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Take A Road Trip Through The American Alps

This post was updated on March 15th, 2024

The North Cascades are also known as the American Alps because of their striking resemblance to the rugged mountains in Europe.  This part of the Cascade Range is protected in Washington’s North Cascades National Park, which is relatively quiet and lesser-known considering it’s less than a three-hour drive from Seattle.

North Cascades Highway
The North Cascades Highway. Photo by author (Nikki Cleveland)

The North Cascades Highway (SR-20) opens every summer for scenic drives through the national park.  It leads through a couple of mountain tunnels, past roadside waterfalls, and by three gorgeous reservoirs: Gorge Lake, Diablo Lake, and Ross Lake.  Lots of hiking trails are easy to access off the highway as well as campgrounds that can accommodate tents, trailers, and RVs.

The route twists and turns through rocky gorges and treats you to amazing views of the glacier-capped mountains and forested foothills.  It passes through the small town of Newhalem, a company town owned by Seattle City Light that produces hydroelectric power from the area’s dams into electricity for the city.  Shortly after, the highway leads past Diablo Lake, which is best known for its bright turquoise color.

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North Cascades
The vibrant Diablo Lake. Photo by author (Nikki Cleveland)

Anglers love fishing on the lake for rainbow trout and it’s a peaceful place to take out your kayak or canoe.  There are several trails you can hike for views of the vibrant water, like Thunder Knob Trail, Diablo Lake Trail, or the hike up Sourdough Mountain.  There’s also a large parking area just off the highway at Diablo Lake Overlook where you can get panoramic views of the lake and the surrounding peaks.

North Cascades Highway
Panoramic view from Diablo Lake Overlook. Photo by author (Nikki Cleveland)

Like most national parks, the North Cascades have many camping options for tents and trailers and even a couple of options for larger rigs.  Tents and small RVs can stay at the NPS-run Colonial Creek Campground, Goodell Creek Campground, and Gorge Lake Campground.  You can also find dry campsites at Klipchuck Campground in the forest just outside of the park.

If you have a larger RV, head for Newhalem Creek Campground or privately owned RV parks and resorts nearby like Glacier Peak Resort & Winery and Alpine RV Park.  There are also several other options near Winthrop, an old wild west themed town.

north cascades highway
Camping by a mountain lake. Photo by author (Nikki Cleveland)

Washington Pass Overlook, near the eastern park entrance, is another great place to stop off the highway and admire the view.  From the parking area, it’s a short quarter-mile walk to a lookout where you can get expansive views of Liberty Bell Mountain and other peaks, the forest, and the highway you were just driving on below.

North Cascades
Washington Pass Overlook. Photo via Jsayre64/Wikipedia
Jsayre64, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Many people like to turn this scenic byway into a full Cascade Loop by driving south towards Lake Chelan and then back west towards Leavenworth and Stevens Pass.  Find more details on and plan your route on RV LIFE Trip Wizard.

You may also like: See Mountains, Waterfalls And More At Mount Rainier National Park