After heavy snows buried the North Cascades Highway up to 25 feet deep this past winter, warmer weather is helping road crews reopen the route sooner than anticipated.
Also known as State Route 20, this stretch of scenic highway will reopen to vehicle traffic at 11 a.m. on May 16, the Washington State Department of Transportation announced Friday.
“Crews always had a Memorial Day weekend opening as a goal, despite the estimates that told us June,” said Don Becker, WSDOT’s maintenance supervisor in Twisp, in a news release. “Luckily, in the end, the weather was finally on our side.”
This year’s reopening is the third latest on record. You have to go back to June 14, 1974 to find the only time crews weren’t able to get this stretch open before the end of May. Last year, the road reopened on April 22.
The scenic highway stretches from the Olympic Peninsula to the Idaho state line, but the 35- to 40-mile portion over the North Cascades is typically closed between late November and mid-December, and usually opens by early May. It links eastern Whatcom County to Okanogan County and some prime hiking, fishing and camping areas.
What about Artist Point?
WSDOT said crews will not even begin clearing the road to Artist Point – the final 2.7 miles of Mount Baker Highway (SR 542) and another popular summertime route – until after the Ski to Sea race on May 28.
No opening date has been set, but transportation officials said Friday the highway is clear to Mt. Baker Ski Area, which is closed for the season. Hikers can access the Bagley Lakes Trailhead but would still need snowshoes on the trail.