Spring is strange in the Cascades—skiing powder in May?—but one thing stuck to plan this year. The Washington State Department of Transportation announced via Instagram on Monday that State Route 20, our northernmost across-the-state route, will reopen Tuesday.
Though the road starts literally in Puget Sound, on Whidbey Island, SR 20 becomes known as the North Cascades Highway when it hits higher elevations on its way east. Every winter it closes between Ross Lake and Mazama in the Methow Valley due to extreme amounts of snow and avalanche danger. This year, besides clearing as much as 14 feet of snow from the high passes, WSDOT had to contend with a washout near the western closure and the town of Newhalem.
For years, opening day of the highway was marked by Tootsie Clark, a local resident who brought homemade cinnamon buns to the WSDOT crew and eager drivers in the back of her black Cadillac. She always had the honor of swinging open the gate at the western closure point until she passed away in 2017 at the age of 95.
The spring reopening of SR 20 means two things to Seattleites. First, the Methow Valley and its plethora of gorgeous mountain cabins on the eastern side of the Cascades gets a lot closer; during the winter, the valley is accessible only from the southeast, so city dwellers must curve around the far side of Lake Chelan.
Second, skiers and snowshoers will travel to the previously off-limits terrain to visit still-icy peaks. When the road is closed, only snowmobiles and helicopters (and some hardy cyclists) can reach the state's mountain giants. All that scenic snow does mean steep snowbanks and avalanche danger, and WSDOT cautions drivers to stop only in established pullouts, not the unplowed shoulders.
And pulling over is a certainty—this is one of the most beautiful road trips in the state.