FROM ALPINE MEADOWS to Wild West towns, the North Cascades Highway covers a wealth of inland scenery. Highway 20 slaloms around mossy forests and lakes turquoise with glacial melt, then crests mountains that are bookended by granite massifs before stretching across Washington’s high desert.
Start your engine in Concrete, the logging town from This Boy’s Life, Tobias Wolff’s memoir (later a film starring Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio). From November to February, hundreds of eagles feast on spawning salmon in the Skagit River between here and Rockport. About 30 miles upriver, three dams churn power for Seattle City Light near Newhalem. The 1918 company town stands near the half-mile Trail of the Cedars, one of North Cascades National Park’s most extraordinary groves.
A little farther along, tackle 5,100-foot Sourdough Mountain, once home to a lookout manned by beat poet Gary Snyder. In summer, the scenery is breathtaking on the highway toward Washington Pass, where the road curves under the pinnacle of Liberty Bell Mountain.
At the top of the recreation-rich Methow Valley, sagebrush and ponderosa pines set the stage for Winthrop. Like the neighboring Twisp, the town was settled by gold rushers in the late 1800s.
Finish your journey in the apple basket of Okanogan, a farming, logging, and cattle town that’s also an ideal springboard into the dry, spectacular highlands of northeast Washington. —AMANDA CASTLEMAN
> EAT BUFFALO RUN RESTAURANT This Marblemount eatery’s aesthetic is a celebration of buffalo kitsch. While there, try the Cascade Mountain Oysters: tempura-battered buffalo testes with tartar sauce.www.buffaloruninn.com
> SEE SAUK MOUNTAIN TRAIL This wildflower-rich hike, located eight miles north of Highway 20 between Concrete and Rockport, is beloved for its meadows, views, and relatively easy access. In summer, expect brilliant displays of a variety of blooms. www.fs.fed.us/r6/mbs
> PLAY METHOW VALLEY This cross-country skiers’ paradise features more than 100 miles of trails linking towns like Winthrop and Mazama. Highlights include hut-to-hut skiing for multiday adventurers. In summer, the trails lure hikers and mountain bikers. www.mvsta.com