The Hiker Mama

north cascades opening weekend

Birthday Camping with Annika

Annika’s birthday was last month, and one of the things she asked for was a mommy-daughter camping trip. You don’t have to twist my arm about that! She had gotten sick that week, though, so the trip was in jeopardy. But at the last minute she started feeling better, and we were able to go. We didn’t want to camp in the rain. I guess I’ve had enough of that over my life, and wasn’t encouraged by the drippy weekend forecast for western Washington. But then I heard the North Cascades Highway was opening Friday, and a plan was hatched.

Getting info about what camping areas were open around Winthrop and Twisp was not as easy as one would have hoped, but I did eventually come up with a short list of places to check out. We have only ever camped at Klipchuck, so my knowledge of the area is spotty. Since Klipchuck was still snowbound and not open, we had to find another option.

We left mid-day on Friday, and drove through some heavy rain in Everett and along Hwy 20. The wind was whipping at the Diablo Lookout.

north cascades opening weekend
Diablo Lookout

But I held out hope that the weather forecast for the east side would be correct, and that we’d see more sun. Sure enough, by the time we got to Rainy Pass, the sun was beginning to break through the clouds, making for dramatic scenery.

north cascades highway, opening weekend
Rainy Pass Snow

The snow was taller than I was, and it was really cool to see all of the layers in the pristine cuts along the road. It got more and more sunny as we drove down the slopes east of Washington Pass, and we pulled into Early Winters Campground to check it out. It was open, but hadn’t been cleaned up yet, and there were lots of soggy puddles all over. It wasn’t all that appetizing, so we continued on into Winthrop, and then up the Chewuch River. We were very happy to discover that Falls Creek Campground looked much drier, and it was right on the river. Only a few other folks were camped there. We picked our site and settled in for the evening.

north cascades, chewuch river, camping methow
Campfire at Falls Creek

The Falls Creek Campground felt to me much like the Metolius in Oregon, with its open pine forest and the river running through. But the Chewuch River was brown and raging. On Saturday we enjoyed playing by the river, throwing in boats, and delighting over the little blue butterflies that were flitting around.

kids in nature, nature craft
Natural Boat
kids in nature, chewuch river, falls creek campground
Blue Butterfly on Annika’s Hand

We decided around lunch time to go for a drive and explore up the valley. I wanted to see what the other campgrounds looked like for future reference. They weren’t as logged out as the Falls Creek one, and I don’t think anyone was staying at them. The highlight of the day, though, came when we drove upon a moose walking the road ahead of us.

chewuch river, camping, winthrop, wildlife

It looked like a young male, by the size and the horn stubs that were just poking up. This was the first time I’ve seen a moose in the wild, and it was thrilling! We watched it from the car until it moseyed into the brush and disappeared.

After that we drove down to check out Pearrygin Lake State Park by Winthrop.

camping near winthrop
Pearrygin State park

This park had many families camped at it, but the feeling was completely different. Nestled in the sagebrush hills, the lakeside campsites are more like camping in a grass field with a hundred of your closest friends. It’s not our style, but it’s obviously very popular, and the fish were biting. The surrounding hills were covered in golden arrowroot balsamroot.

winthrop, arroleaf balsamroot, yellow flowers
Golden Hills

Blue delphiniums and lupines were interspersed to make a colorful tapestry. It was warm and sunny. The weather called for ice cream! So we continued into Winthrop and walked around, getting an ice cream cone for Annika, which she ate while sitting on a saddle chair.

winthrop fun
Eating Ice Cream on a Horse’s Saddle

We also picked up marshmallows (which I had forgotten for s’mores) and rope to use for boat floating.

Back at camp we relaxed some more, and Annika floated boats tied onto the rope.

chewuch river, falls creek campground, camping with children
Rope and Boat

I continue to be amazed at how she can entertain herself with such simple toys. She does take after her mother, though, as I used to do similar things when I was her age. We also walked across the street and up the short, paved Falls Creek Trail.

chewuch river, falls creek campground, washington waterfalls
Falls Creek Falls

That waterfall was impressive! We got soaked from the mist. I imagine it would be a refreshing destination on a hot day. We had a nice fire again (there were some sticks and logs left from the winter deadfall) and enjoyed marshmallows and cocoa in the evening.

We had some sprinkles during the night, so we took our time getting packed up in the morning so the tent could dry off. Reluctantly we said goodbye to Falls Creek. Since the forecast was for snow over Rainy Pass that day, we decided to drive home the long way through Leavenworth. Annika really enjoyed the scenery, the rolling hills, the flowers and birds.

washington wildflowers, shrub steppe sage habitat
Balsamroot and Large-Flowered Triteleia

We stopped for lunch at Alta Lake State Park, which was nicer than I was expecting, despite having had a fire burn through in 2014.

washington state parks, chelan area camping
Alta Lake State Park

One more stop in Leavenworth for coffee and a new book (Annika had read through both of the books she brought) and we drove over Stevens Pass. Annika’s ears were having trouble popping as we came down the west side of the pass, and so we pulled over at Deception Falls to give her time to acclimate. It was grey and drippy, but the air was fresh and the falls were dramatic.

hikes for kids, stevens pass hiking, washington waterfalls
Deception Falls
hikes for kids, stevens pass, waterfall hiking
Fun Bridge at Deception Pass Trail

We walked the short trail, and then finished our drive home. We look forward to coming back to this place in the summer to play along the shady river.

If You Go: The drive over the North Cascades Highway is long but beautiful. It’s open now for the season, but it will be a month or more before the more popular high trails begin to open. Winthrop is a neat little town, and I’d like to spend more time there – the Shaefer Museum looks like it would be worth a visit. If you stay at any of the campgrounds in the area before the main camping season begins, you’ll need to bring your own water. I’d recommend bringing TP, too, since the outhouses are not getting stocked regularly. The upside of this is that the pay boxes also haven’t been placed yet.







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