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The North Cascades Highway, with its breathtaking mountain and meadow scenery, is one of the most memorable drives in the United States. Although many travelers first head northeast from Seattle into the park and make this their grand finale, if you start from Winthrop, at the south end of the route, traffic is lighter and there's less morning fog. Either way, the main highlight is Washington Pass, the road's highest point, where an overlook affords a sensational panorama of snow-covered peaks.
Rainy Pass, where the road heading north drops into the west slope valleys, is another good vantage point. Old-growth forest begins to appear, and after about an hour you reach Gorge Creek Falls overlook with its 242-foot cascade. Continue west to Newhalem and stop for lunch, then take a half-hour stroll along the Trail of the Cedars. Later, stop at the North Cascades Visitor Center and take another short hike. It's an hour drive down the Skagit Valley to Sedro-Woolley, where bald eagles are often seen along the river in winter.