow covered peaks rise on either side of the road, and the drive – on a weekday – can be surprisingly free of slow-moving campers.
As roads go, this is as good as it gets: a well maintained, relatively modern highway (completed in 1972) with predictable curves, clear signs, no potholes, and several long straights.
Expect to see many waterfalls, several lakes and miles of streams and rivers. The road is closed in winter (late November to April) as the Cascades own the world record for snowfall at 1,100 inches in one season.
Few roads in the world can compete with this 75-mile long stretch for sheer beauty and uninterrupted views. With the exception of a few campsites, lookouts and hiking trails, it’s just you, your 911 and a big stretch of stunning wilderness.