North Cascades Photography – Washington Pass

Washington Pass

North Cascades Photography – Washington Pass

Washington Pass is one of the most scenic spots along the entire Cascade Loop Scenic Highway.

Washington Pass is the highest point along the North Cascades Highway, at an elevation of 5477 ft./1669 m. Liberty Bell Mountain towers over the thin ribbon of pavement. Heading east, the highway plunges down to Mazama and Winthrop. The upper slopes are filed with Larch, which turn bright orange in October. Its a very scenic place!

There is a trail nearby, the Blue Lake Trail. The trailhead is on the south side of the highway. It leads around the Liberty Bell Group to Blue Lake. Fantastic views of Early Winter Spires and larch in the fall, but that’s for another post! .

There is so much snow each winter and the avalanche shoots so steep here that the highway closes for winter, usually in November, and opens again in April or May.

Today, April 18th, 2019 the North Cascades Highway opened for the season, one of the earliest openings I recall. There is still a bit of snow there, along the road, and the trailheads are still snowed in, they wont be open until May or June, earliest. But the road is open!

The Washington Pass Overlook, is one of those places I most always stop when I drive along the North Cascades Highway.

Washington Pass Overlook

Most overlooks are a one time deal, once you’ve seen it, no need to go back!

Not the case here.

The Washington Pass Overlook is in the Okanagon National Forest, and maintained out of the office in Winthrop. The Overlook is well marked, and the parking area is about 1/4 mile off the highway. There is ample parking, several rest rooms and some lights. There is a 200 yard paved path to the overlook, and lots of railings preventing a plunge.

NOTE: Even though the North Cascades Highway is opened, the Washington Pass Overlook may not open until May or June. The 1/4 mile road from the Highway to the Overlook parking is gated at the highway. You can park at the highway (there are usually many spots near the gate) and you can walk to the Overlook.

Here are a few pics from the Overlook.

The best time to get a shot of Liberty Bell is sunrise. The early light illuminates the sheer rock faces wonderfully… Its a long drive, from Sedro-Woolley to Washington Pass is a 2 hour drive! But worth it!

Washington Pass Overlook is also a fantastic spot for Night Sky Imaging. Its deep in the mountains, as there is low light pollution, the Lookout faces south, and you have Liberty Bell as a foreground, but also the hairpin turn of the North Cascades Highway below…

Here are a few images from my many night time visits! This is one of the locations for the Drive-In Night Sky North Cascades Photo Tours.

Here are a few more images of Liberty Bell from Washington Pass.

North Cascades Photography – Skagit Valley Tulips

North Cascades Photography – Skagit Valley Tulips

Skagit Valley Tulips

The start of spring in Skagit Valley heralds the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival.

Broad swaths of brightly colored tulips spring up all over the flats.

This is one stop along the Cascade Loop that you don’t want to miss!

Photographing them is wonderful fun. The saturation of colors, the often cloudy skies and lots of mud always make the trip an experience.

The Washington Bulb Company is the leading grower of tulip, daffodil, and iris bulbs in North America. They grow bulbs throughout the valley and have a huge display garden, Roozengaarde. There is a store, a windmill and manicured beds of flowers, and in the back, large fields of tulips.

You can read about the history of tulips in Western Washington and Tulip Festival here.

Always stick to sunrise and sunsets, and avoid the “Tulip Area” at all costs between 10am and 6pm on weekends and your experience will be a pleasant one!

Each year the location of the fields change, and so do the backdrops. Barns are sometimes nearby the fields, as well as buses, trees and other cool stuff.  You can see where the tulips are, and when they bloom through the Bloom Map.

Once you have scouted out where the fields are for the new season you can get a good idea of whats best for each location. Some will be better shot at sunset and others at sunrise.

Parking is always an issue. Sometimes the large fields have a parking area nearby and collect fees for visiting. Sometimes the fields are located near no parking at all. Be prepared to walk a while.

I visit the fields often, they are close by. The skies in Skagit Valley can get crazy late in the afternoon. Often the worst, rainiest days are best: the dark, heavy clouds sometimes give way to magnificent sunsets.

Photo Tours are available, I take tours on weekdays, for sunset and on weekends for sunrise. Here is the link.

Here are a few images from Tulip Festivals Past!


North Cascades Photography – La Conner Daffodil Festival

North Cascades Photography – La Conner Daffodil Festival

The La Connner Daffodil Festival signals the start of spring in the Skagit Valley.

As the dreary winter drags to a close the fields of the Skagit Flats slowly come alive. This years winter was a bit longer than we’re used to, snow was covering the ground only a few weeks ago.

Several warm, sunny spring days is all it took to start this years bloom. Here is a recent image, “Daffodils Under the Moonlight” from March 22, along the La Conner Whitney Road.

Daffodils Under the Moonlight

The bright colors is all it takes to chase away any lingering winter blues!

Each year the daffodils are in different locations, the Bloom Map shows where the fields are located, and when they are in bloom.

Spring is a wonderful time to hit the highway and drive along the Cascade Loop. Skagit Valley is one of many destinations calling you…

Here are a few images from earlier years…

The La Conner Daffodil Festival starts whenever the daffodils start to bloom, which can be anywhere from late Feb until late March.

