Known as Washington's ultimate road trip, the Cascade Loop covers the north and central areas of the state on a picturesque journey through the ever-changing landscapes. With so much beauty to see on this route, you might be wondering how long it takes to drive the Cascade Loop.
The Cascade Loop is a 440-mile journey through the varied scenery of Washington State, taking around 9 hours and 30 minutes to drive. Passing through many delightful towns, mountains, lakes, and forests it is one of the most scenic drives in the US.
To help you plan your trip around the Cascade Loop, continue reading to discover much more about the route, how long it will take, and tips to make your road trip even better.
How long does it take to drive the Cascade Loop?
The Cascade Loop can be completed in 9 hours and 30 minutes if you choose to tackle this fantastic route without taking any stops.
It is possible to complete the Loop over a long weekend, but our recommendation is to spend a week or so to relax and enjoy the journey and experience as much as possible along the way.
The 440-mile route is extremely popular, with over 2.5 million people driving the beautiful scenic byway yearly. The summer months are the busiest on the Cascade Loop and the increased traffic will add to the journey time.
Leavenworth and North Cascade National Park can become crowded between June and August, and starting early in the morning is always advisable, whatever time of year you plan to visit.
With so much to see and do along the route, a trip around the Cascade Loop should be an enjoyable and leisurely drive, and breaking the journey up with overnight stops is an excellent way to discover as much as you can and visit the many attractions that you'll pass along the way.
Winthrop is a quirky little town in Okanogan County in the Methow Valley and is located close to the halfway point of the Loop and an ideal place to spend a night.
It is close to the North Cascades National Park and is a popular tourist destination, with many outdoor activities to enjoy, attracting hikers in the summer and snow lovers in the winter months.
If you wish to learn more about how to turn your drive on the Cascade Loop to an epic road trip, check out our ultimate itinerary!
Driving the Cascade Loop
It is possible to drive the Loop in either direction and depending on where you are traveling from, you can begin your adventure anywhere along the route but our main route starts in Everett.
The route begins by taking WA-529 N to Mukilteo and then taking a ferry over Possession Sound to Whidbey Island, where you can enjoy its many beaches and even take a dip in the swimming lagoon.
As you head north through the Island, you'll witness the vast beauty of Puget Sound and Skagit Bay before arriving at Deception Pass State Park, and the views down Deception Pass.
The route then continues north to Fidalgo Island before passing Padilla Bay and heading inland on the I-20 towards Burlington, and Sedro-Woolley on the western edge of the impressive Cascade Mountain Range.
You'll pass the majestic Liberty Bell as the route heads along North Cascades Scenic Highway, bordered by jagged peaks and magical glaciers, towards Diablo Lake Vista Point. The area is extremely popular with outdoor enthusiasts and it's a delightful place to camp for the night.
Still on the Scenic Highway, the route heads south passing many stunning peaks and trailheads, and a stop off at Washington Pass Observation Site gives an awe-inspiring vista of the mountain landscape.
Continue north, passing Tower Mountain and the Needles before reaching The Freestone Inn, almost the halfway point of the route and a good place to experience a night in a mountain cabin.
The route heads south towards Winthrop and Methow before following the Columbia River on US-97 S to Chelan. Situated in a valley carved out by glaciers, Lake Chelan is one of the most beautiful lakes in the US, with rolling orchards and vineyards bordering its shores.
Leaving Chelan, continue south to West Wenatchee and the Wenatchee Valley, known as the apple capital of the world, before heading north to Leavenworth.
Referred to as Bavarian Leavenworth, this idyllic location is more akin to a village nestled in the mountains peaks of Germany, is home to beer and bratwurst gardens, and has a booming cider and wine scene.
Leaving Leavenworth, the route heads north on US Hwy 2 for the last 100 miles, passing Mt Howard and heading along Stevens Pass towards Snohomish before arriving back in Everett.
Driving the Cascade Loop from Seattle
You can choose to drive the Cascade Loop from Seattle, as the city itself is located only a short distance to the south, around 30 miles from Everett. Whilst this adds a little extra time to the start and end of a journey around the Loop, the I-5 N links the two and it should only add around 35 minutes to the start of the trip.
Traffic in Seattle itself can be busy, especially around rush hour, so try and avoid starting your adventure between 6am - 9am in the morning, and 4pm - 6pm in the afternoon. If you are unlucky enough to hit rush hour traffic, then it is likely to add a further hour to your travel time.
The route around the Cascade Loop will be very similar to our main route above until you reach Leavenworth. From here, take US-97 south to Thorp before joining the I-90 W.
The route will take you past Kachess Lake before running along the shores of Keechelus Lake on the approach to the Snoqualmie Pass. There are a number of scenic viewpoints along the pass, and you can also stop off at the Snoqualmie Summit Ski Area Viewpoint, the closest ski area to Seattle.
The route then heads north to Snoqualmie Falls, the second most visited landmark in Washington State, made famous in the 1990s by the popular TV series Twin Peaks.
