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Great Drives: Cascadian Triple-Pass Loop, Washington


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Before Seattle became a haven to coffee shops, grunge music and dot.coms, it was known as a gateway to a world of primeval trees, mountains birthing glaciers and green rivers surging seaward. While the Nineties boosted Seattle’s cosmopolitan status, the city’s nearby natural attractions haven’t gone anywhere. Go see for yourself.

From the city, drive to the east side of Lake Washington and follow I-405 north. At the Bothell Interchange, leave the sprawl on Highway 522 to Route 2. Before driving east into the foothills of the Cascades, fuel up with gas and pastries at the Red Barn on the eastern edge of Monroe.

Beyond Monroe, blink-and-you-miss-them frontier towns scroll by. The third of these, Goldbar, offers a 2-mile hike to the beautiful 200-foot Wallace Falls. The fourth, Index, provides a serene setting to rubberneck at climbers scaling the Lower Town Wall. Stevens Pass, 30 miles from Index, is one of Seattle’s neighborhood ski hills; even in late June, diehards hike for corn turns on the hill’s northern slopes.

Thirty miles southeast of the pass lies Leavenworth, a once-dying lumber town that saved itself by switching gears. Today, Leavenworth is a faux-Bavarian hamlet bursting with cuckoo-clock shops, beer-stein boutiques and stocking-stuffer stores. Non-shoppers consider it knick-knack hell; shopaholics love the place. So do hungry stomachs. You’ll find good burgers at The Tumwater Inn, gourmet pizza at Leavenworth Pizza Company and German fare at Andrea’s Keller. The best lunch of all is 2 miles from downtown at Sleeping Lady, a posh resort near a fish hatchery (reservations required, 800-574-2123).

Drive Route 2 into Washington’s fruit basket, where apple, pear and cherry orchards line the road. Stop at Prey’s Fruit Barn, a mile east of Leavenworth, and sample the harvests you remember eating as a kid, before tasteless, green-picked imposters invaded the supermarkets.

Four miles east of Leavenworth, turn south onto Route 97 and climb toward 4,000-foot Blewett Pass. These eastern foothills of the Cascades may remind you of California¿the soil is sandy, the grasses blond and the trees red-barked. Myriad mountain biking trails depart from the highway. Try Iron Mountain, a popular introduction to the region (for details, check out ).

Fifteen miles beyond Blewett Pass, take Highway 970 11 miles to I-90. Follow the interstate west to Snoqualmie Pass, home to several ski areas and a visual testimony of what’s wrong with clearcutting. At Exit 34, 19 miles west of Snoqualmie Pass, turn left on Edgewick Road and follow signs to Twin Falls State Park, where a short hike to thundering cataracts will work up an appetite for dinner.

Dinner options are limited, but for excellent fish and chips visit The Reef in the hamlet of North Bend (Exit 31 off I-90). After leaving North Bend, you’ll be streaking past the strip malls of Issaquah and Bellevue toward Seattle. Goodbye, outdoors; hello, Yuppiedom.


Drive Length 260 miles
Drive Time 5.5 hours
Try To Avoid Seattle’s heinous traffic. Flee the city by 6 am and return after 6 pm.
Don’t Miss The Serpentarium in the town of Goldbar, with snakes, lizards, turtles and spiders from around the globe¿some of which you can hold. (Open 10 am to 6 pm daily, $3; 360-793-2000.)
Get Out Of Your Car At Castle Rock (6 miles west of Leavenworth). If there are cars in the large pullout, follow the steep trail (10-minute walk) to the rock’s mid-level and watch the rockheads.
Contact Leavenworth Chamber, (509) 548-5807, ; Snoqualmie Valley Chamber, (425) 888-4440.