North Cascades Scenic Byway

North Cascades National Park, Washington.

On our way to the North Cascades, we picked up the scenic byway at Twisp. This 140-mile (225 km) byway leads to the mountain range often considered to be the North American Alps. The opening photo features a view of the byway as it winds up the side of a mountain on our journey. There are pull-offs aplenty and lots of opportunity for photography. This post and gallery are but a small sampling of the images I gathered on the way to and through the park.

Probably the highlight of our journey is the pull-off at Diablo Lake. It is probably the most beautiful pull-off in the 8,000-mile (12,800 km) journey that began in mid-September and concluded in mid-October. That’s saying a lot about a single viewpoint.

The lake is man-made, created on the Skagit River, some 1200 feet (366 m) above sea level. It lies between two other lakes on the river, Ross and Gorge. That intense green color is the result of glacial action grinding rocks into a fine powder that flows into the lake from the tributary creeks. The powder stays suspended in the water and sunlight is visibly reflected in the green portion of the color spectrum.

Diablo Dam isn’t visible from the viewpoint, it’s just around that bend in the lake at the western end (this view looks almost directly west). Diablo Dam, upon its completion in 1930, was the tallest dam in the world. It is one-third of a Washington State hydroelectric project on the Skagit River. Further downriver, Gorge Dam was the first in the project, completed in 1917, and its power helps power the city of Seattle.

From the Diablo Lake viewpoint, if you look up the river to the northwest, you will see another dam holding back the Skagit River. That’s Ross Dam creating Ross Lake. From here, it doesn’t look very big, but Ross Dam is 540 feet (160 m) high and1300 feet (400 m) long. From here you can see but a small section of the arch dam. Ross Lake is a long ribbon of a lake that extends north and crosses into Canada. Ross Dam completes the trio of dams that furnish power to Seattle and its suburbs.

Between Twisp and the Northern Cascades, the byway travels through the Methow Valley named for the river that flows into the Columbia River. The Methow gathers runoff from the eastern slopes of the North Cascades. About 5,000 people live in small communities, farms, and ranches in the valley.

The scenic byway follows the Methow River along Highway 20 northwest through the town of Winthrop, (population around 450). Winthrop is a cowboy town, the first settlers showed up in the early 1880s. In the 1970s, with State Highway 20 slated to be completed, the local business owners worked to create a western theme town.

The town is really one main street where businesses go about their daily tasks just like in any other community. The charm is in the old west theme of the town. Not that there aren’t “old west” attractions to visit, old fashioned ice cream to eat, maybe even an overnight stay at the River’s Edge Resort. I must say after reading more about the town for this post, I wish we would have stopped for a bit to maybe sample some of that ice cream or enjoy lunch at a local restaurant.

Instead, we continued our trek along highway 20 toward the unincorporated community of Mazama, then left the Methow Valley as the highway turned westward toward Ross Dam and the Skagit River. I leave you with a gallery of images submitted for your review. As usual, I remind you that in most browsers you can select an image to enlarge it and to scroll through the gallery.



  1. Thank you for this wonderful post of the North Cascades Scenic Byway. I enjoyed reading it and viewing the beautiful scenes captured in your photos, and I wish I could go there some day.

  2. It is Diablo Lake that you were comparing with Peyto Lake in Banff Park. Same lack of reflection, as if there was a hole in the picture.

  3. We definitely drove this highway, just a few years ago! I remember it very well – Diablo and Ross Lakes in particular. We had spent the previous night at the River’s Edge Resort in Winthrop, with a view of the river from our room and deer coming down to drink first thing in the morning. We also enjoyed one of those old-fashioned ice creams you mention 🙂

      • We also visited an interesting quirky museum there, with an assortment of old farm buildings gathered from around the state and a rather jumbled mix of old tools, equipment, trucks etc.

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