An annual rite of spring is the reopening of the North Cascades Highway in April or early May after snow plow crews complete the task of scraping the road to bare pavement.
That not only opens a 40-mile stretch of Highway 20 in northern Washington state to car traffic, but it also marks the reopening of a remarkably scenic link of Adventure Cycling Association’s Northern Tier and Washington State Parks bicycle routes to touring bicyclists.
The Washington State Department of Transportation is shooting for a 1 p.m. Tuesday reopening of the highway, unless this past weekend’s spring snows put them behind schedule. (The photo above shows two snowplows throwing snow last week; the activity didn’t bother the bear, below.)
The scenery, low traffic and wide shoulders make this an ideal summer and fall bicycle touring route. The Bicycle Alliance of Washington is currently working to include this route in the U.S. Bicycle Route System, a network of more than 50,000 miles of bicycle touring corridors linking cities and important landmarks.
This section of the North Cascades Highway would be part of U.S. Bicycle Route 10, which would stretch from Anacortes, Washington, to Bar Harbor, Maine. It would be the first of six U.S. Bicycle Routes eventually planned in the state.
The BAW team members worked on the section from Anacortes to Rainy Pass this past winter, gaining resolutions of support from the Swinomish Nation, Burlington, Sedro Woolley, Hamilton, Concrete and Skagit County. Other jurisdictions along the 140-mile route need to sign on before they can seek approval from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), which confers the official designation.
The Adventure Cycling Association is coordinating and supporting efforts for U.S. Bicycle Route System. Volunteers in some 40 states are currently working to bring this bicycle network to life.
Of course bicyclists don’t have to wait for route designations to begin riding through the North Cascades National Park again. They just need strong legs and big lungs to get them over the mountains.