Bike the North Cascades Highway

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Added by Stephen Matera

Enjoy one of the most stunningly scenic roads in the lower 48. If you get too hot, there are great waterfalls along the road for cooling off on the ride up. Still got energy? There's an option for another 8 miles and 1,500' of climbing to continue to Rainy Pass.

The North Cascades Highway is one of the most beautiful roads in the country. A popular, but long bike ride is to ride from Marblemount on the West side of the Cascades to Mazama on the east side. But for those who aren't up for an epic ride, there is an out and back option from Mazama on east side in the Methow Valley at 2,000' to Washington Pass at the crest of the North Cascades Highway at almost 5,500' in 19 miles each way.

Start your ride off right with coffee and breakfast at the Mazama Store right in the heart of Mazama (park at the corral a couple of hundred feet from the store). Take the 1/2 mile road from Mazama towards Washington State Highway 20, aka the North Cascades Highway. Turn right, and start pedaling. You'll get an easy 2 miles before the climbing begins. Then settle in for a constant, if not steep climb.

Definitely plan some time to stop and take some photos, because your jaw will drop when you get up a little higher. The views really get good once you get past the turnoff for Cutthroat Lake. Gawk at jagged Silver Star Peak at almost 9,000' (5,000' above the highway), and the classic Liberty Bell and Early Winters Spires at Washington Pass.

It's a long climb but once you get to Washington Pass, your work is done. Take a few minutes to check out the short side trip to the Washington Pass overlook. After that, it's literally, all downhill back to Mazama. The descent can get chilly after all that uphill so bring a windbreaker.

Still feeling strong at Washington Pass and want more? Continue another 4 miles west towards Rainy Pass. Drop 1,000' towards Bridge Creek then a short 400' climb to Rainy Pass at 4,800'. Turn around and climb back up to Washington Pass. The Rainy Pass option will add 8 miles and approximately 1,500' of climbing.

Bonus early season are numerous roadside waterfalls. The ride up from Mazama to Washington Pass is exposed to the strong summer sun. Bring lots of water to stay hydrated.

The North Cascades Highway is closed in Winter and usually opens up in early May and closes around Thanksgiving. Snow can linger late into summer at higher elevations. Winds can sometimes blow east to west or west to east, depending on the difference in the weather on sides of the Cascades. An early start will reduce winds as they often pick up as the day wears on.

Pack List

  • Lots of water or a water treatment system
  • Plenty of food to fuel your ride up
  • Full finger gloves
  • Jacket (often the weather is totally different from the Valley to the Pass)
  • Spare tubes
  • Pump (a flat can happen anytime)
  • Small camera or smartphone for photos
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Activities:

Cycling, Fitness

Skill Level:

Intermediate

Season:

Spring, Summer, Autumn

Trail Type:

Point-to-Point

Distance:

38 Miles

Elev. Gain:

3500 Feet

Features:

Easy Parking
Food Nearby
Forest
Scenic
Waterfall

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Added by Stephen Matera

Stephen is a Seattle-based outdoor adventure, lifestyle, and landscape photographer. He has worked with companies in the outdoor industry for over 15 years as well as some of the biggest national magazines in the adventure world. He travels and shoots for his clients in the western U.S., Alaska, and internationally, but is completely happy to shoot in his backyard mountains in the Pacific Northwest.

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