After the white-knuckle drive across the North Cascades, the mellower Methow Valley, situated immediately to the east, offers a more tranquil and less terrifying antidote. Bucolic, surprisingly sunny and pleasantly isolated in winter when Hwy 20 shuts down due to snow blockage, this is where the sporty and the savvy come to hot air balloon, horseback ride and mountain bike.
What, no road access? Cut off from the rest of Washington's highway network by craggy mountains, Stehekin is that rarest of modern American settlements – one that is unreachable by car. Visitors get here either by boat/seaplane across Lake Chelan, or by a trio of long-distance hikes through the wilderness-flecked North Cascades National Park to the north.
Mt Baker Area
Of all Washington's snow-capped volcanoes, Baker is possibly the most majestic, a massive icy dome that towers over the US–Canadian border and is clearly visible everywhere from Vancouver, BC, to Seattle. Legendary among snowboarders and hikers, Baker has been revered by the indigenous natives of Puget Sound for millennia.
North Cascades National Park
Ordained in 1968, the North Cascades National Park is Alaska transplanted in the lower 48, one thousand square miles of dramatic, daunting wild country strafed with mountains, lakes, glaciers (over 300 of them) and wildlife, but with almost no trace of civilization.
The first settlement to the east of the North Cascades wilderness is little more than a pin-prick on the map – albeit a very pleasant one – with broad mountain-backed vistas and a couple of excellent places to stay. Tiny Mazama (the name means 'mountain goat' in Spanish) marks the gateway to the Methow Valley (heading east) and the North Cascades (heading west).