We are at Pine Near RV Park and Campground in Winthrop, Washington. Located on the east side of the North Cascades Mountains in the Methow Valley, it is a place where many people, like us, start their journey into the North Cascades National Park. Our plan is to spend a few days enjoying all this cute town has to offer and to explore the eastern parts of the Cascades Mountains before driving to the North Cascades National Park.
Our campsite is just one block from Riverside Avenue, the main district that attracts tourist to town. Located on the bank of the Methow River, Winthrop has an old west mountain town flair where the buildings have weathered wooden facades and covered boardwalks. Shortly after arriving we took a stroll to check it out. The clomp, clomp, clomp of our shoes across the wooden boardwalk echoed as we walked pass the many boutiques, restaurants, and hotels. It had a cool vibe and we enjoyed seeing all the history. We ate dinner at the Old Schoolhouse Brewery where the food was better than expected.
The next morning we took a drive. First — we went to see Falls Creek Waterfalls just 25-minutes outside of Winthrop. An easy one-quarter mile hike led to a picturesque falls. We carefully crossed a log bridge and climbed over rocks at the base of the falls to get the best view and perfect picture. A cool mist covered us as we sat and admired the scene.
Next, we drove to the small community of Mazama. More specifically, we drove to the famous Mazama Store in Mazama. I just love saying Mazama. Say it — slowly — Ma-za-ma. It just rolls off the lips. Anyway, we went there to sample some of their highly touted baked goods. The aroma of fresh baked bread filled the air.
From Mazama, we drove along the North Cascades Scenic Byway, a part of Highway 20. Climbing the east face of the Cascades Mountains, spectacular views of the jagged snow covered mountains appeared. We stopped a few times at roadside pullouts to admire the beauty. It was breathtaking.
A sign marks a turn off to Washington Pass Overlook. A 400 feet paved trail from the parking lot leads to a stunning view of Liberty Bell Mountain and the valley below. After getting the picture, we drove west a few more miles before turning back toward Winthrop. We will be passing through here again in a couple of days.
The next day was filled with exploring the nearby attractions. On the hillside in Winthrop, located within walking distance from our campsite, is the Shafer Museum. Western artifacts and memorabilia are displayed within historic buildings and the original home of Guy Waring, the founder of Winthrop. We went to take a look. It is a self-guided tour through the various displays. A box with a sign asking for a $5.00 donation is located at the entrance. Walking through the outdoor displays of antique farm and logging machinery was very interesting. The buildings were adorned with many different pieces from the time period. I think we spent a little more than an hour there.
We walked through Heckendon Park, a small city park in Winthrop, and saw where the children play in the river. We walked across the Spring Creek Bridge on the Susie Stephens Trail. We visited a nearby fish hatchery where they raise trout and salmon and we went to see the state park at Pearrygin Lake. Then we went to the town of Twisp for lunch before taking a drive along a winding country road just to see where it went.
After another quiet night (I am amazed how peaceful this campground was considering its proximity to town) I rolled up the water hoses and electric cord. With the camper in tow, we took off toward Glacier Peak Resort & Winery in Rockport along the North Cascades Scenic Byway. It is not a very long drive, so we had some time for stopping along the way if we wanted to. And we did. We turned a one and a half hour drive into a five hour drive.
The first stop was a familiar place, the Mazama Store. We just couldn’t pass the aroma of fresh baked bread. We bought a couple of croissants for sandwiches and a loaf of bread that we’ll eat later. We knew just where we wanted to stop for lunch — a roadside vista near Washington Pass. We often carry our lunch to places surrounded by nature’s amazing beauty, sometimes hiking long distances. Having our house connected to the bumper while at one of these scenic places was awesome. It was convenient.
We continued along Highway 20 stopping at Diablo Lake Overlook where we found RV parking. Wow! The turquoise blue water with the mountains in the background was stunning. We read a sign describing how the water gets that color. Glaciers grind the rocks making a fine dust called glacial flour. The flour dissolves and suspends in the water creating the turquoise color. It was the perfect background for a photo but the stiff wind kept blowing Grammi’s hair around.
