Although the native people crossed the North Cascades on foot for thousands of years, white settlers dreamed of a more readily traveled northern route. The Washington legislature committed its first funding for such a route in 1893, based on hopes that such a road would lead to “vast deposits” of gold and silver. Unfortunately, those riches were as elusive as the road itself. So rugged was this northern route that it would be decades before a possible route would even be chosen.
When Lyndon Johnson passed legislation in 1968 authorizing the North Cascades National Park, hopes for the road shifted from hauling out high-value timber to hauling in high-value tourists. Finally, in 1972, the route was completed over Washington Pass. The result, State Highway 20, is one of the most extraordinary drives in the world. The 87-mile drive from Winthrop to Marblemount passes through an incredible landscape and ecological transition, from sagebrush and desert to lush semi-rain forest. It is impossible to drive the highway in haste. In fact, signs should be posted at frequent intervals: Warning! Distracting Views Ahead. Be Prepared to Stop Often.
Photo Zach Mazur
On the Web
North Cascades Highway : : Maps, photos and history at the Washington State Department of Transportation (via Wayback Machine)
Real-time conditions of the North Cascades Highway (WSDOT)