You can explore the hiking trails to the various viewpoints of the Falls before rejoining the I-90 and heading back to Seattle. Traveling from Leavenworth to Seattle is 55 miles further than taking the main route back to Everett and adds around an hour to the journey time.
Where is the Cascade Loop located?
The Cascade Loop is situated in the U.S. state of Washington, close to Seattle in the northeast of the country. It is easily accessible on major highways and our table below is a handy guide on how long it will take to travel to the Loop.
|Tacoma, WA||Everett, WA||60 miles||1 hour 15 minutes|
|Spokane, WA||Chelan, WA||150 miles miles||2 hours 45 minutes|
|Portland, OR||Everett, WA||200 miles||3 hours 35 minutes|
|Boise, ID||West Wenatchee, WA||420 miles||6 hours 50 minutes|
|Sacramento, CA||Everett, WA||780 miles||12 hours 30 minutes|
Things to know that can impact your driving time
It is no surprise that the Cascade Loop is such a popular road trip, as it passes through a stunning and ever-changing landscape with so many opportunities and activities to enjoy along the way. There are, however, a few things to bear in mind that can affect a journey around the Loop.
Road closures can affect the route, especially in mountainous areas, so always check before setting off for delays and road closures that could affect the drive.
When you drive the Loop will have an impact on driving time. Summer is the busiest time of year and traffic will be much busier. During the winter, some roads may be closed due to snow and ice.
Making the trip in spring or fall, when the weather is warm and visitor numbers are lower may be the ideal time to visit.
Speed limits around the Loop do vary, so always keep an eye on the signs and drive carefully through the mountain sections. On the state highways, the limit will be 50-60 MPH, but this will drop to 35-45 MPH in the mountains and again when passing through towns, where the limit will be 25-35 MPH.
The route does involve a ferry crossing so this will also impact your driving time, as you'll need to arrive plenty of time ahead of departure, with time for boarding and check-in and disembarking on arrival. Adverse weather conditions could also cause delays with the ferry crossings
North Cascade Highway is usually closed during the winter months, between mid-November and early May, as the mountain passes on the northern Loop are affected by snow, and icy conditions. It is also possible in the heat of summer for wildfires to break out and lead to road closures in the area.
Tips to drive the Cascade Loop in the shortest possible time
A drive along the Cascade Loop takes you through some of the most spectacular and scenic roads in the country and it is a route to be enjoyed and not rushed. However, you can always plan ahead to make the route even more enjoyable.
With this in mind, here are our top tips for driving the route in the most comfortable way:
- If you have two drivers available, you can alternate the driving and stay fresh and relaxed.
- Choose an economical car to minimize refueling stops and to take in the scenery without having to worry about petrol stations.
- Drive the Loop on weekdays, when there's likely less traffic.
- The route is home to a variety of wildlife, so drive safely and be on the lookout for animals straying onto the highway.
- Weather conditions can change quickly in the Cascade Mountains so be sure to pack accordingly.
- Stock up on snacks and in-car entertainment, to reduce the need for stops and detours.
- Plan ahead and decide on a few must-see places before you depart, but don't stick to a rigid schedule.
- Get an early start to beat the traffic, especially in summer.
- Check for road closures using the Washington State Department of Transportation website.
Things to see on the Cascade Loop
Whether you are visiting for the scenery, the mountains, the glorious sea views, or the abundance of outdoor activities on offer, the Cascade Loop does not disappoint. Below are some of our recommendations for must-see places along the route.
- Deception Pass State Park -A dramatic seascape where the turbulent waters of Puget Sound rush through narrow channels, framed by high bridges and surrounded by dense forests.
- Whidbey Island - A beautiful island destination boasting picturesque landscapes, historic sites, and charming towns like Coupeville and Langley.
- Snohomish - Often called the "Antique Capital of the Northwest," this historic town offers a charming downtown area with boutique shops, restaurants, and beautiful historic homes.
- Stevens Pass - A stunning mountain pass in the Cascade Mountains, popular for winter sports and summer hiking. The scenic vistas from here are magical.
- Leavenworth - A Bavarian-themed town in the heart of the Cascades, where you can enjoy German food, music, architecture, and festivals.
- Wenatchee - Known as the "Apple Capital of the World," this city lies along the Columbia River and offers a blend of outdoor activities, including riverfront parks and apple orchards.
- Lake Chelan - A pristine, 50-mile-long glacial lake set against the backdrop of rugged mountains, perfect for boating, swimming, and other water activities.
- North Cascades National Park - Often referred to as the "American Alps," this park offers rugged mountain landscapes, deep blue lakes, and numerous hiking trails.
- Methow Valley - A pastoral valley renowned for its recreational activities, from cross-country skiing in the winter to mountain biking and hiking in the summer.
- Snoqualmie Falls - One of Washington's most iconic waterfalls, this 268-foot waterfall is a breathtaking sight and has trails and viewpoints from which to admire its majesty.
The Cascade Loop is a beautiful and unforgettable road trip taking you on an adventure through the stunning scenery of Washington State. Allow plenty of time to explore all the attractions along the way and experience the best that this memorable route has to offer.