Darrington to Rockport

Like Friday before it, Saturday was a fine day in the Pacific Northwest, and unlike its predecessor, it wasn’t filled by work. So I took my bike to Darrington, and rode it to Rockport. This was an out-and-back from the Mountain Loop “highway” to the North Cascades Highway.

White Horse Mountain, standing over Darrington, WA

Heavily glaciated White Horse Mountain over “downtown” Darrington, WA.

This was also a ride I’ve been wanting to do for a couple years. Darrington is a small town with jaw-dropping mountain surroundings, making it a good place to be on a bike. And, of course, the North Cascades Highway is just stunning. The only reason I haven’t done this sooner is, well, the other compelling rides in Washington. 🙂

Horses grazing in a field near Darrington

Horses in a field near Darrington, bounded by rolling hills with the distant, snowed-in peaks of North Cascades National Park.

Most of the center “column” of Washington state is made up of the Cascade Range, a rugged group of mountains that extends from southern British Columbia into northern California. There are a few low valleys through parts of the range, however; Darrington sits in a corner where two such valleys meet. Mountains surround the road in every direction, big foothills to the west and glaciated peaks to the north, east, and south. Because the roads follow the valleys, this is a flat ride. At first, the forest is cleared to make room for Darrington, with a few surrounding farms and mills, but the woods come back quickly, opening up again where the road meets the Sauk River.

The River Sauk

About five miles north of town, the road crosses the Sauk River.

The Sauk river meanders north, draining into the mighty Skagit. For much of the ride, though, it isn’t visible. Instead, the woods try to swallow the road back up, succeeding more in some parts than in others. Goatsbeard moss hangs from branches, looking like a temperate rainforest, then the woods open back up and allow views of the surrounding hills.

Evergreens and mountains

It’s impossible to forget that Washington is the evergreen state.

Having driven this road more times than I can count, on my way to and back home from the national park, I never realized just how scenic it is. Part of this is speed; bikes are slower than cars, giving their riders more time to appreciate the scenery around them, especially when the goal is to be here, instead of feeling almost there. Part is the fact that I had no roof and walls to remove me from my surroundings. Of course, by mid summer all of the snow in these photos has melted, and snowy mountains are more beautiful than bare ones.

A blue river reflecting a blue sky

The Sauk River meandering with gravely banks and frozen mountains in the distance.

My bike, a Cervelo Soloist

My bike beside a stretch of the River Sauk.

Wild and scenic rivers, of course, make good pictures, but most of the ride was wooded. Driving through, it feels like all of the road is surrounded by an endless sea of trees, with a break here and there to look at a river. On a bike you can see that this is a little bit over-simplified, even if it has a grain of truth. Still, I’d be remiss not to include a photo of a more typical section of the road.

An empty stretch of road, shaded by deciduous trees

An empty section of road, shaded in zebra-stripes by trees growing near the river. Much of the ride looked like this.

Finally, near the junction with State Route 20 (eg the North Cascades Highway), the forest opens up, with a clear cut on the side, and the bigger, colder mountains can be seen at last.

Nearing the end of the ride, the North Cascades rise over the Skagit River Valley

A snowy wall of North Cascades Peaks over the Skagit River Valley, near the end of the ride.

For my ride, this was time to turn back. If I’d had all the time in the world, it would have been ideal to continue on to Newhalem, or to the Ross Lake Trailhead, where the road is closed.

Map from Garmin Connect

Route map: Darrington to Rockport.

Temperature history of the ride


Despite the cool temperatures, the sun was warm, and this was my first ride of the year in a base layer and windbreaker. Spring is in the air. 🙂

If you’d like to do a ride like this, you should be aware that there are no “services” (restaurants, stores, etc) between Darrington and Rockport, although both towns have at least a general store. On a hot day, you’d be wise to bring a water purifier, along with a bit of food.

One of the reasons I’d hesitated to do this ride is the problem of where to leave my car. There isn’t street parking on SR 530, although there appears to be on the smaller residential streets in town. If you fill your tank, the gas station will let you leave your car behind for a few hours, and this is what I did.

Finally, there are many peek-a-boo views of the surrounding mountains from this ride, and jaw-dropping views in Darrington. This ride is best in early spring, when these mountains are covered in snow and at their most beautiful.

I covered 40 miles (round-trip) and a paltry 600 feet of elevation change, but you can make a more challenging ride if you continue east from my turn-around point.


5 thoughts on “Darrington to Rockport

    • Yeah, parking can be a big hurdle to traveling with a bike, you’re going to have to leave the car for several hours… Honestly it’s a reason I’ve held off on this ride, although it isn’t the biggest one.

      Thanks for saying hi!

    • I could definitely be talked into some company on some of these rides…! A lot of cyclists do organized rides with a service vehicle. The thing I could most benefit from, since I do a lot of solo exploring, is having somebody move the car for me during the day; sometimes there just isn’t another road to make a loop out of, or I want to go further and see more than I’m capable of, especially when I have to get back to where I started. Sadly, my friends and family have their own priorities in life!

      Until I work that out, I’ll just have to keep at it, and keep showing people what they should join me for.

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