From Mountains to Coast: A Spring Road Trip Through Skagit Valley - Visit Skagit Valley - North Cascades National Park to Farmlands to Pacific Ocean
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From Mountains to Coast: A Spring Road Trip Through Skagit Valley

By Scott Kranz

Something extraordinary happens when you join family or friends, jump in a vehicle, and hit the highway, looking for adventure along the open road.  Together you move at a new pace, talk freely and listen closely, and relish in the unknown around every corner.

Ever since moving from Minnesota, where I was born and raised, to Washington State in 2013, I’ve been on a journey to experience as much of my new home state as I can. Along the way I’ve taken countless road trips within the state’s borders, eager to gather up all the unique experiences the area has to offer.

This spring, my family back in Minnesota decided to fly to Seattle for a visit. I brainstormed the best way for them to experience the beautiful state of Washington. I decided on a short road trip through Skagit Valley, which would take us from the state’s most rugged mountains to its pristine coastline.

The first day of their visit arrived. They landed in Seattle, and we hit the road the next day. We started our drive north out of Seattle, heading toward the North Cascades. After getting off the major highway, I-5, we passed through gorgeous farmland, which was vibrant with spring greens and yellows.

After two hours of driving from Seattle, we eventually reached the little town of Marblemount, the gateway into the North Cascades. Passing through the little mountain town, we drove deeper into the North Cascades along the west bank of the mighty Skagit River.  The peaks along each side of the winding road grew taller and taller.

We eventually reached Diablo Lake, where we’d take in many of the rugged North Cascades peaks and enjoy the first sunset of our road trip.

We parked at the lake’s overlook, walked to the viewing point, and looked down into Diablo’s turquoise waters. Peering across the length of the lake to the west, we saw prominent Davis Peak (7,054′) hiding in clouds. To the south, we looked up at the Colonial Peak group, a tight cluster of magnificent peaks, including Pyramid Peak, Pinnacle Peak, Paul Bunyan’s Stump, and Colonial Peak itself. I had visited Diablo Lake many times before, but the experience of each visit is unique, and the scenery simply never gets old.

Eventually the sun sunk behind Davis Peak, and the clouds surrounding the lake changed to a warm, pinkish hue. The mountains were putting on a show, and we had front row seats.

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Sunset at Diablo Lake

After sunset at Diablo Lake overlook, we started our drive back to the Marblemount area, where we’d stay in a rustic yurt for the night.

After a colorful sunset, we thought all the excitement had ended for the evening. But, to our surprise, as we were driving along the south side of the lake, we came upon a brown colored black bear along the side of the road. We slowed down and safely brought the car to a halt. The bear took a good, hard look at us and leaped over the roadside barrier, dashing into the woods. (I’ve been in Washington for nearly four years, and that was the closest bear encounter I’ve ever experienced in the state to date.) We never felt in danger, only grateful to have seen such a beautiful wild animal in such a pristine environment.

We eventually made it back to the Marblemount area and pulled up to our yurt, our home for the night. Settling in, we enjoyed a spaghetti dinner and an after-dinner drink, each of us guessing at the exact size of our bear friend and sharing laughs next to a wood-fire stove.

The next morning, I woke up early in hopes to catch the sunrise over the mountains. I tiptoed out of the yurt to avoid waking anyone up, and jumped back in the car. I drove north along the North Cascades highway, stopping here and there to take in the morning light. The mixture of feather-like clouds and glowing morning light near the mountain tops created a spectacular sight.

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Sunrise light on the North Cascades, as seen from along the Skagit River.

After witnessing the scene, I was wide eyed and awake, no coffee necessary. Returning to the yurt, my family was slowly waking up, and I shared with them my quick sunrise adventure. We loaded up the car once again, and jumped on Highway 20 driving westbound toward the coast.

With growling stomachs, we pulled into the small town of Concrete, and visited one of the most recommended breakfast spots in the area: 5b’s Bakery. We loaded up on eggs, french toast, and bites of cinnamon roll. We were all shocked to learn in the middle of the meal that the bakery was entirely gluten free! – Everything we ordered was delicious, not to mention the perfect meal to start the day on the road.

After breakfast, we drove the short drive to Baker Lake. Pulling up to the shore, we were blown away by the views of Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan across the lake.

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Mount Shuksan above Baker Lake

Knowing that we would have to continue on our trip, we reluctantly parted ways with the stunning lakeside views, and jumped back on Highway 20.

With the North Cascade peaks getting ever smaller in the car’s rearview mirror, we drove west through farmland, soaking up what was turning out to be a beautiful spring day.

We eventually reached the coast and turned onto Chuckanut Drive, a dramatically scenic byway that weaves through lush forests and hugs the rocky shoreline.

Knowing we’d regret not eating some fresh oysters on the half shell, we pulled off of Chuckanut Drive and into Taylor Shellfish. We ordered two dozen oysters to share (including Shigokus, Kumamotos, Olympias, and Pacific oysters) and sat along the waters of Chuckanut Bay. We all took turns shucking oysters for the group, and I was admittedly a little rusty. But the oysters tasted phenomenal with a drop of lemon and some hot sauce, especially while sitting in the warm springtime sun.

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After our seaside snack of oysters, our next stop was a no-brainer: the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. It’s a spring festival attended by thousands of visitors across the country (and world), and there was no chance we’d miss it.

We took the short drive to the tulip fields and stepped out of our car, amazed at the vibrant colors in all directions. My family, who had never been to the tulip festival, couldn’t believe their eyes.

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After walking around several different tulip fields, each one more beautiful than the last, we hopped back in the car and drove to our next stop: Deception Pass.

At Deception Pass, we hiked along several of the trails in the area. We took in the rugged cliffs and coves along the water, stopping to smell the wildflowers along the trail.

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Wild camas lilies blooming along the waterway at Deception Pass.

While taking in the wildflowers, we happened to spot a seal hopping along the rocks below and, shortly afterwards, a wild otter as well. We were all feeling pretty lucky given all of the wildlife we had experienced on the trip!

After walking across the iconic high bridge and back, we continued on to our last stop of the trip.

We drove the short drive to the summit of Mount Erie for sunset, one of my favorite sunset spots in the entire state of Washington. Sitting along the rocky summit, we had sweeping views of the Salish Sea to the south and west.

Clouds slowly filled the sky, and we questioned whether or not there would be enough light for a vibrant sunset. The sun eventually sunk below the horizon, and to our surprise, the western sky eventually lit up with vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows. It was the perfect ending to an already unbeatable road trip.

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A colorful sunset from Mount Erie.

We soaked up the last bit of color from the top of Mount Erie, and started the drive back to Seattle. Smiling from ear to ear, we were nothing short of amazed at all of the extraordinary sights, sounds, and adventures we had found along the open road in just two short days.