Washington State Route 20

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State Route 20 marker

State Route 20
Route information
Defined by RCW 47.17.080
Maintained by WSDOT
Length: 436.13 mi[1] (701.88 km)
Existed: 1964 – present
International Selkirk Loop
Major junctions
West end: US 101 in Discovery Bay
East end: US 2 in Newport
Highway system
SR 19 SR 21

State Route 20 (SR 20), also known alternately as the North-Cross Highway or the North Cascades Highway, is a state route in the state of Washington. It travels from an intersection with U.S. Route 101 (US 101) at Discovery Bay near Port Townsend to Newport at a junction with US 2 about 400 feet (120 m) from the Idaho state line. Although US 12 has a larger east–west extent, SR 20 is the longest highway in Washington at 436.13 miles (701.88 km), only 5.3 miles (8.5 km) longer than US 12.[1] The highway has been called "The Most Beautiful Mountain Highway in the State of Washington."[2]


What is known today as the North Cascades Highway was originally the corridor used by local Native American tribes as a trading route from Washington's Eastern Plateau country to the Pacific Coast for more than 8,000 years. After the California Gold Rush of 1849, white settlers started to arrive in the North Cascades looking for gold as well as fur-bearing animals. This far north, the settlers needed a clear route through some of the most rugged terrain in Washington Territory.

Rugged, remote peaks of the North Cascades, just east of Washington Pass

It wasn't until 1895, however, that funding to explore a possible route through the Cascade Range was appropriated.

After one year of surveying possible routes in the Upper Skagit River region, the State Road Commission concluded in 1896 that the Skagit gorge was not a practical route. Instead, the commission settled upon the Cascade Pass route, several miles south of the Skagit gorge. The Cascade Pass route began to be roughed out in 1897 and shortly afterward, state highway maps showed the road as either State Highway 1 or the Cascade Wagon Road. In the following years, floods on the Cascade River took out most of the work completed on the road and led Washington's first State Highway Commissioner to report in 1905 that almost all the money appropriated for the road had been wasted. After these unsuccessful attempts to build a northern cross-mountain highway, the state designated that a highway be built along the Methow River from Pateros to Hart's Pass, high above Eastern Washington's Methow Valley. This road was completed in 1909.

By 1936, both of Seattle City Light projects, Gorge Dam and Diablo Dam had been completed and were attracting visitors and families to the area. In 1940, the first stage of the completion of Ross Dam was reached. Because this influx of population and interest in the area once again demonstrated the need for a northern route over the high Cascades, highway promoters began to try and persuade other boosters to finally abandon the idea of the ill-fated Cascade Pass route and instead look to agreeing on a route across Rainy and Washington Pass. In 1953, the North Cascades Highway Association was formed with politicians, lobbyists, and business owners from both sides of the North Cascades taking part. As these boosters pushed Olympia harder to move forward on the highway plan, more and more requests for huge sales of old-growth timber from along the highway corridor came in. These increasing timber requests were used to support the need for a highway.

Finally, in 1958, the State of Washington appropriated funds to build a highway from the Seattle City Light company town of Diablo to Thunder Arm, a southern arm of Diablo Lake. Funds were also allotted to improve access roads on both sides of the North Cascades and construction on this section of the highway began in 1959. Over the next nine years, construction of the road would continue along with the signing of the North Cascades National Park bill by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968. With this bill, the hope of using the highway as access for high-dollar timber sales was quashed. Nonetheless, businessmen and residents on both sides of the North Cascades were hopeful and supportive of the tourist dollars that would be seen with the opening of the "North-Cross Highway".

North Cascades Highway just west of Rainy Pass and the Pacific Crest Trail

Moreoever, the Methow Valley town of Winthrop, Washington was in the process of transforming itself from a sleepy cow-town into a tourist town with a western-style theme, complete with false-front buildings and boardwalk sidewalks. Finally, in mid-1972, the more-than-a-century-old idea of connecting western Washington with eastern Washington by a northern highway route had come to fruition.

