Make the most of the vast natural spaces, fascinating history and thrilling adventures right on Seattle's doorstep by driving the Cascade Loop...
Starting in Seattle, its around an hour-and-a-half’s drive to Skagit Valley. The rolling fields and grassy riverbanks of Skagit Valley aren’t just majestic, they’re also a birder’s paradise. At the Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, you can walk through the lowland coastal marshes while keeping your binoculars ready to observe flocks of Canada geese or even a bald eagle. Grab dinner in downtown Mount Vernon and then take a leisurely stroll by the Skagit River to end the day.
If you’re in the area in April, Skagit Valley Tulip Festival cannot be missed. This colourful month-long celebration turns the otherwise quaint valley into a hive of activity as upwards of a million anthophiles from around the country arrive to marvel at the region’s tulip fields.
Drive roughly 80km east of Skagit Valley and you’ll find yourself in the North Cascades National Park. The towering landscape here is about as close as you’ll come to stepping into a postcard and it makes for one of the best scenic drives in the country. Plan a hike along the 11km Thunder Creek Trail or just sit next to the shores of Diablo Lake, whose pristine waters are surrounded by a panorama of mountains and evergreens.
As you explore the region, make sure you stop in Winthrop. This small town started life as a mining settlement in the 19th century and the main drag has been preserved to give the town a genuine old west feel. There is accommodation in Winthrop, or you can head 20 minutes west to Sun Mountain Lodge. This mountaintop hotel has sweeping views of the Methow Valley that can be enjoyed from just about anywhere on the property.
As you continue the Cascade Loop, stop at Blueberry Hills Farm for a decadent breakfast. Here you can indulge in blintzes or Danish yeast waffles smothered in gooey blueberry pie filling. As the name suggests, the blueberries are sourced from the restaurant’s own fields (they have raspberries and blackberries, too). You can even pick your own to snack on as you continue south.
The town of Chelan sits right at the base of Lake Chelan, a long, narrow body of water that is a favorite of jet skiers and sunbathers alike. Either rent some equipment and take to the water or spend the afternoon browsing the town’s boutiques and wine tasting rooms. There are around 30 wineries in the region, and you can visit some of the lakeside vineyards, as well.
Stay the night at Campbell’s Resort. This sprawling hotel is a historic establishment and boasts nearly 550 metres of private beach access and heated pools with views of the lake.
Complete the loop in Leavenworth, an hour’s drive southwest of Chelan. In the 1960s, the town underwent a major renovation that turned it into the spitting image of a Bavarian alpine village complete with half-timbered buildings with high gabled roofs.
Stop for lunch at Rudloof's Pizza Und Brats or Yodelin Broth Company and Beer Garden, which combines a modern beer hall vibe with a menu full of inventive soups and rice bowls. There are plenty of places downtown to dip into for an ice cream or beer, as well as the unmissable Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum. The museum contains thousands of nut cracking devices from all over the world and you can even visit the gift shop to take home one of your own.
Stay on theme by booking a tour at the Leavenworth Reindeer Farm. In addition to learning some firsthand information, you’ll also get the chance to feed and pet the majestic animals. From here, it's around a two hour drive west back to Seattle.
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