by Andy Stepniewski

revised by Andy Stepniewski

The Methow River drains a broad slice of the North Cascades, much of it wild and remote. Near the crest, dense, somber conifer forests mantle the glacially overdeepened valleys, cut through by alder-choked avalance chutes. The maritime climate dumps immense, wet winter snowfalls. A few miles east from the crest, however, a rainshadow effect sets in, allowing a steady transition to drier, more open forests. Just 30 miles downslope, rangelands occupy the valley bottoms, and Bitterbrush and other shrub-steppe flora cover the south-facing hillsides—prime winter range for a Mule Deer herd numbering over 20,000 animals.

About 75 species of birds breed in the varied habitats of the lower parts of the valley. Killdeer, Western Kingbird, Black-billed Magpie, American Crow, swallows, Western Meadowlark, and Brewer’s Blackbird can be abundant in farm fields. 

Several species of “eastern” affinity—Eastern Kingbird, Red-eyed Vireo, Veery, Gray Catbird, American Redstart (uncommon)—occur in cottonwoods. Typical dry-forest species such as Lewis’s Woodpecker, Western Wood-Pewee, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and Cassin’s Finch can be found in the pines. White-tailed Ptarmigan, American Pipit, Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch, and Pine Grosbeak may repay a summer foray to the Cascade Crest at Harts Pass and Slate Peak. Winter brings Bohemian Waxwings and Common Redpolls to the valley; Bald and a few Golden Eagles are drawn to spawned salmon in the Methow River.

After a brief gold-mining boom in the late 1800s, the Methow went the way of many another Eastside mountain economy, getting by on logging, grazing, and limited tourism (much of it tied to the fall deer-hunting season). A swelling Washington population, and the opening of the North Cascades Highway (SR-20) in 1972, have stimulated residential and tourism development. The Methow is now a year-round destination with many resorts in all price ranges offering fishing, hiking, whitewater rafting, horseback riding, and golf in summer, and cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling in winter. Snowfall forces the winter closure of SR-20 west from Mazama (typically November or December to April); during those months the sole approach to the Methow country is from the east. Winthrop is the main town and a fine base of operations for birders, summer or winter.



The huge Carlton Complex Fire ravaged more than a quarter-million acres in the lower Methow Valley, including Pateros, and surrounding areas in the summer of 2014. The fire destroyed huge swaths of Bitterbrush and other wildlife habitat. WDFW biologists said the fire would have major effects on deer, other mammals such as squirrels and bears, and on birds. Regrowth in most burned areas was expected in four or five years.

Year-round access to the Methow Valley begins at the junction of US-97 and SR-153 in Pateros on the Columbia River. Heading west on SR-153, you’ll drive along impounded Columbia River waters for the first mile, full of waterfowl in spring and fall—American Wigeon, Redhead, and many other species. At 1.7 miles from US-97, turn left onto Alta Lake Road. From here it is 1.6 miles to Alta Lake State Park. The park is crowded at times; nonetheless, an early-morning exploration of the pine forest and other habitats should yield a good representative bird list. Species to look for in the campground and on the trail uphill toward the steep, rocky bluffs include Chukar, Rock Pigeon (nesting on the cliffs), Common Poorwill, White-throated Swift, Calliope Hummingbird, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Western Wood-Pewee, Clark’s Nutcracker, Mountain Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Western Bluebird, Gray Catbird (in riparian growth near the end of the lake), Nashville Warbler, Western Tanager, Black-headed Grosbeak, and Cassin’s Finch. (Note: The 2014 fire likely destroyed habitat for some of these birds for a few years.)

As you continue up SR-153 beside the Methow River, keep an eye out for American Dipper and for Bald and Golden Eagles in winter. In 5.0 miles, Black Canyon Road (FR-4010) provides access to the Chelan Ridge hawkwatching site (page 421). In another 15.8 miles, just before Carlton, turn left from SR-153 onto the Twisp-Carlton Road. This quiet alternative to SR-153 passes orchards, hay fields, pine woods, and excellent riparian habitat. The first couple miles are productive for Lewis’s Woodpecker. A particularly good one-mile stretch with a tall Black Cottonwood overstory and a lush shrub layer begins in 6.7 miles. To explore this span, park on the left just after Sungate Lane (0.4 mile) and bird on foot along the main road for the next 0.6 mile to Beaver Pond Road, looking and listening for Least Flycatcher (uncommon), Red-eyed Vireo, Veery (common), Gray Catbird, and Black-headed Grosbeak, among others. Black Swifts often join the many swallows overhead, especially in periods of cool or stormy weather. In 2.6 miles, the road meets SR-20. Turn left into Twisp.