Amidst fanfare, music provided by the Concrete High School Band, and ribbon cutting, Highway 20 was officially connected from western to eastern Washington via Washington Pass on September 2, 1972. Then-governor Daniel J. Evans, a host of state dignitaries, and then-President Richard M. Nixon's brother Donald were in attendance for the opening and vehicle procession over the Cascade Mountains.[3]

Former route number[edit]

Prior to the completion of the North Cascades Highway, western portions of SR 20 used many different designations.

SR 113[edit]

From 1964 until 1973, SR 20 was designated as SR 113 from Discovery Bay to Coupeville. The route had historically been the Port Townsend branch of Primary State Highway 9 (PSH 9 PT) and a branch of Secondary State Highway 1D (SSH 1D) in 1937, during the creation of the Primary and secondary highways.[4] In 1964, these two highways became SR 113, as part of a new numbering system created by the Washington State Legislature and the Washington State Department of Transportation.[5] When SR 20 was extended west from Fredonia in 1973,[6] SR 113 was decommissioned.[7][8][9] The Port Townsend–Keystone ferry wasn't technically part of SR 20 until 1994, when all of the Washington State Ferries routes were added to the state highway system.[10][11]

SR 20; and SR 20 Spur were the western segments of SR 536 from 1964 until 1973. This map also details the former numbering of SR 20 south of Sharpes Corner toward Deception Pass and Whidbey Island

SR 525[edit]

From Coupeville to Sharpes Corner (just outside of Anacortes), the modern SR 20 was designated SR 525, and prior to 1964 as SSH 1D. When the North Cascades Highway was completed, and the SR 20 designation extended Westward, the SR 525 designation was supplanted to Coupeville.

SR 536[edit]

From Mt. Vernon to the Anacortes Ferry Terminal, the modern SR 20 (and SR 20 Spur, west of Sharpes Corner) was designated SR 536, and prior to 1964 as the Anacortes Branch of PSH 1. When the North Cascades Highway was completed, and the SR 20 designation extended Westward, the SR 536 designation was supplanted, and the SR 20 Spur designation created to keep the route to the ferry terminal within the highway system.

Route description[edit]

Liberty Bell Mountain from 5,477-foot (1,669 m) elevation Washington Pass on North Cascades Highway

SR 20 begins at a wye-junction in Discovery Bay, Washington at US 101 and goes north to Port Townsend. Just prior to entering the city, it connects to the northern terminus of SR 19. SR 20 then travels through the modern section Port Townsend to the ferry terminal at the Southern edge of historic downtown Port Townsend. The route then travels via the Port Townsend-Keystone route of the Washington State Ferries to Keystone on Whidbey Island.

Once on Whidbey Island SR 20 travels eastward along former tidal flats between Admiralty Inlet and Crocket Lake to the Northern Terminus of SR 525. The route turns north, supplanting SR 525, and travels through Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve to the town of Coupeville. While traveling near Coupeville, eastbound lanes are traveling westward, and vice versa, often causing confusion when directing tourists. The route continues west to Fort Ebey, then travels along the western shore of Penn Cove, through the former town of San De Fuca, before turning northward to Oak Harbor. Once in Oak Harbor, SR 20 follows the route of Pioneer Way to its intersection with Oak Harbor St., at which point SR 20 turns onto Oak Harbor St. After less than one mile (1.6 km), SR 20 veers off of Oak Harbor St. onto its own right of way that it follows out of Oak Harbor. The route again travels in the wrong direction along the northern border with Whidbey Island NAS, in order to avoid the station's runways. The route then enters Deception Pass State Park and travels over Deception Pass and Canoe Pass over the Deception Pass Bridge (and Canoe Pass Bridge), to Fidalgo Island.

