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.
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. 🙂
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.