Cascade Loop | Adventure Travel Guide
You may not have heard of this adventurous part of the Pacific North West, but that's about to change
Nestled within the Cascade mountains - the vast range of peaks that follow the Pacific NorthWest coastline, from British Columbia in Canada, down to northern California - is the Cascade Loop. It’s a vast circle of roads to the north east of Seattle that takes in some of the most beautiful countryside you’ll see anywhere in the world.
Getting to the Cascade Loop is surprisingly easy. Since September 2017, Norwegian have opened up a new route flying direct to Seattle from Gatwick airport four times per week. From Sea-Tac airport, a flight to Pangborn Memorial Airport in Wenatchee takes just 23 minutes. Alternatively, it's about a four-hour drive. While you can start the loop at any point, Wenatchee is the most convenient for overseas travellers.
When an area spans so much varied natural landscapes that take in mountains, woodlands, deserts, rainforest, numerous bodies of water, the Grand Cascades National Park and more, your options for outdoor adventure sport are virtually unparalleled, whatever time of year you visit.
Come winter, the southern leg of the loop serves up some of the best skiing and snowboarding you'll find anywhere in the world at Stevens Pass. The global recognition that Stevens Pass enjoys can attract a lot of crowds. So, if you like your time on the slopes to be a little quieter, a 30 minute drive due west is Leavenworth.
It may not be as big as Stevens Pass (in fact, it’s really quite small) but what Leavenworth lacks in size, it makes up for in tooth-achingly sweet beauty. Winter in Leavenworth also affords the opportunity for ski touring, snowshoeing, fat biking, and even a ski jump, should lycra and an increased risk of broken bones be your bag.
From Spring to Autumn (and even in winter, if you’re a fan of numb limbs) Patterson Lake is a beautiful spot for water sports. For hire on the south shore of the lake, amid the idyllic Patterson Lake Cabins, you’ll find stand up paddleboards, kayaks, sailing boats and canoes. You’ll also be able to rent pedalos, although we remain unsure why you'd want to, given the wealth of swifter more agile, less lads-holiday-to-Mallorca-looking craft available.
At just over a mile and a half long, it’s a good work-out racing from the north bank to the south, and back. However, set, as it is, in mountainous woodland, it’s arguably more fun to lazily spend a few hours following the shoreline looking for wildlife.
Just north of Patterson Lake is Sun Mountain Stables. From there, Red, and her team of horse experts (using the term “cowgirls" definitely feels wrong) will take you on rides throughout the surrounding countryside. If this sounds a bit too “Daddy, I want a pony" and not “gnarly, dude!" enough for you, wait until your horse gets freaked out by land wasps and tries to throw you to the ground.
I’m yet to forgive that horse.
East of the loop, and about 30 miles north of Seattle is Lord Hill regional Park, which is a must see if you want to take to the trails on your mountain bike.
There are both double and singletrack trails, which are all very well maintained throughout the year, and the Temple Pond trail in particular affords a mix of riding through woods, along side the pool, and a climb up to a vantage point where you’ll want to stop for for the panoramic view, not to mention a breather.
It’s not just mountain biking on offer around the loop. In scenery this cinematic, it’d be a crime not to dig the old road bike out and head for the switchbacks, climbs, and flats that this part of the world has to offer. Unless you’re a Strava wizard looking at clocking up some pro-level riding, the Apple Capital Trail is an enjoyable ride.
It follows the banks of the Columbia River in Wenatchee, and offers 10 miles of smooth asphalt roads that take in everything from river front views and sculpture gardens through incredible bridges and state parks, to surprisingly challenging six per cent inclines and technical hairpin turns.
In truth, the Cascade Loop offers just about every type of adventure and action sport imaginable, and no doubt some you’ve never even considered doing. Climbing, fishing, trail running, snowmobiling, hell, even helicopter rides. Whatever your passion, and whatever your level, you’ll find it on the Cascade Loop.
Where to Stay:
Just off Lake Patterson in Winthrop is Sun Mountain Lodge. Sitting high in the Cascade Mountains, it’s a hotel that has a feel of the Old West about it, but with enough modern luxuries to make any stay feel like a genuine treat. Sitting amid the mountains, the views from just about anywhere in Sun Mountain lodge are enough to leave you breathless, especially as the sun sets in the evening. It’s location also makes it just about perfect for most kinds of adventure sports.
During your stay, you may be lucky enough to bump into General Manager Brian Charlton, a former Brit who’s as good a raconteur is he is a hotelier. Share one of the local craft beers in the Sun Lodge bar with him and he’ll soon drawn you in with a tale or two, told in an accent that’s as much from the American South as it is his native North East of England.
If your budget is geared more towards all-out adventure than luxurious accommodation, there are whole host of camping spots along the Cascade Loop. Spider Meadow is a particularly picturesque spot, popular with people on multi-day hikes.
It may not be for everyone, as getting there alone involves a seven mile hike starting at the west bank of Lake Chelan. However, the reward is a night under stars, and a morning sunrise that will live in your memory forever. Camping there does require a Northwest Forest Pass, but these only cost $5 per day, or $30 for an entire year.
Where to Eat:
A swift, 15 minute drive from the airport in Wenatchee is Pybus Market. Created inside a repurposed steel mill, complete with a giant red neon “Public Market’ sign, mimicking it’s famous brother in Seattle, this is an artisan food lovers dream that’s packed with genuinely superb traders, restaurants and bars.
It’s hard to go too far wrong wherever you choose to eat in Pybus Market, as all of the independent traders have been carefully curated by the owners to ensure both diversity and quality. However, we couldn't resist the pull of the Pybus Bistro, with a range of fine, locally brewed beers and a signature burger that’s as big as a mountain, and tastes equally as gigantic.
For a more formal setting - although we’re hardly talking black tie here - the Chateau Faire le Pont winery, down the road in Wenatchee serves up some exquisite food and, of course, wine. The setting is elegant, but without being snooty, allowing you to relax and enjoy your meal without fear of being told to remove your elbows from the table by the waiter (although we can’t guarantee your other half will refrain from commenting).
Where to Drink:
Winthrop is a small town that’s intentionally retained it’s Old West facade. If it wasn’t for the modern day cars that line the street, it wouldn’t look out of place on the set of Deadwood. Obviously no wild west town is complete without a bar, and the Old Schoolhouse Brewery in Winthrop duly obliges. Inside it sells local beers that will go down all too well after a day adventuring. A brewery as well as a bar, the Old Schoolhouses very own Ruud Awakening IPA was most welcome after a day kayaking in the nearby Lake Paterson.
If you get a taste for one of these local brews, you can always take a Growler home. Despite sounding like part of a crushingly misogynistic joke by Jimmy Carr, a Growler is actually a reusable bottle that you can fill with beer and take back to camp with you. Oh, Britain, please catch up.
If you’re looking for a more refined drinking experience, head south on the loop to the shores of Lake Chelan where you’ll find the Tsillian Cellars, a winery that’s modeled on the wine houses of Italy that captured the imagination of founder Dr Bob Jankelson. The staff are passionate about what they do, from the sommeliers serving you through to Ray, the head winemaker out the back carefully nurturing grapes into delicious glasses of happiness.
What the Locals Say:
“Cascade Loop is a wonderland where you can do any outdoor activity you can think of. And every season here is completely different."
Erin Nash - Photographer and life-long resident of the Pacific Northwest.
Norwegian (norwegian.com) fly four terms per week direct from London Gatwick to Seattle. Economy fares start from £180 one way and Premium fares start from £600 one way.