At the crest of the Cascades, US-2 climbs over 4,061-foot Stevens Pass, the highest and northernmost Cascade pass that’s kept open year-round. Stevens Pass was also a historically vital railroad crossing, though Amtrak and other trains now avoid the pass, detouring instead through an eight-mile-long tunnel cut through the mountains in 1929. In 1910, before the completion of the tunnel—the longest still in use in the western hemisphere—the pass was the site of the worst avalanche disaster in U.S. history: 96 passengers and railroad workers were killed by a mile-long snow slide.
Besides providing grand views of the nearby peaks and more distant valleys, Stevens Pass is also a popular ski area (206/634-1645) with 10 chair lifts, reasonable rates, a terrain park, and a 1,800-foot vertical drop. In summer, the slopes convert to a mountain-biking terrain park.
Heading east through the Cascades from Stevens Pass, US-2 runs through the forests of Tumwater Canyon, a breathtaking place when fall color sweeps through it, and quite scenic any other time of year. Much of the surrounding wilderness was badly burned by wildfires, but most of the area right along US-2 survived pretty much unscathed.
All along this stretch, US-2 winds along the raging Wenatchee River through evergreen conifer forests highlighted by occasional aspens. The river is a popular rafting and kayaking spot, whose challenges vary with the water levels and intensity of the snowmelt. There are also some nice late-summer swimming holes, easily accessible from US-2, but the roadside is basically undeveloped, with one exception: At Coles Corner, 15 miles west of Leavenworth, the blue-roofed ’59er Diner (509/763-2267) is a popular road-food restaurant, with great juicy burgers, crispy fries, milk shakes, and a jukebox.