Day 9 saw us headed to North Cascades National Park, staying in Mazama. Following is our North Cascades National Park road trip itinerary.
One of our longer days in the car, we set off from Port Angeles to catch the Port Townsend – Coupeville Ferry that we made reservations for the previous day (depending on the season and day of the week, you may want to reserve tickets further in advance). Our first stop was at Ebey’s Landing National Historic Site where we earned a Junior Ranger badge and learned about this unique spot and its’ history.
While we intended to catch lunch on the island, all of the restaurants we were interested in were in the South part of the island and we got picky and decided to eat one of our packed meals in the car instead. We purposefully stopped at the Costco in Burlington (just a few miles out of the way) to fill up with gas and pick up a good amount of fruit and foods to sustain us in the remote North Cascades! Continuing on Highway 20, we drove on until we reached the Cascadian Farm roadside stand to get some homemade organic ice cream. Yum! That was a great treat since we had not found any special ice cream shops the whole trip!
We made one more lengthy stop on the long drive to our VRBO in Mazama on the East side of the North Cascades National Park and that was at the visitor center in Newhalem to pick up our Junior Ranger books, some mementos, and walk out to the Rock Shelter (a requirement of “Joy Joy’s” junior ranger book). The Washington Pass overlook was worth driving out the overlook and the one redeeming part of having decided to stay on the East side of the park was the opportunity to drive over Washington pass each day at the beginning and end of the day!
On each trip there are things we do that we end up not feeling like they measure up or are the best use of time. The Thunder Knob hike was that thing this time… While the surroundings are beautiful, the disappointment came because nearly all of the beauty around you can be seen from the car or the pullouts. In retrospect, we wish we had done a different hike but we were limited because some of the other hikes I wanted to do were still snowed in and therefore not options.
After hiking Thunder Knob we drove over the Diablo Dam, an impressive engineering feat that is also a great perspective both over Diablo Lake as well as down the canyon to Gorge Lake.
Finally, we stopped by and earned the kids’ Junior Ranger badges before heading back to Mazama and our cabin. We were glad there was a gas station in Mazama, because the drive took a good hour and 45 minutes from the visitor center to the cabin! I wish in the end we had found a cabin on the West side of the park, as we would have spent far less time in the car. The Mazama Store also had wonderful food (lots of organic options), keepsakes, an outdoors store, and an ice cream shop that we were not able to try. We did manage to “swim” in the river behind our cabin to cool off, however! Suffice it to say that wading was a better term and the most we did was sit briefly for a picture because the water was freezing!
The big day… We left Mazama early this morning and drove all the way back across the park to Marblemount, where we turned and went down the amazing Cascade River Road. Our destination was at the end of this road, the first 10 miles of which are paved and the next 13 miles are unpaved but when you arrive at the end you are surrounded by mountains and a parking lot sitting at 3660 feet of elevation.
We were fortunate, as the road had only opened a few weeks before we arrived and is normally closed at milepost 20 if not prior to that point through much of the fall, winter, and spring as soon as the snow starts flying. The purpose of making this drive that took us about 2.5 hours each way? The stunningly beautiful Cascade Pass hike. While I would tell you that you could drive to the trailhead and be content if the physical challenge of climbing more than 1800 feet (largely through 35-ish switchbacks that make up the first 2 miles of the trail) and covering about 7 miles of trail roundtrip is not possible. If you are up for it, and I hope you are, you will be rewarded with one of the most amazing vistas at the summit of Cascade Pass.
Had we not had the lengthy drive, or were equipped to do so, we could have continued on and camped at the Sahale Glacier camp and made this a 2 day trip. There was a good amount of snow we crossed once we passed the switchbacks, and the trail is constantly crossing snowmelt fed streams, so waterproof hiking boots are essential for this hike. I’d also suggest hiking poles, bug spray, and sunscreen since the last part of the trail is above and out of tree cover. There is a nice pit toilet, a good deal of parking that did end up filling up (but there is overflow just down the road), and a picnic area at the trailhead where you can count waterfalls and listen to the glaciers calving (breaking apart). Upon finishing the hike, we made the long trip back to our home and have counted this as one of our favorite parts of the trip!