The route weaves through the rocky landscape of Fidalgo Island to Sharpes Corner, on the outskirts of Anacortes, where it meets the eastern terminus of SR 20 Spur, a four-lane expressway. SR 20 turns east onto the expressway, traveling though the Swinomish Reservation, over the former tidal flats of the Skagit Valley. It intersects SR 536 of which the route supplanted to this point. SR 20 veers slightly northward along a new portion of expressway, completed in 2009, which it follows to Burlington, where it intersects I-5. As SR 20 follows the city's streets to avoid downtown, it gains its nickname of "The North Cascades Highway". SR 20 follows a former railroad grade to Sedro-Woolley, where it is again routed around the downtown, and is overlaid with SR 9. On the north side of Sedro-Woolley, SR 9 departs the route, and SR 20 begins the slow climb through the Cascade Mountains to Washington Pass, via Concrete and the northern/eastern terminus of SR 530.

SR 20 travels through the towns of Winthrop and Twisp as it travels down the eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountains. Just south of Twisp, SR 20 meets SR 153, before turning eastward to Okanogan. Just south of Okanogan, SR 20 is overlaid with US 97. SR 20 stays with US 97 to the city of Tonasket, where it continues its eastward journey.

Scenic byway designations[edit]

Portions of this route of SR 20 are designated as a Washington State Scenic Byway and a National Forest Scenic Byway. The scenic byway begins at Republic, and extends 40 miles (64 km) east across the mountainous Kettle River Range, Colville National Forest, and the Columbia River to Kettle Falls. The route reaches Sherman Pass (elev. 5,575 feet or 1,699 meters)—the highest mountain pass open all-year in Washington state—18 miles (29 km) east of Republic. The highway continues through Colville before reaching its final destination of Newport as US 2 approximately 1,000 feet (300 m) from the Washington–Idaho state line.

Annual closure[edit]

Q-Q plot for first opening/final closing dates[12]

SR 20 is one of only three State Routes in Washington that have portions closed in the winter (the others being SR 410 and SR 123). Washington Pass (elev. 5,477 feet or 1,669 meters) and nearby Rainy Pass (elev. 4,875 feet or 1,486 meters) annually receive up to 15 feet (4.6 m) of snow throughout the winter, and are prone to avalanches leaving over 20 feet (6.1 m) of snow on the road.[13]

As of December 2014, the median first open date was April 21. The median final closure date was November 26. During the drought of the winter of 1976/77, the highway was not closed.[12]

Major intersections[edit]

County Location mi[1] km Destinations Notes
Jefferson   0.00 0.00 US 101 – Quilcene, Olympia, Port Angeles
  7.79 12.54 SR 19 south – Port Ludlow
Admiralty Inlet 12.57 20.23 Port Townsend–Keystone Ferry
Island   16.00 25.75 SR 525 south – Mukilteo Ferry
Skagit Anacortes 47.45 76.36
SR 20 Spur – Anacortes, San Juan Ferry
  54.07 87.02 Farm to Market Road, Best Road Former SR 237
  54.62 87.90 SR 536 east – Mount Vernon No access from SR 20 west to SR 536 east
Burlington 59.10 95.11 I‑5 – Vancouver, BC, Seattle
Sedro-Woolley 64.37 103.59 SR 9 south – Arlington West end of SR 9 overlap
65.64 105.64 SR 9 north – Sumas East end of SR 9 overlap
Rockport 97.21 156.44 SR 530 west – Darrington, Arlington
  105.63 170.00 Cascade Road – Marblemount Former PSH 17
Okanogan   179.08 288.20 Lost River Road – Mazama Former PSH 16
Twisp 200.93 323.37 Second Avenue Former PSH 17
  203.48 327.47 SR 153 south – Chelan, Wenatchee
  229.99 370.13 Old 97 – Malott, Brewster Former US 97 south; proposed SR 213
Okanogan 232.20 373.69
SR 215 north / US 97 Bus. north / SR 20 Bus. east – Okanogan, Omak
West end of US 97 Bus. overlap
  232.70 374.49 US 97 south – Wenatchee East end of US 97 Bus. overlap; west end of US 97 overlap
Omak 237.76 382.64 SR 155 south – Omak, Grand Coulee Dam
  238.84 384.38
SR 215 south / US 97 Bus. south / SR 20 Bus. west – Omak
Tonasket 261.34 420.59 US 97 north – Penticton East end of US 97 overlap
Ferry Republic 302.03 486.07 SR 21 south – Keller, Wilbur West end of SR 21 overlap
  304.59 490.19 SR 21 north – Curlew, Grand Forks East end of SR 21 overlap
  341.43 549.48 US 395 north – Laurier, Grand Forks West end of US 395 overlap
Stevens   344.18 553.90 SR 25 – Marcus, Northport, Davenport
Colville 354.33 570.24 US 395 south – Spokane East end of US 395 overlap
Pend Oreille   389.66 627.10 SR 31 north – Metaline Falls
  420.70 677.05 SR 211 south – Spokane, Davis Lake, Sacheen Lake
Newport 436.13 701.88 US 2 – Sandpoint, Spokane
1.000 mi = 1.609 km; 1.000 km = 0.621 mi

