This road trip just might be the most beautiful road trip in America. No other mountains in America can compare to the steep, towering, dramatic peaks that cover the cascades. The artisan food shops that fill the towns are perfect after long days exploring nature and the free camping is endless.
While Leavenworth is known for it faux Bavarian town, that isn’t what draws mountain lovers from around the world. Icicle River Road teems with endless hiking, backpacking, trad climbing, sport climbing, top-roping, bouldering, kayaking, and inner tubing. Not to mention the never ending vagabonding possibilities which will save you good money. A true vagabond could spend months here. Though the town can be touristy, there’s no denying that there are great foodie opportunities here. For more upscale travelers, which Leavenworth brochures seem to cater to, there are many inns, lodges, vacation rentals, and resorts.
Invest in some river tubes and ask at the local mountain shops where to get in and out. For the less brave, go for an inner tube ride with Leavenworth Outdoor Center next to Der Hinterhof. Whether you’re a dirtbag or a resortist, stop by Icicle Brewing company for good beer, good llanjager, and good vibes. Our favorite artisan food shops was Cured with great salami, cheese, sausage, and more. Pick up some coffee at J5. If you’re lucky and are visiting on a Thursday, stop by the fabulous, local farmers market at Little Lion Park.
Last, but definitely not least, brave the 19-mile distance and thru-hike The Enchantments (it will be the most beautiful hike of your life and likely the hardest). Also, checkout these two blogs to motivate yourself that you CAN hike the enchantment in a day: Mountain Lovely (an awesome blog for adventurous women) and Trail Snail.
Related Blog: How To Thru Hike The Enchantments In One DayNo other mountains compare to the steep towering, dramatic peaks of the Cascades!Click To Tweet
Lake Chelan, Manson, and Stehekin
Be aware when heading into the Chelan area that the nature is not like that of Leavenworth. We were a bit surprised at the low lying hills compared with the towering mountains of Leavenworth. But one thing Chelan has that Leavenworth doesn’t is warmer water. Those inner tubes you just bought are perfect for floating on in the Lake. Or, you could even rent a boat and tube behind the boat. If you go for a swim, check out the Old Swimming Hole in Manson. Drive a bit north of town and you’ll find blueberries, waffles, sandwiches, and pies galore at Blueberry Hills Farm.
This is great stop place to break up the driving between Chelan and Methow Valley. The town has been restored to the look and feel of the “old west” but with great bakeries, breweries, and restaurants. There are a lot of easy hiking or mountain biking trails, though I’d recommend you save your hiking legs for the next stop! If you didn’t get a chance to inner tube in Leavenworth, there’s an even better, cheaper alternative here. The RV Parking lot just Northwest of town is where we saw a lot of people getting in to float down the river. Since we did not get a chance to experience it ourselves you’ll have to ask one of the local shops about where people usually get out.
Washington Pass Vicinity
This right here is the pot of gold in the Cascade Loop. Mountain lovers will cry tears of joy at seeing the views from tops of these trails. Campers could spend such a long time at just the Rainy Pass Trailhead which, for dirtbags, is great for “overnight parking” which is allowed (camping is not).
Before you reach Blue Lake and Rainy Pass trailheads bask in the towering splendor of Liberty Bell at Washington Pass overlook. And if you Trad climb, don’t miss the opportunity to multi pitch this beast on the relaxing 5.6 route acceded from Blue Lake Trailhead. I cannot emphasize how amazing the Maple Loop hike is! You have to do it because,
a) It’s the only hike we’ve done in America that can compare to the beauty of European mountain ranges
b) it’s not that long (only 7.5 miles)
c) did I mention how ridiculously beautiful it is?
Tip: I wouldn’t recommend the .6 mile detour to Lake Ann, you’ll get way better views from above.)
If you’re a good mountain biker, take on the challenge of Cutthroat Pass and feel the burn in your legs and take in the beauty at the top of the Pass where the trail meets the PCT. You can definitely opt to hike it but it’s 10 miles RT and at the time we were saving our legs for another hike. If you’ve got younger kids, don’t miss hiking to Blue Lake which transcends the name. On a hot summer day, jump in for a swim. Personally, we did not have time for this hike but we wish we had. The 10-mile RT hike up Black Peak seemed worth of strenuous hike.
Related Blog: 7 Family Friendly Hikes
Ross Lake and Diablo Lake
Before you head here, make sure you’ve had your fill of magnificent, dramatic mountains because through the lakes will boggle you in other ways, the mountains scale down a bit on this side of the Pass. Now, feast your eyes on the pure teal waters of Ross Lake and Diablo Lake. It’s nice that both of the lake hikes are easy and short yet, the views much more. If you arrive on a weekday in the morning you shouldn’t have a problem getting a campsite at the wonderful, first-come first-serve campground, Colonial Creek. If you’re visiting on a weekend or a holiday you can make reservations ahead of time here.
Related Blog: 13 Best Campgrounds in Washington State
Are you going on this road trip? Let me know in the comments. Share your next road trip!