Tuesday, May 29, 2012

North Cascades Highway

Diablo Lake Overlook
Before Monkey arrived on the scene Mr. Monkey and I spent many vacations in the Methow Valley - but always in winter. The Methow has one of the largest cross-country trail systems in North America (and great snow-shoeing too). The only drawback is that Highway 20 closes for the season. So we've always taken the long way around - missing the very best part of the scenic highway. After many years of talking about it, we finally decided to do it! And we brought along a six-year-old who is no fan of riding in the car for long periods of time. Crazy? Well, yes . . . but I had a plan to minimize whining - and it worked.

We were only going for a short time but we packed the car full of activities, layers and snacks to combat any situation we might encounter. I really wanted to camp but was unsure if we would be able to find a spot on a busy holiday weekend (plus, Mr. Monkey is still not entirely thrilled with my need to camp). So to preserve our marriage and reduce stress, we decided to book a room in Winthrop. Besides, I'm not a fan of camping for one night as I feel like all I'm doing is unpacking, setting up, taking down and re-packing gear. I would recommend staying more than one night anyway (it is a long drive) but my husband was adamant that he wanted to spend at least one day at home for the long weekend - and it all worked out since the main point of the trip was the drive.

Here's how we broke it up and survived enjoyed the drive!

First stop - Marblemount
We left mid-morning and drove with minimal stops (one potty break) to Marblemount (about two hours from Seattle). We ate at the Eatery Inn. Do not do this unless you love slow (but pleasant) service and mediocre food. We passed the Burger Barn in Darrington and we would have stopped there if we'd known what we were in for - how could it be worse? But Monkey had his new-found love (a hot dog) so he was happy as a clam. If you know of any other places to try along this route do let me know! After we ate we looked for rabbits around the grounds but didn't spy any, so we ambled across the street to visit the Wildwood Chapel (teensy church) where Monkey practiced his "speeches" at the pulpit. There is also a marked trail to the river which we decided to pass up as we were going on to Newhalem (about 20 minutes away) and had a hike planned there.  If I were to do it again I think we'd pack a picnic and follow that sign down to the river.

Second stop - Newhalem (milepost 120)
The first place we visited was the North Cascades Visitor Center. I highly recommend this stop. The rangers are very friendly, there's a great 3-D map of the cascades (lots of buttons to push that light up each marked peak, valley and river), a nice area with some exhibits for you and your kids to explore and some easy hikes right out the back door. The best part is you can pick up a Jr. Ranger booklet and your child can get started earning a patch right away. Monkey was able to get his badge and patch within 30 minutes. Normally we'd complete this at a leisurely pace while camping - but since we weren't sure if we'd be back later this summer he decided to complete it while we were there. You can also download the booklet and become a "web ranger" if you're unable to visit the park. Find out more about the Jr. Ranger program here. Monkey is already asking when he can earn his next patch. So next we'll visit the Klondike Gold Rush National Park in Pioneer Square and hopefully hit another National Park this summer.

Trail notes.
Taking the pledge.

Third stop - Ladder Creek Falls/Gorge Powerhouse (also in Newhalem)
Cross the pedestrian suspension bridge and walk up behind the Gorge powerhouse to view the falls. Monkey loved it. He said gleefully, "this is the best day of my whole Kindergarten life!" I'd say that's pretty high praise. Falls are always a good destination and even better when the walk is short. Add in a suspension bridge, steep stairs, blue butterflies, a snake, a peek at the turbines in the powerhouse and zig-zaggy trails - the kid was in heaven.

After that we decided it was getting late enough that we should cut our stops short and head to Winthrop. The drive was insanely beautiful! Jagged, snowy spires jutting above the tree-covered hills. Teal lakes sparkling in the sun and yet more waterfalls all along the route. So the adults were fine - but the kid was a little more challenged after he got bored with spotting waterfalls. So I created a travel bingo game on the fly and we played a few travel games (I'm Xavier, carrying a load of x-rays and I'm going to Xanadu). He even did a little meditation - but I will admit there was a wee bit of whining. Thank goodness for dried mango - it's chewy and it's almost impossible to whine while chomping - almost.

Day 2 - On the road again

First Stop - Shafer Museum
The next morning we checked out the outdoor Shafer museum just across from our motel. Make sure to have some cash on hand when you visit as they run on donations. $2 minimum is suggested. Wander among all the old mining equipment and historic buildings to get a taste of Winthrop history. 

Second Stop - Falls Creek Trail
Before we left the Methow we stopped at the Falls Creek Trail. Yet another falls and an easy, accessible trail - only about 1/4 mile so perfect for a quick stop to get the wiggles out.

Third Stop - Happy Creek Forest Walk (milepost 134.5)
We stopped for a picnic lunch at Happy Creek. This is a newly rebuilt, short (are you seeing a theme?),  accessible boardwalk/gravel trail that goes through some old growth forest and past a creek that lives up to its name. We had originally planned to eat at the Diablo Lake Overlook but didn't want to backtrack and we were too hungry to wait. 

Fourth Stop - Diablo Lake Overlook (milepost 132)
What is there to say - it's spectacular! There's no reason not to stop. Seriously, you need to stop!

Fifth Stop - Diablo Dam (milepost 127)
We saw a sign and decided to follow it - so we got to drive across the Diablo Dam. It was pretty surreal to be up so high. Mr. Monkey was pretty freaked out with the wind and the narrowness of the dam we were driving across. I thought it was awesome! We parked at the far end and got out. Mr. Monkey was not comfortable with us walking across but I went a little ways out. Next time I'm walking across!

Sixth Stop - Cascadian Farms Roadside Stand (Rockport, WA)
This was our last stop before the final push home. In addition to some organic snacks, frozen berries and such they have ice cream and big fields to run around in (and some nice interpretive signs about organic farming - but Monkey was really into running laps around a newly plowed field).

All in all it was a fun (albeit short) trip. Here are some survival tips if you choose to go:

1) Pack snacks - lots and lots of snacks. If you think ahead you can wash fruit and such before you go.  If not, you can wash grapes with your water bottle water like we did. Bring snack cups (or just cups) and portion out some fruit and snacks so you don't have to stop and pull it all out. 

2) Pack activities. Monkey has a small backpack and I put his travel-size markers in there with a notepad and a sketchbook. He's starting to get into writing so he wrote a few stories. I also used it to make some travel bingo boards. That can be an activity too (the making of the board prior to play - everyone in the car can give suggestions of what to put in each square). I also recommend Think Fun's Rush Hour Jr.. It's a great game and perfect for travel. I packed a few other games as well and put them all in a shoe box. Monkey used the lid as a small desk for games and snacks.

3) Map out your trip and try to have some sort of stop each hour or so. This trip was all about the journey and in order to make it fun for all we really tried to plan out some fun stops throughout the drive. But know that sometimes you just have to press on - and prepare your kiddos for that reality :) Have fun!


Amy Mekelburg said...

Sounds like a fun trip! I love road trips that involve great scenery. You gave some great tips for travel with kiddos, sometimes that can be such a challenge!

Kim said...

Well as hubby, I and the kids are gearing up for a 'very' long road trip down the Oregon and California coast, a lot of these tips will come in handy. I especially like the dried mango - anything to stifle the whining works for me ;) And I LOVE the Bingo card idea! Thank you!!

Monkey's Mama said...

Thanks ladies! Kim - I've wanted to do that trip (we used to go almost every summer when I was a kid). I hope to read about it when you're back!