Related routes[edit]

SR 20 Spur[edit]

State Route 20 Spur
Location: Anacortes, Washington
Existed: 1964–present
The western land terminus of SR 20 Spur is the Anacortes Ferry Terminal

State Route 20 Spur (SR 20 Spur, also State Route 20 North) is a 7.78-mile (12.52 km) spur route of State Route 20 in the U.S. state of Washington. The highway travels north from SR 20 to the Anacortes Ferry Terminal, entirely within the city of Anacortes in Skagit County, except the ferry portion, which travels within San Juan County. The roadway was established in 1937 as the western segment of the Anacortes branch of Primary State Highway 1, which became SR 536 in 1964 and renumbered to SR 20 Spur and SR 20 in 1973. In 1994, SR 20 was extended along the San Juan Islands ferry, which serves Lopez Island, Shaw Island, Orcas Island and San Juan Island.

Map of SR 20 Spur

State Route 20 Spur (SR 20 Spur) begins at an intersection with State Route 20 southeast of downtown Anacortes at the southern end of Fidalgo Bay in a dense forest.[14] From the terminus, the roadway travels northwest and later west near the bay to become Commercial Avenue in downtown Anacortes at a turn when the road goes north. The street travels through downtown Anacortes before turning west to become 12th Street and later goes southwest along the waterfront as Oakes Avenue to an intersection with Sunset Avenue after passing Anacortes Airport.[1] At Sunset Avenue, SR 20 Spur becomes Ferry Terminal Road and curves north to the Anacortes Ferry Terminal in Ship Harbor.[15][16][17] The roadway after the intersection with SR 20 had a daily average of 23,000 motorists in 2007.[18]

SR 20 Spur was established in 1937 as the Anacortes branch of Primary State Highway 1 (PSH 1 AN), which ran from the Anacortes ferry terminal to PSH 1 in Mount Vernon, using the current highway along with State Highway 20 and SR 536. The route intersected Secondary State Highway 1D (SSH 1D, now SR 20) in Anacortes, SSH 1C (former SR 237) in Fredonia and a SSH 1C branch (became PSH 16, now SR 20).[4][19] PSH 1 AN was later renumbered during the 1964 highway renumbering to SR 536, SSH 1D became SR 525 and PSH 16 became SR 20.[5][7] When SR 20 was extended west to Discovery Bay from Fredonia in 1974, SR 536 was shortened and SR 20 Spur was created.[6][20] The roadway ended at the Anacortes ferry terminal until 1994, when the route was routed onto the San Juan Islands ferry operated by Washington State Ferries.[21][22]

SR 20 Business[edit]

