Wildfires of the Cascade Loop – September 2017

My buddy, Dana, and I have been throwing around the idea for some time now of exploring the northern portion of the Cascade Loop over a period of three or four days. That time had finally arrived as we set out early on a Monday morning, driving north towards State Route 20 and the beginning of The Cascade Loop. The Loop is touted as one of the most scenic roads in Washington state, and that’s saying something since Washington is chock-full of scenic.

We stopped for the first night at Goodell Campground. I usually avoid the formal campgrounds by looking for areas that allow dispersed camping, but this part of the North Cascades Highway doesn’t have that many open forest roads. It turned out well though as we mostly had the entire camp to ourselves; the Skagit river burbling just a few feet away.

Cascade Loop September 2017 (2 of 20)


Cascade Loop September 2017 (1 of 20)

Cascade Loop September 2017 (3 of 20)


At this point I should mention the wildfires.

There are currently several wildfires throughout Washington and the northwest in general. As we drove along State Route 20 we got closer and closer to the Diamond Creek fire, as demonstrated by the thick haze of smoke everywhere.

The next day, after packing up, we stopped at Diablo Lake overlook and got a good look at how much the smoke effected the views. While it would have been preferred to have clear skies, the smoke gave a ethereal, not-quite-real vibe to the shots. Kind of cool in it’s own way.

Diablo Lake, WA Spetember 2017 PNW Overland-1


We continued on.  Next, to the Washington Pass Observation Site, also swamped with the wildfire smoke.

Cascade Loop September 2017 (12 of 20)


Cascade Loop September 2017 (13 of 20)


Part of the original plan was to explore NF-5400 and other trails in the area of Mazama, WA, then camp somewhere near Slate Peak. We followed NF-5400 until just a few hundred meters from the Slate Peak trail head but were stopped by NFS road barricades, most likely because the center of the Diamond Creek fire was now just 15 miles away and getting closer by the hour, the smoke stinging the eyes. Not wanting to camp anywhere near this much toxic air we set off towards the next area, somewhere around Lake Chelan. We hoped driving over one hundred miles away would give us some relief from the smoke.

Not so much. There was a wildfire on Sawtooth Ridge, on the eastern slopes of Lake Chelan. The smoke was so thick that you couldn’t even see across Lake Chelan, just under two miles away. By this time, the sun was going to set in just an hour or so and we’ve been driving all day. We had no idea on where we would camp for the night, just an idea that somewhere in the foothills west from Chelan we would find a suitable campground. Dana did his magic with the Garmin and found a few possible sites.

After making our way through the small town of Ardenvoir, an old mining/logging camp from back in the CCC days, we headed up NFS-5700 and came to Pine Flats campground. This is a great spot, right next to the Mad River.


Cascade Loop September 2017 (15 of 20)
Pine Flats Campground
Cascade Loop September 2017 (5 of 20)
Smokey-Orange moon


While still pretty smokey, we decided to stay put at this location for the next day or so. There are a bunch of hiking trails in the area. some that follow the river, which was shallow enough to walk and swim in. Perfect for a 93* day.

Cascade Loop September 2017 (17 of 20)
Mad River
Cascade Loop September 2017 (16 of 20)
Secret wading spot in the Mad River
Cascade Loop September 2017 (18 of 20)
Huge boulders in the Mad River


We headed home on Thursday, taking backroads down to Leavenworth, then along US Route 2 back to the Seattle area.

Cascade Loop September 2017 (19 of 20).jpg
Smoothest dirt roads in all of Washington State
Cascade Loop September 2017 (20 of 20)
Back on pavement: airing up



2 thoughts on “Wildfires of the Cascade Loop – September 2017

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