Washington Pass

By Robert Kuntz

The Site

The highest point along the North Cascade Highway (Washington State Route 20) is 5,477 feet at Washington Pass. At the crest of the Cascades Range, Washington Pass encompasses an area of jagged, snow-capped, glacier-laden peaks. The pass is an excellent, accessible example of Pacific Northwest subalpine/alpine forest and meadow habitats. The view-shed encompasses North Cascades National Park and Okanogan National Forest, including just over two million acres of designated wilderness. Take the short loop trail for breathtaking views of Liberty Bell Mountain and Early Winters Spires. Forests at the pass are dominated by subalpine fir, Engelmann spruce, mountain hemlock, and western larch, which in fall is ablaze in gold and yellow.

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The Birds

As you turn left into the entrance road, you'll see a meadow north of the highway that is a good place to look for Spotted Sandpiper, Mountain Bluebird, American Pipit, and other alpine meadow nesters. Along the entrance road and at the parking area, look for Gray Jay, Townsend's Solitaire, Hermit Thrush, and Mountain Chickadee. American Three-toed Woodpeckers have been observed nesting in tree cavities along the entrance road and in the forest to the northwest of the parking area. Along the loop trail and at the overlook, check the trees for Clark's Nutcracker, Red Crossbill, and Pine Grosbeak.

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Directions and Suggestions

From I-5 northbound, take Exit #232 (Cook Road) and drive 4+ miles east into the town of Sedro-Woolley. At the first light, turn left onto State Route 20. Drive east one mile, where you can stop for maps at the National Park Service/National Forest visitor center and office. They also have other visitor information and the latest on road conditions. Continue east on State Route 20 for another 96 miles to Washington Pass, 0.3 mile past milepost 162. Turn left into an entrance road, and go less than a quarter-mile to the rest area. The gate to the rest area usually opens around June 1 and remains open through September 30. If the gate is closed, park on the side of the rest-area road and walk in. State Route 20 closes in winter at milepost 134. It is typically closed November through mid-April.

For more information, call the National Park Service/Forest Service office in Sedro-Woolley at 360-856-5700.

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References

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