Gorge Dam overlook

State Route 20 involves many stops if you wish to take them and they are worth it. The Gorge Dam overlook has a large parking lot, a short trail around a wooded rock over the first of the blue green glacial waters below, but also don’t forget to look up because that view is worth it as well. Light streaming through trees is another wonderful thing about the views and vistas along this scenic highway. (Elisa Claassen for the Tribune)

Great for the out-of-shape hiker

State Route 20, also known as the North Cascades Highway. It’s the northernmost route across the Cascade Mountains. In October it is enveloped by yellow leaves at each and every turn. 

Monday was a day off. It was also a great time to beat the weekend crowds, look for fall color and enjoy visiting with a friend while driving along the incredibly scenic roadway following the Skagit River initially past farmlands, through forests, and eventually up into incredible mountain vistas.

Normally I might hanker, one of Dad’s favorite words, for a bit more of hiking. But this time, I wanted more scenery and short easy hikes.  

Friend Camille was willing to go, and off we went by 9 a.m. from Whatcom County. We spent plenty of time stopping here and there and still returned before 4 p.m.  

We made sure to layer our clothes with the changing weather and temperatures along the route, carry snacks and fill up the car with gas.

The highway is beautiful, but few options for food and gas. Another drawback is this is a summer roadway. Due to avalanche danger it will close shortly. Time is of the essence to use Washington’s mountain highways. 

Along our drive, in order of appearance: 

Sedro-Woolley

At an elevation of 56 feet, Sedro-Woolley is barely above sea level. The most populous point along this section of Highway 20, the population was 10,540 in 2010. The North Cascades National Park Ranger District station, a Sedro-Woolley Museum, and the Northern State Recreation Area are stopping points. 

Concrete

Lynden High School grad Jason Miller is the Concrete Herald’s editor and publisher. The town is hard to miss, with a tall concrete structure with “Welcome to Concrete” on it.

Since Wikipedia mentioned a special bridge, we drove from the highway to find it. Apparently, it was the longest single-span reinforced concrete bridge at one time. In 1972, the highway was rerouted and widened. Now the bridge is used within town. Likewise, we went in search of the high school built in 1952. It’s built over the road that approaches it, South Superior Street. Beyond the school is a small airport. 

Rockport

The Rockport State Park is a 632-acre day-use park with incredible forest to walk though at the foot of Sauk Mountain. Camille knew of it and made sure we stopped.

Part of the appeal is no permit required for a 15-minute stop to use the restroom. Another part is the ease and immediacy of walking into old-growth forest and fall leaves. The trail has been updated to accommodate ADA wheelchairs for one of the five miles.

The adjoining campground has been closed due to tree-fall hazards, according to the park’s website which also has an online printable brochure and maps, parks.state.wa.us/574/Rockport

Newhalem and Marblemount

Built by James J.D. Ross, the superintendent of this project, to be a company town. He and wife Alice are actually buried here in a family crypt seen from the corner of the eye driving by with the metal gates protecting it.  The town has a general store, Gorge Inn, and primarily homes.

In the past visitors would flock from the cities along the highway with a final ride on a train to stay the night in the 19202, get a free chicken dinner, and enjoy the scenery. A simple sign now points to a foot bridge mentioning a garden.

While there are flowers, part of the garden is an electric forest, one of Ross’ creations. The feature returned after a hiatus in 2011 with a new system of LED bulbs. It follows the Ladder Creek Falls for 0.4 mile with colorful lights along a series of steep stairs.

Several other trails are the Sterling Munro Viewpoint, next to the North Cascades Visitor Center, over an easy 330 feet boardwalk above the forest floor through trees to look at now snow-covered mountains. Trail of the Cedars Nature Walk. Walk past the General Store and look for the modern suspension bridge spanning the river. The 0.3 mile trail follows the river, has regular learning spots, and a juxtaposition of fresh green trees and those heavily burnt in the Goodell fire caused by lightning Aug. 10, 2015. 

Diablo

The overlook at milepost 131.7 at is a popular site for social media posts. The vivid blue green water at 1,201 feet is mesmerizing and not commonly seen. It’s fed by glaciers. It is ringed by mountains more commonly found in the Alps. Visit nps.gov/places/diablo-lake-overlook.htm for more.

Diablo Lake is actually a reservoir at 1,201 feet elevation. It’s part of the Skagit River Hydroelectric Project and managed by Seattle City Light.

As a child, our family made the boat tour and looked at the different facilities. Two years ago, a group of us friends signed up online for the boat tour now managed through the North Cascades Institute which also happened to showcase the dams and their purpose as well as flora and fauna. 

Note: Always check before going as the highway has been known to have rockslides, fires in the vicinity, and is greatly impacted by snow at its portion in the mountains at the higher altitudes. Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) keeps updates for emergencies and seasonal closures: wsdot.wa.gov/travel/highways-bridges/passes/north-cascades-highway/home.