We were lucky once more to find a spot to park the camper at Gorge Creek Falls. You can see the falls when driving across the bridge, but we wanted to get out and take a better look. Cascading 242 feet, it was a sight we didn’t want to miss.
We pulled into the North Cascades National Park Visitor Center and again found RV parking. We made our typical souvenir purchases at the gift shop and then spoke with a park ranger. The ranger was very informative giving us tips, insights and recommendations for our visit. He directed us to a trail behind the visitor center that led to a panoramic view of the Picket Range in the North Cascades Mountains where one of the 300 glaciers in the national park can be seen. The North Cascades are often referred to as America’s Alps. Grammi and I have been to the Alps, although there is some similarity, I don’t think anything can compare with the Swiss Alps.
We finally made it to the campground. We had a nice site under the shade trees where we sat and relaxed for the remainder of the day. Bunny rabbits hopped through the grass catching our eye. Some were a golden brown while others were charcoal black. They looked like domestic rabbits. I don’t know the story — I can’t say if they are native or not— but they were fun to watch.
Over the next couple of days we followed the ranger’s recommendations for things to do. We went to the town of Newhalem on the bank of the Skagit River. For a gateway town to a national park it wasn’t very impressive. I get that North Cascades in not a highly visited national park. Outside of the locomotive on display in the center of town, there just wasn’t much to see.
We did go on a couple of hikes starting from Newhalem. We hiked through giant trees on the Trail of the Cedars.
Then we hiked to Ladder Creek Falls located behind the powerhouse. At night, the waterfalls are illuminated. We hiked it during the day, but we heard it is very pretty at night.
We hiked the Thunder Knob Trail. It was a 4.5 mile hike with over 700 feet of elevation gain. The view was worth the effort. We spread our lunch on a rock and sat for a long while in the pine scented air while admiring the view of Diablo Lake and commenting on how lucky we are to have such a view.
We drove over the Diablo Dam and found a beach. Families were there with chairs and blankets, umbrellas, float tubes and picnic baskets. We wondered how they could stand to get in the frigid water. After all, it’s runoff from melting snow and ice. Feeling brave, we took off our shoes and waded in. Just like we thought it was cold, but it was refreshing.
Afterward, we sampled wines at the winery at our campground. There wasn’t a bottle we felt compelled to buy, but we each ordered a glass of wine and sat outside with some other RVers. We shared our stories of places we’ve been and heard stories of places to see. It is alway a delight to talk with fellow RV travelers and learn what they’ve done.
We loved our time in North Cascades National Park. It was different from other national parks we have been to but its beauty cannot be denied — at least the parts we could see. Maybe I am a stickler for detail, but the question arises whether or not we were ever in the national park. North Cascades National Park is designated a wilderness area by the government which means, by law, there is very little development inside the vast park boundaries. There are few roads or structures. This area has some of the most remote and isolated areas in the world.
To actually step inside the national park boundaries requires a strenuous hike or backpacking trip. The North Cascades Scenic Byway that we traveled on with all the hiking trails, overlooks, campgrounds, national park sign, and even the North Cascades Visitor Center is in an area designated as a National Recreation Area. It bisects the national park. Maybe it was a way to sidestep the law to build a highway providing citizens with some access to this wonderful area. I don’t know.
Though we may not have stepped inside the national park boundaries, we saw the North Cascades Mountains all around us. We traveled the scenic highway. We saw glaciers from the vistas. We hiked the trails recommended by the park ranger. We went to the visitor center and stamped our passport book. We took a commemorative photo in front of the national park sign, and we bought our souvenir refrigerator magnet (that alone should seal the deal). For Grammi and I, like most people I think, will check this park as completed and move on.
Until next time — happy days and safe travels.