Highway 20 - North Cascades Highway


Long sweeperHighway 20, the North Cascades Highway, is the most well-known, great motorcycle road in the state. From cruisers to sportbikes, hundreds of motorcyclists can be found on the pass on any warm weekend. In addition to motorcyclists, RVs and cars are plentiful on weekends so leaving early is a good idea. Weekends also bring more law enforcement so if you're looking for a quick ride, weekdays or early trips are best.

The North Cascades portion of highway 20 runs from Sedro-Woolley to Winthrop, with the fun stuff beginning just past Marblemount as you head East. Keep your speed in check until you get to Newhalem; speed traps are frequent and if you are caught speeding through a town you will get a ticket.

Beautiful pavement for most of the road After passing through Newhalem the road tightens immediately as it turns and heads uphill. A quick set of 25 to 30 mph curves are there to greet you as the ride starts. Stay alert for the first portion of the road, both traffic and LEOs are more prevalent close to Newhalem and traffic often pulls out of viewpoints quickly without looking for fast-moving motorcycles.

The road continues on with mostly tight corners as you move past Gorge Lake heading towards Diablo. Don't be distracted by the amazing views as you head downhill towards the Diablo Road turnoff, the corners at the bottom can be tricky and the bridge at the bottom is on a corner. After the bridge the road heads back uphill for some more tight twisties. Coming up your left is the Diablo Lake overlook which has great views of the mountains and the lake below.

Honda CBR600rr tearing up the twisties Moving past Diablo Lake overlook the road opens up a little. Tight corners giving way to 35 to 45 mph sweepers. The next 15 or miles are fantastic, the smooth sweepers are back to back. The roads are generally clear and there are few bumps but occasionally rocks will fall from the adjacent cliffs and end up on the road so be prepare to alter your lines. Even on weekdays you will encounter slow moving traffic this far up but don't rush to make bad passes, there will be plenty of places with ample passing room.

After you go by Washington Pass the sweepers become interspersed with some straighter portions but the views only get more incredible. The top of the pass here is often chilly even if it was 75 degrees back in Newhalem and in the fall months or early hours it is often foggy. As you head back downhill there is an awesome 220 degree corner, but it can be tricky with a tightening radius towards the end.

Most corners have pretty good visibility The Scenic views and fast sweepers continue and as you leave the North Cascades National Park, the temperature climbs. You begin to leave the rocky landscape behind and enter young-growth forest. You have about 10 more miles of sweepers to enjoy before reaching Mazama. Once reaching Mazama take it easy; the Methow Valley is filled with deer and you'll probably see some left over carnage from earlier accidents. Law Enforcement knows about the problem and they do what they can to keep speeds in check through the tempting wide-open straights heading into Winthrop.

You're coming into the old-fashioned town on Winthrop. A perfect spot for lunch but if it's too crowded, continue on 20 to Twisp which also has some decent and less-crowded restaurants. From Winthrop you can either head back the same way (what I suggest) or do the whole Cascade Loop by heading South on 97 to meet up with highway 2. Coming back towards Seattle on highway 2 over Steven's Pass offers great views but you are likely to get the most traffic through the route. If you end up short on time, I-90 is just a little futher South and is the fastest way back to Seattle.

Check out the great video below of Highway 20 by Barry and Galactic Frog Productions. You can visit his homepage here or his YouTube channel here. You can also download a higher quality version of this movie by clicking here.

Copyright 2004 - 2007 Eric's Roads. All rights reserved.