This summer in Washington, we took a road trip on a route called “The Cascade Loop”, a 440 mile drive through some of the most diverse landscapes in the Northwest Washington. Leaving from our stay in Lummi Island, we headed towards North Cascades National Park with a few planned stops along the way before lodging for a night roughly halfway through our drive near a town called Winthrop. Our first stop: Diablo Lake. Seeing photos of the mesmerizing green-blue color of this expansive lake doesn’t really prepare you for what it looks like in real life. The color is indescribable——a brilliant turquoise that gets its hue from glaciers that are ground into a fine powder by rocks and suspended on the lake’s surface. We drove the loop in a few days which is quite rushed, but if we had more time I would have wanted to take some more time around the lake to try to see it from different vantage points, particularly at lake level.
We knew we wanted to get in at least one hike in during our drive, and while it was difficult to choose among the many choices of hikes along the loop, we decided to tackle the Heather-Maple Pass trail. Since we pulled in late in the afternoon, we only had time and enough light to hike a portion of the trail rather than hiking the 7 mile round trip loop (ambitious anyway with two kids!), so it sort of kills me that we didn’t get to see some of the dramatic views of ragged snow-capped mountain peaks that come later in the trail that I’ve seen in photos. What we did see during our hike, however, was still incredibly diverse: wildflower meadows, rocky ridge lines, old-growth forests, and an alpine lake. It never fails to astound me how quiet and peaceful it is to be hiking on a side of a mountain feeling like the only people in the world. For city dwellers like us, it’s an unfamiliar, but exhilarating sensation.
The Cascade Loop is such an interesting and diverse drive because once you drive past the Cascade mountain range, the landscape dramatically changes. It starts with the thinning of evergreens, until the ragged mountains gradually soften and the green fades away to brown hills toasted gold from the arid climate. The drive that stretches from Winthrop to Wenatchee (the apple capital of the world) is so different from any landscape that I’m used to. I loved the Methow Valley and its orchards, and the banks along the Columbia River––more than I thought I would since I love the forests and the oceans. We pulled over often right on the shoulder of the highway to take in the view.
We ended our trip at Leavenworth which is a Bavarian tourist town nestled in the mountains (yes, as totally kitchy––but fun––as it sounds) before heading to our cousin’s lake house for the night. It was so interesting to see the evergreens begin to dot the hills in random patterns before seeing the trees fill in completely into the familiar Washington landscape that we’re used to, and in certain ways it was a relief to see them.
I’ve gone on many long road trips across country when I was younger, and I do miss them, though I’m not sure I have the stamina anymore to sit in a car for longer than a few days at a time now. The Cascade Loop is a great classic road trip that traverses through many different changing landscapes in a relatively compact geographic area, particularly if you do the entire 440 mile loop that passes through Whidbey and Fidalgo Islands. If we were to ever do this drive again–and I hope we do someday––we’ll know that we’ll be able to plan a completely different trip and retrace through the spots that we missed this time around.