The Perfect North Cascade fall weekend drive
Grab your pumpkin spice latte, hop in your car and fill up the tank! I have the perfect fall weekend trip all planned for you and it's going to be great!
This trip will start assuming you're in Seattle and will take you through one of the most beautiful drives around the North Cascade loop. The perfect fall weekend trip.
Starting early, head north on I-5 to hwy 530 and head east towards Darington. As you approach Darrington you'll see Whitehourse mountain on your right. Notable for it's dramatic peaks towering above you and the glaciers hanging out below, it really is an impressive sight.
Once you hit the 4 way stop, continue left (north) on 530 towards Rockport. This stretch of road is absolutely beautiful in the fall. Along with the fall color all around you, you'll also be driving alongside the Sauk River and it's beautiful milky blue water.
After enjoying that stretch you'll finally reach hwy 20 where you'll head east. This is where the drive really begins. If you'd like a sweet and delicious treat and if you're out early enough make sure to stop at the Glacier Peak Eatery, their cinnamon rolls are pretty good! After you've enjoyed your cinnamon roll continue through Marblemount. Make sure your gas tank is full as the Shell station in town is the last one for about 80 miles.
Once back on the road your first stop will be at the Gorge Powerhouse. This is a great spot to take a little walk across a suspension bridge over the beautiful river and walk on up to Ladder Creek falls. There are a couple trails that meander around here that you can explore or hop back into the car and continue east to the Gorge overlook trail. There are a few cool things to see here along with giving you a bathroom should you need one. There is a nice paved path that leads to a view overlooking the lake right from the parking lot. This little walk won't take longer then about 20 minutes and is great for all ages. The other option is to walk east from the parking lot and cross the bridge. From the middle of the bridge is an amazing views looking down at the canyon way below you as well as the massive Gorge creek falls.
Once back to your car you'll continue driving to the Diablo Dam. This is a dam that you can actually drive over and then park at the other end to then walk across. The view from the damn with the incredible blue water of diablo right in front of you and the surrounding peaks are incredible! It's even better though if you happen to catch it while it's letting water out. That's a sight to see!
After enjoying the damn, it's time to see the lake from a higher perspective. Head on up to the Diablo Lake Vista point for a huge view of the lake.
The views of Diablo lake here are just breathtaking! Mid day light honestly is the best as the lake color will be at its most vibrant. After you've taken in the lake views, hop back on 20 east and enjoy the nice long stretch ahead of you. You're now entering into the heart of the North Cascades and the mountain views will just get better and better along with the fall color.
Eventually you'll make your way to the Washington Pass Overlook site. Here there is a very easy and wheelchair accessible trail to an incredible overlook that shows you the massive canyon that highway 20 continues east on towards Winthrop, but if you look to your right you'll see the Liberty bell mountains towering high! Also if you catch the timing right all around to the left of the Bells you should see golden larches. They are some of the prettiest trees and the best part about fall in the eastern cascades.
Next you'll be on your way down the mountain towards Winthrop. Notice how the air gets dryer and the scenery changes from mountainous to more desert like the farther east you go with more pine trees popping up everywhere.
The town of Winthrop is easily one of my favorite places to visit in the state! It really does feel like you're stepping in an old western, I love it!
Photo from https://www.climatestotravel.com/climate/united-states/winthrop
If that doesn't give you old western feels then I don't know what will. If you are pulling into town around lunch then that's perfect. I would absolutely head over to The Old Schoolhouse Brewery. And definitely try to get a table on the back patio. It's down by the river, and is extremely peaceful. They have a great selection of local brew and cider, along with some great burgers and I especially lover their nachos.
I would plan on spending the night in Winthrop and there are a number a places to stay. There are lots of cabins in the area that you can find on sites like Airbnb and VRBO, as well as a few hotels to stay at. I usually chose to camp at Pine Near RV and Campground. They have a number of options from renting little cabins, TP's, or camping in your RV or tent.
What's great about this location is that it's quiet and very affordable but you're also only a quick 5 minute walk into town. They offer washing machines and showers as well. There is a lot to do in and around Winthrop. There are hiking and biking trails, and lots of great shopping in town. Make sure to try some ice cream from Sheri's Sweet shop along with having a huge selection of candy and other goodies. There are a number of great dinner places to choose from including the brewery, Mexican, a saloon and a pizza place as well as others. If you do want to shop be sure to do that early as most shops start closing around 5pm.
In the morning, if you're looking for some quick and delicious food, or maybe some hot coffee you definitely need to hit up the Rocking Horse Bakery. From their delicious coffee to their great grab and go breakfast options, you can't go wrong. And once you're ready to get back on the road again, you have a couple options. You can head back home over highway 20, or to continue on the scenic North Cascade tour, continue south on highway 97 towards Twisp. The drive south is really pretty, you'll be following alongside a river most of the way as it winds through the foothills. Eventually you'll make your way into Twisp, there are a couple cute shops here and a couple places to replenish your coffee or grab some snacks, and then continue south towards Lake Chelan.
There's so much to do in Chelan and hopefully you can make it here by around noon to enjoy the warmth of the day, possibly go for a swim if it's warm enough or maybe out for a paddle board outing. There are also a number of beautiful wineries if you'd like to go for a tasting. If you're ready for lunch and if pizza sounds good, consider checking out Local Myth Pizza.
Now that your nice and stuffed, hop back in your car and hit the road heading south. This drive really is pretty as you travel alongside the Columbia river on your way to Leavenworth. Leavenworth really is a beautiful town and just like Winthrop will transport you to a different place, maybe not a western but instead like you've landed in the Alps of Germany.
There is so much to do and see here. There are so many cute shops, and so many amazing sights to see with the Cascades stacked up right outside of town. I do have my couple of go to's when I come into town here. Since you'll probably be arriving in the later afternoon, and after walking around town taking in the sights and probably hauling a few store bags around, you'll probably be hungry lol. There are a number of great places that offer bratwurst and good beer. But my go to is usually Sulla Vita for their delicious Italian food or Icicle Brewing right next door for more standard but still really good options along with great beer.
After enjoying the town be sure to leave before dark as the drive heading west on highway 2 leaving the city is beautiful as the canyon your driving through is shared with a raging river and tons of fall color.
From Leavenworth back to Woodinville will take you about 2 hours depending on traffic and if you make any stops. There are certainly a number of great spots to stop along the road as you leave Leavenworth, and also up around Stevens pass depending on how much light you have left in the day.
I really do hope you've enjoyed this North Cascade itinerary, and I really hope you take the time to do it! The North Cascades really are a very beautiful and under appreciated national park, that I know you'll enjoy, especially if you get lucky with nice weather. Enjoy your trip!