By John Nelson and Leslie Kelly
It’s peak season for RVers.
And if you love mountains the way we do, why not schedule a trip through the North Cascades, featuring the most beautiful peaks in Washington?
A trip on State Route 20 is an epic adventure, filled with grand views, fantastic hikes and plenty of opportunities for some lake time. Even if you’ve done it before, the North Cascades Scenic Byway is a quintessential northwest experience, raw, wild and spectacular.
Here’s a three-day game plan.
Day 1, Winthrop: It takes about 3.5 hours from Spokane to this “Wild West” tourist town in the eastern foothills of the North Cascades, where you’ll catch an enticing view of Liberty Bell looming ahead.
There are a couple of good commercial RV parks to choose from: The Winthrop KOA and the Pine Near RV Park. Just outside of town is the perfectly pleasant Pearrygin Lake State Park, with 50 full hookup sites and 27 partial hookups.
Pearrygin is our choice in this area. The lake offers fishing and boating access, and the town is just four miles away. The sprawling campground has a number of good sites, some on the lakefront. We prefer the outer loop sites tucked against the hillside away from the action-packed lake area.
Day 2, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest camping: Once you leave Winthrop, say goodbye to electrical power, sewer hookups and cell service. You’re now heading into the heart of the off-grid North Cascades.
Three nice national forest campgrounds are situated along Highway 20 as it heads up to spectacular Washington Pass, the highest mountain pass in the state at 5,476 feet.
Early Winters Campground is just past the town of Mazama, the last grocery store and gas station you’ll see for 60 miles. Just up the road, situated on a short spur off the highway is Klipchuck, our favorite in the area. And a little closer to the pass is Lone Fir Campground.
All of the campgrounds offer their advantages, and each offers good hiking opportunities. Klipchuck campground offers a good early season hike up Driveway Butte, eight miles roundtrip. Another excellent, and much easier trail is just up the road at Cutthroat Creek, delivering hikers to a gorgeous alpine basin at Cutthroat Lake (about four miles roundtrip).
Day 3, North Cascades National Park: This is your day to hit the high country as you travel over Washington Pass. Make sure to stop at the Washington Pass Overlook, the most scenic wayside in the state, with the towering Liberty Bell (7,720 feet) looming above.
If the snow has melted out, you’ll have a number of beautiful hikes to choose from right off the highway. Blue Lake (4.4 miles roundtrip) and the Heather-Maple Pass Loop (7.2 miles) are among the very best day hikes you’ll find anywhere.
But if you just want a quick leg-stretcher to a beautiful mountain basin, check out Rainy Lake (2 miles roundtrip), a paved accessible path that delivers gorgeous views.
Even if you don’t hike, the drive is filled with stellar views of the high mountain peaks in the North Cascades as you head on down to Colonial Creek Campground on turquoise-hued Diablo Lake.
Colonial Creek is huge with 94 sites on the south side of the highway and 41 sites on the north side of the highway. Of the two, we far prefer the south side, with many sites situated among ancient cedar trees in an old-growth forest.
Big rigs may want to consider heading on to Newhalem, the western entrance to North Cascades National Park, the first services you’ll see on this beautiful tour. There you’ll find another sprawling national park campground with 107 unpowered sites.
Before you hit the highway, remember you’ll want to book any state and national park campsites well in advance.
Want more? We’ve got lots of photos from recent trips through the North Cascades posted on our blog at spokesman.com/blogs/going-mobile.