After a big day hike the previous day, we relaxed and enjoyed this our last day in North Cascades National Park. We made one drive back to Rainy Pass, where we took the paved trail to Rainy Lake.
If you are not up to a big hike physically, or have small children, this is a fantastic stop! If you simply enjoy the beauty of a glacier fed lake, this is one of the best and accessible lakes you can find in this area! We also took the 10 mile drive past Mazama into Winthrop, a cute old western town where we stopped in to do some shopping and eat some ice cream (it wasn’t that special), and spend the last of the kids’ souvenir money.
I also drove part way up Hart’s Pass, but because everyone else wanted to relax I only went as far as I felt was safe to do alone and I parked the car and hiked up another mile or so. Next time I’d like to do this drive and hopefully some hikes at the end of it!
Today we left the North Cascades and also left Washington. First, though, we had a few stops to make! The first stop was the Grand Coulee Dam, which we used the Loup Loup Pass (Hwy 20) route and I would recommend to anyone so long as it is open.
The scenery was pretty and the road was in good shape. Fight the GPS that tells you to take the “faster” route on Hwy 153 to Pateros and across to Brewster and back up Hwy 97. Turning onto Hwy 155 through the Colville Indian Reservation, we eventually made it to Grand Coulee. Note that there are no services on the Reservation, so if you will need gas or restrooms do so in Omak. We came around a turn on Hwy 155 and saw a beautiful swampy pond area that my thought was “that is where a moose would be” and sure enough, there was a mom and baby in the pond. They began running into the woods, and we weren’t ready with the camera, so you’ll have to take our word for it! The Grand Coulee dam was impressive in size and the visitor center was interesting. We did not do a tour, largely because the power station part of the tour was closed and we still had a few hours, and one big stop, to make. So, we continued on to Spokane and then turned North with a stop at Cherry Hill Orchard and Market where we picked our last fresh cherries of the trip. Nearly 18 pounds filled our buckets, but it was so very worth it, especially when the price is $1.85/lb for Bing and Rainier cherries!
Finally, we went on to Coeur D’Alene, where we topped off the car at Costco, our gallon jugs at Natural Grocers, and our tummies at Fire Pizza and Sweet Peaks (an outpost of a favorite from our trip to Glacier). We walked a small amount of those calories off by exploring the public art at McEuen Park before heading back to the hotel pool.
Leaving Coeur d’Alene with a final destination of Billings, Montana, meant we had a long day ahead of us. Adding to the day was something I had been looking forward to since learning about it when we were at Glacier National Park. On the Idaho-Montana Border is a rails to trails bike trail called the Route of the Hiawatha. Squeezing it into this day was a poor choice – if we did it over again we should have had much less driving to do afterwards so the pressure to finish and make the shuttle back to the top was not so great. As a whole, the ride was hit and miss for our family.
The ride was expensive – $180 or so for our family of 4 (2 kids and 2 adults) including bike rentals, trail access, shuttle passes, helmets, headlights for the tunnels, and a bike rack to haul the bikes to the trail. The bikes weren’t worth that kind of money and were frankly (super!) uncomfortable. The trail itself was not paved, which is fine, but was rough and super bumpy most of the way, especially in the last 1/3 of the trail where you are tired and you are all but done with tunnels and trestles. Again, if we were to do it over again we would have brought our bikes, made a day of it, and enjoyed the 15 downhill miles through 10 tunnels and across 7 high trestles. The longest tunnel, at nearly 1.7 miles is a very cool experience! Another tip is that my 7 year son rode on a tag-along with me and had a blast. My daughter, who is almost 10, rode on her own and had a super uncomfortable rental bike (the hand grips really hurt her hands) making it a loooooong 15 miles… We finished the trail having made our time, but leaving some tears, frustration, and snappy words in our wake (Kim nicknamed it the Trail of Torture. That was how much fun she and Joy-Joy had, she had the bruises to prove it). From there, we drove the 5 miles back to Lookout Pass Ski Area to return the rental bikes and then continued on to Billings, arriving much later than desired but in one piece! From there, all that was left was a long day staring through the windshield as we waited for Minnesota to greet us once again!