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By Jane Cassie
(For Travel Writers' Tales)

Camping, for some keeners, means cramming-in as many adrenaline-surging activities as possible. For me, it's all about roasting marshmallows over an open fire, lying back with a good book and connecting with Mother Nature. And during this three-day trip of Washington's Cascade Loop, I enjoy just that!

Our entry point is Sedro-Wooley, a quaint Skagit Valley community that's dotted with century-old farm houses and fields of pretty tulips. Soon after ascending Highway 20 and meeting up with the turbulent Skagit River, these blooming beauties are replaced by century-old hemlock and cedar. And in December, these stately stands become perfect hangouts for bald eagles that come to prey on the spawning salmon.

Diablo Lake is our first of many photo moments. Its brilliant turquoise colour, attributed to fine glacial silt, is mesmerizing -not just for us picture-takers, but for kayakers and canoeists too. Outdoor enthusiasts also gravitate to the many hiking trails along this drive, one being the Pacific Crest National, a route that snakes all the way from Manning Park to Mexico. My husband, Brent, makes a comment that it would be a fabulous trekking experience. In my laid-back, mode, I think otherwise.

The surroundings continue to exhilarate. We slice through the Methow Valley and scoot around heaven-bound mounds of granite. When cloaked in wintry white, this dryer interior zone lures the cross-country skiers. And during the warmer months, the pathways become a haven for horseback lovers.

En route to our first campground we pass Mazama's Freestone Inn, a posh spot that epitomizes the lap of luxury. Jetted tubs, quilted beds, yummy cuisine -we'd definitely have a night of seclusion and serenity if we stayed here. But no -we keep on truckin' -and eventually snuggle up for the night with Mother Earth instead. And at 1,100 meter (3,600 feet) elevation, Lone Fir Campground is a heavenly spot to pitch a tent. Our site is just steps away from Early Winters Creek and a short stroll from the trailhead to Cutthroat Lake.

Sun Mountain Lodge is another alluring temptation the following day. From its lofty mountaintop plateau, near the western town of Winthrop, we'd be privy to lavish living and spa treatments as well as horseback and hay rides. Once again we decline -and instead, spend the afternoon sauntering the boardwalk and moseying through some of the emporiums of this Gunsmoke-look-alike town.

From Lake Chelan, and later Wenatchee, we're confronted with way too many activities than we have time for during this short trip. Brent is keen on mountain biking or trying a trek. I'm drawn to the many picnic pull-offs where we can chill out and relax. Which we do!

Our second night with nature is spent at Lake Wenatchee State Park, a 489-acre outdoor mecca that nestles up to a glacier fed lake. "There's a lot to do here," Brent comments, when we first register. "Swimming, hiking, horseback -take your pick." I think about the options, albeit briefly. My lawn chair waits patiently to be used.

The Bavarian village of Leavenworth merits a long coffee stop the next morning. While nestled in the foothills of these alluring mountains, it's a storybook-like destination that Heidi would love. Overflowing planter boxes reach out from Swiss-motif shops and while sipping a little java, we tap our toes to an oompah band.

Onward and upward. After veering around the steep walls of Tumwater Canyon, we climb and summit at Coles Corner, a recreation hangout for boaters and fishermen. Skiers also get in on the action every winter at nearby Stephens Pass when up to 11.5 meters (450 inches) of white fluff cloaks its thirty-seven runs and 1,125 acres of skiable terrain.

Action-packed adventures continue to parallel the rest of our scenic loop. Rock climbers ascend gravity-defying cliffs in the town of Index. Whitewater rafters challenge the rushing torrents of Skykomish River. Golfers putt on manicured greens in Monroe. And I'm quite content to check them all out from my comfy passenger seat.

We finalize this Cascade trip in the quaint town of Snohomish, the Antique Capital of the Northwest, where in a few hundred dealers set up shop in a six block radius. "We could venture a little further to Everett and go whale watching or rent a couple of bikes," Brent suggests. "Not this time," I reply, reflecting back on the past few days. "The camping was enough for me this trip."


Hazardous winter weather conditions force closure of the North Cascades access to this mountain route, often from November to March. (Each year varies based on weather conditions) Access to the route is still available during this time however, through Osoyoos to Omak, or via Wenatchee

Resourceful Sites:

PHOTOS As attributed below

1. Skagit Valley: photo credit Andy Porter
2. Diablo Lake: photo credit Subbu Kukke
3. Methow Valley: courtesy Okanogan County Tourism
4. Western town of Winthrop: by Brent Cassie
5. Wenatchee's Ohme Gardens Courtesy Wenatchee Chamber of Commerce
6. Skykomish River, Mount Index: photo credit Andy Porter

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