SR 20 Business was a bannered route through Okanagan and Omak that followed the former route of SR 20 and US 97, while SR 20 bypasses the cities along with US 97 along the East Bank of the Okanogan River. This route has been replaced with SR 215.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "State Highway Log" (PDF). Washington State Department of Transportation. 2006. 
  2. ^ Gulick, Bill (1996). A Traveler's History of Washington. Caxton Press. p. 333. ISBN 0-87004-371-4. 
  3. ^ "History of North Cascades Highway". Washington State Department of Transportation. 
  4. ^ a b Washington State Legislature (1937). "Chapter 190: Establishment of Primary State Highways; Chapter 207: Classification of Public Highways". Session Laws of the State of Washington. Session Laws of the State of Washington (1937 ed.). Olympia, Washington: Washington State Legislature. pp. 938, 995, 1006. Retrieved June 20, 2009. 
  5. ^ a b Prahl, C. G. (December 1, 1965). "Identification of State Highways" (PDF). Washington State Highway Commission, Department of Highways. Retrieved June 18, 2009. 
  6. ^ a b Washington State Legislature (1975). "RCW 47.17.081: State route No. 20 north". Retrieved June 18, 2009. 
  7. ^ a b Victoria, 1966 (Map). 1:250,000. Cartography by USGS. United States Geological Survey. 1966. Retrieved June 20, 2009 – via University of Texas at Austin. 
  8. ^ Washington State Department of Transportation (1980). "Annual Traffic Report, 1980" (PDF). p. 71. Retrieved June 20, 2009. 
  9. ^ Seattle, 1965 (Map). 1:250,000. Cartography by USGS. United States Geological Survey. 1965. Retrieved June 20, 2009 – via University of Texas at Austin. 
  10. ^ Washington State House of Representatives (March 30, 1994). "Substitute House Bill 2618; Chapter 209, Laws of 1994" (PDF). Washington State Legislature. Retrieved June 20, 2009. 
  11. ^ Washington State Legislature (March 30, 1994). "HB 2618 – 1993–94: Adding ferry water routes to the state highway system". Retrieved June 20, 2009. 
  12. ^ a b "SR 20—North Cascades Highway—Opening and Closing History". North Cascades Passes. Washington State Department of Transportation. October 2009. Retrieved February 8, 2009. 
  13. ^ "SR 20—North Cascades Highway—Frequently Asked Questions". Washington State Department of Transportation. March 2013. Retrieved March 28, 2013. 
  14. ^ SR 20; Junction SR 20 SP ANACRT (PDF) (Map). Washington State Department of Transportation. September 9, 2004. Retrieved July 20, 2009. 
  15. ^ Google (June 18, 2009). "State Route 20 Spur" (Map). Google Maps. Google. Retrieved June 18, 2009. 
  16. ^ Skagit Count: Mount Vernon, Anacortes (Map) (2004 ed.). City Street Maps. G. M. Johnson. 2004. Rockport inset. ISBN 1-894570-90-1. Retrieved June 18, 2009. 
  17. ^ City of Anacortes Address Map, 2009 (PDF) (Map). City of Anacortes. March 31, 2009. Retrieved June 18, 2009. 
  18. ^ Washington State Department of Transportation (2007). "2007 Annual Traffic Report" (PDF). pp. 100–101. Retrieved June 18, 2009. 
  19. ^ Washington State Legislature (1961). "Chapter 13: Public Highways". Session Laws of the State of Washington. Session Laws of the State of Washington (1961 ed.). Olympia, Washington: Washington State Legislature. p. 520. Retrieved June 18, 2009. 
  20. ^ Washington State Legislature (1964). "RCW 47.17.080: State route No. 20". Retrieved June 18, 2009. 
  21. ^ Washington State House of Representatives (March 30, 1994). "Substitute House Bill 2618; Chapter 209, Laws of 1994" (PDF). Washington State Legislature. Retrieved June 18, 2009. 
  22. ^ Washington State Legislature (March 30, 1994). "HB 2618, 1993–94: Adding ferry water routes to the state highway system". Retrieved June 18, 2009. 

External links[edit]

Route map: Bing / Google