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Washington Road Trip Through the North Cascades
Whoever said that getting there is half the fun probably made the six-day road trip through Washington on scenic byways. Starting in Seattle and ending in Bellevue, the loop through the North Cascades takes you from the rugged coast to pristine mountain ridges that overlook azure Glacial Lakes. On your way you may catch a glimpse of elk, deer, or even an elusive grizzly bear.
Day 1: Seattle to Bellingham
Rise and shine for the first leg of what will promise to be an adventurous Washington road trip. Beginning in Seattle you may want to greet the day at the site of the very first Starbucks at Pike Place Market. From there, head north up Puget Sound to the catch the ferry from Mukilteo to Clinton. Allow at least an hour for boarding and vehicle unloading although the voyage itself is only thirty minutes long.
Once on Whidbey Island, take to the open road. WA-525 runs north in the center of the island, but if you’re looking for more coastal views, scenic detours such as on S Smugglers Cove Rd will take you past South Whidbey State Park before reuniting you with the highway. Stop for lunch in Coupeville near the Wharf before resuming north on WA-20. Before returning to the mainland, Deception Pass Bridge on the most northern tip of the island is a great place for a photo op.
Route 11 will take you along the coast and past gorgeous vistas of the San Juan Islands and Bellingham Bay. Once in Bellingham, check into the Best Western before heading out for a bite at a local seafood restaurant or casual brewery.
Day 2: Bellingham to Omak
Bellingham is home to Western Washington University. It flourishes with a laid-back artsy college kind of vibe. If you are looking to do some exploring, the Historic Fairhaven District located in downtown is full of eclectic shops proffering souvenirs, books and hand-made crafts. When you’re ready to get started, jump on I-5 S to WA-20 to head east through the Cascades. Just before entering the cascades, Marblemount will be the last place to stop for gas and a meal for 75 miles so make sure to fuel up.
As you begin to climb the foothills of the Cascades, look for Ladder Creek Falls and Gardens in Newhalem. Located behind the Gorge Powerhouse this is an easy roadside stop where you can marvel at the beautiful falls that become illuminated with color through LED lighting at night.
Further up the mountain ridges Diablo Lake is one of three pristine glacial lakes on the route that offers a lookout. Diablo Lake is arguably the most beautiful of the three (Diablo, Gorge and Ross) as you can see the reflection of glacial capped mountains in its refined turquoise waters.
The highest point on the highway, Washington Pass signals the transition from west Washington to east Washington. You’ll start to trade the lushness of dense forests and rivers for a wide basin Valley and views of craggy peaks. Once in the Valley you can stop at the Mazama store for refreshments and groceries before continuing the final trek to the Best Western in Omak, Washington.
Day 3: Omak to Othello
The annual Omak Stampede and famous Suicide Race have been putting Omak on the map since 1933. A sleepy western town, Omak epitomizes the early days of the rodeo. Just east of the town, you’ll want to pick up WA-155 S to head to Othello winding through small central Washington towns along the way.
Past Elmer City, you’ll see the Coulee Dam as it straddles the mighty Columbia River creating enough hydroelectric energy to power 7 states. One of the largest man-made structures ever built, the Coulee Dam is truly a marvel to see.
Continue to drive south and you’ll come to South Lake, the town with the motto, ’Your cure for the ordinary’. In fact, the bubbly mineral waters of Soap Lake have long been thought to have medicinal healing powers.
In the heart of the Columbia Basin Project -the interconnected waters that the Grand Coulee Dam makes possible, Othello is a quiet place to rest your head. You’ll be headed back toward the mountains in the morning.
Day 4: Othello to Leavenworth
One of the most significant land features of Washington’s Columbia Plateau are the large basalt deposits that make up the Drumheller Channels. From Othello head Northwest on McManamon Road to view the Drumheller Channels National Natural Landmark, a truly awe-inspiring spectacle of nature.
To continue to Leavenworth, you’ll pick up WA-26, then follow WA-28. Before crossing Columbia River you’ll pass the city of George which is home to the famed Gorge Amphitheater. As you continue north on 28 you’ll follow the river passing rural towns and wineries. In West Wenatchee, Wenatchee Confluence State Park is a great place to stretch your legs before a stopping for a snack at Prey’s Fruit Barn and Orchard.
In Leavenworth you will be taken by the architecture that makes the city resemble a Bavarian village. German restaurants and pubs line either sides of the streets, while performers and mountain goats play their part in transporting you back to the old country. Make sure to try a bratwurst or a schnitzel before laying down for the night at a Best Western hotel.
Day 5: Leavenworth to Edmonds
Heading west on US-2, the first part of your day will be driving through Wenatchee National Forest. Along sagebrush and pine covered slopes the highway will wind around thick forests. You’ll pass a popular ski and snowboard destination, Stevens Pass before getting to small towns like Skykomish. There the whole family can enjoy a visit to the Great Northern & Cascade Railway, a museum and fun park dedicated to railroad education.
Continue west to the port-side city of Edmonds. Enjoy magnificent views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains from any of the numerous parks on the beach. If you have the time, Edmonds is a great place to explore aviation. Visit the Future of Flight Aviation Center or the Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum.
Day 6: Edmonds to Bellevue
For the final leg of your road trip, make your way to I-5 to head south toward Bellevue, via northern Seattle. In Shoreline, the Kruckeberg Botanic Garden provides a peaceful detour for those looking for a stroll through some of Washington’s most colorful vegetation.
While in Seattle, the Space Needle offers panoramic city views of downtown and Puget Sound. Or spend some time at the Museum of Pop Culture to explore musical legends and iconic sci-fi exhibits under one roof.
Back in Bellevue, choose from a variety of restaurants with cuisine ranging from Mexican to Thai. If you are in the mood for a night out after your drive, pubs and bars can be found in the vicinity of Bellevue Arts Museum and near Bellevue Downtown Park.