There is a Photo Contest as well:

La Conner Daffodil Festival Photo Contest

Photographers get ready for the La Conner Daffodil Festival Photo Contest!  All you have to do to be entered to win is take your photos during the La Conner Daffodil Festival and then post to Facebook or Instagram with hashtag #laconnerdaffodils.  We will then choose the top 10 photos and have the public vote on the winning photograph!  The winner will receive a cash prize and be crowned the La Conner Daffodil Festival Official Photo. The photograph will also be used for publicity for the following La Conner Daffodil Festival!

The best times are sunrise and sunset. Please don’t park your car anywhere you’re not supposed to, and be careful out there!

Here are a few more images from years past.

If you’re interested in a sunrise or sunset Photo Tour of the Tulips or Daffodils, I lead Photo Tours Week nights for sunset and weekends for sunrise. here is the link to sign up! Skagit Tulip Festival Photo Tours

North Cascades Photography – Winter on the Cascade Loop

North Cascades Photography – Winter on the Cascade Loop

The severity of winter in Western Washington is all about elevation. The lowlands usually get very little snow, not counting this year of course! And the mountains get slammed. Several of the mountain passes in Washington close in winter due to snow avalanche conditions. The North Cascades Highway, SR 20, is one of them.

North Cascades Highway, Diablo Overlook

Crossing the North Cascade range at Washington Pass (5,477 ft el.) the North Cascades Highway closes each fall, usually mid November, and reopens each spring mid to late May.

On the west side the highway is gated for the winter at Colonial Creek Campground (milepost 131). Depending upon the severity of the snow it is usually gated about a mile further east, just past the parking area for the Diablo Lake Overlook.

As I drive up the valley quick peaks of the mountains pop into view. This is from a spot near Cascadian Farms.

Skagit River

The main visitors center for the North Cascades National Park is in Newhalem. Just behind the visitors center is a short trail to a great view of the Picket Range, a particularly rugged section of the Park.

Diablo Dam and Pyramid Peak make a perfect spot for sunset images!

The road is gated just beyond Colonial Creek Camp Ground. There is plenty of parking and easy access for snowmobiles and anyone wanting to hike along the snow covered (and closed) highway.

Its a winter wonderland out there, but I can’t wait for warm temps and wildflowers!

Lake Ann from the Maple Pass Trail

North Cascades Photography – North Cascades Highway

Welcome to North Cascades Photography

Each week we will visit some place in the North Cascades. The best camp sites; day hikes and overnight trips; lookout towers, the best locations for sunrises, sunsets and night sky imaging. Whether you’re into a week long trip, or the best place for a drive-in view, I will cover  the best times to go and How To Tips ranging from How to set exposure for the Milky Way to Where to see Mountain Goats? 

North Cascades Highway

The North Cascades Highway (Highway 20) follows the Skagit River from the Puget Sound deep into the mountains, reaching its highest point at Washington Pass, 100 miles east of I-5, before it drops down to the Methow Valley.

In winter (usually at the end of November) the highway is closed due to heavy snow. The highway is gated on the west side at milepost 134, east of Diablo, and on the east side at milepost 171, 14 miles west of Mazama. Reopening in the spring is usually accomplished by early May.

In Sedro-Woolley the National Park Service and Forest Service share an office, right along the highway. You can stop in for maps and parking passes. They can also give you all sorts of great advice about where to go, current conditions, and all that.

As you head east towards the mountains you’ll pass through Marblemount. If you are planning to camp over night on the North Cascades National Park, you’ll need a permit, and this is the place to get it, the Marblemount Wilderness Information Center. This is also the last town to resupply anything for about 70 miles, so fill up!

The Diablo Lake Overlook (milepost 132) is a wonderful vista point to stop when driving. There are rest rooms and lots of parking. The view is amazing: late afternoon is the best light.

This is also a wonderful location for capturing images of the night sky.

Rainy Pass at 4,833 feet (milepost 157) is where the PCT crosses the North Cascades Highway. There are trailheads on either side of the highway:

  • On the north is the trail head for the Pacific Crest Trail, headed north to Cutthroat Pass and then onto Canada.
  • To the south the parking area is to access the Maple Pass – Lake Ann Loop trail (one of my favorites), and the paved Rainy Lake trail.

Lots more on these trails later!

Washington Pass Overlook (milepost 163) is at the highest point along the highway, at 5,477 feet. There is a paved spur road to parking, restrooms and a pathway to the overlook. Liberty Bell is the massive slab towering above. Sunrise is the time for the best light on the peak.

The long curve of the highway below makes for some sweet shots at night. This is one of the best spots for capturing images of the Milky Way.

The North Cascades Highway is a part of the Cascade Loop Scenic Byway. This 440 mile loop crosses the Cascade Range twice and visits some of the most stunning scenery in the USA. Visit their web site to earn EVERYTHING you need to make your trip a huge success.

You can find out more about Classes, Prints, Photo Tours and more at my web site,

Next Week: Tips on Night Sky Photography