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North Cascades puts the 'Scenic' in 'Scenic Highway'

Bears, monkeys and an extinct weasel are just a part of Highway 20's charm. North Cascades Highway is 2019's Best Road Trip.

NEWHALEM, Washington — Spend any time with North Cascades Park Ranger Denise Shultz and she'll regale you with tall tales of bears, monkeys, even an extinct weasel! "They're really beautiful. And if you do get to see 'em, you'll be really lucky," she says.

She's referring to the fishers recently re-introduced to the area. The weasel-like mammals were trapped into extinction in the North Cascades for their fur. But last fall, 26 were brought in from Canada to try to revive them. "We're hoping that they'll find each other and make more baby fishers. And that we'll actually be able to get the population back going again. It's possible you might see them? They're long and thin and have really dark, brown fur."

Dark, brown fur, kind of like a bear, which you could also spot in your travels along North Cascades Scenic Highway. "We have black bears that are certainly around and about. And we encourage people to look at those from a distance." At the North Cascades Visitors Center in Newhalem, Shultz opens up their "bear trailer" which teaches Ursidae etiquette. And there are two stuffed bears inside (black and grizzly) so visitors can actually experience what a bear's claw feels like. Both were victims of road accidents.

The monkeys are another story altogether that starts at the crown jewel of the trip, Diablo Lake. The man-made reservoir turns to an icy green in late summer. "As the glaciers move slowly across the rock, it actually grinds the rock into a really fine powder. And when the glaciers melt, that powder comes down into the creeks and into the lake." Visitors flock from all over the world to see the transformation.

From the Diablo Lake Overlook to the right and below as you face west, you see Monkey Island. Legend has it that electricity tour operators used to stock it with monkeys to wow crowds. The Diablo Dam is one of three power plants nearby.

About a half-hour drive from Diablo is Washington Pass Overlook. Liberty Bell Mountain looms above as you make your way to the cowboy town of Winthrop.

North Cascades Scenic Highway was voted Best Road Trip in 2019's Best Northwest Escapes.

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