Twisp River Road reaches deep into the Cascades, with fine birding of dry and wet habitats. In 0.2 mile, turn left onto this road (Second Avenue in Twisp), drive 2.8 miles, and turn right onto Frost Road (poorly signed). In 1.4 miles, reach Shaw Lake in the Big Buck Unit (5,600 acres) of the Methow Wildlife Area. Habitats here include several shallow lakes, dense riparian thickets, and Bitterbrush-dominated shrub-steppe. Waterfowl, shorebirds, and Yellow-headed Blackbird are possibilities from this overlook. Mountain Bluebirds, Yellow-breasted Chats, Lazuli Buntings, and Black-headed Grosbeaks are just a few of the likely birds. From Shaw Lake, return 0.2 mile on Frost Road. Park and walk the dirt track going off to the left (east) toward Dead Horse Lake. Groves of Quaking Aspen and Black Cottonwood with shrubby thickets, alternating with bunchgrass-covered hillsides, provide habitat for many breeding birds including Red-naped Sapsucker, Gray Catbird, and Bullock’s Oriole. The lake should have waterfowl or shorebirds, depending on the water level. Dry forests and brushy hillsides as you proceed along Twisp River Road have Flammulated Owl, White-headed Woodpecker, Pygmy Nuthatch, Red Crossbill, and Cassin’s Finch. Harlequin Ducks breed along the river. Look for this striking waterfowl when the river comes into view.

Farther upriver, the road becomes FR-44 upon entering the Okanogan National Forest. In 12 miles, wetter forest in and around War Creek Campground has Barred Owl, Hammond’s Flycatcher, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Hermit Thrush, and MacGillivray’s and Townsend’s Warblers.



Winthrop, on SR-20 nine miles north of Twisp at the confluence of the Methow and Chewuch Rivers, is an agreeable community with a made-over Western theme and fine year-round birding. Summer has the greatest diversity of birds, especially in riparian habitats. Harlequin Duck can be found then along the Methow River right in town. American Dipper is common in the colder months. Winter also brings roving flocks of Bohemian Waxwings and Common Redpolls (irregular) along with a few Pine Grosbeaks. The best strategy for winter songbirding is to drive the streets of Winthrop, checking feeders and yard plantings. Five sites offering good spring and early-summer birding close to Winthrop are outlined below. Directions are given from the main intersection in the heart of the Winthrop business district, where SR-20 westbound makes a 90-degree left turn to cross the Chewuch River. Zero your trip-odometer here.

Twin Lakes and Beaver Pond are fine birding spots southwest of Winthrop. Drive south on SR-20 for 3.1 miles to an intersection with Twin Lakes Road, signed to Sun Mountain. (Coming from Twisp, this intersection is 5.6 miles north of the Second Avenue/Twisp River Road junction.) Turn west onto Twin Lakes Road, go 1.1 miles, and turn right onto a road signed Fishing Access. Follow signs to the fishing access parking lot (0.5 mile), overlooking Little Twin Lake. Depending on water levels, both this and Big Twin Lake can be excellent shorebird viewing spots from late July through August. Upwards of 20 species have been tallied in recent years.

To reach Beaver Pond, return to Twin Lakes Road and go right (west) 0.8 mile to Patterson Lake Road. Make a left (south) here and go 5.3 miles to a public parking area and trailhead on the left. Take the trail around Beaver Pond and other ponds nearby, a prime birding spot with open water, marsh, riparian vegetation, and coniferous forest. Look for nesting Wood Duck, Ring-necked Duck, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Hooded Merganser, Ruffed Grouse, Virginia Rail, Sora, Spotted Sandpiper, Rufous Hummingbird, Belted Kingfisher, Red-naped Sapsucker, Downy and Pileated Woodpeckers, Willow Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, Cassin’s (parking-lot pines) and Warbling Vireos, Tree Swallow, Veery, Orange-crowned, Yellow, and Townsend’s Warblers, American Redstart (uncommon), Song Sparrow, Western Tanager, Black-headed Grosbeak, Lazuli Bunting, and Red-winged Blackbird. Mammal viewing can be super here. Frequently observed species include Black Bear, Moose, Beaver, Muskrat, Marten, several weasels, Coyote, and Mule Deer. Mountain Lion and Bobcat are seldom seen but possible.

To reach Pearrygin Lake State Park from downtown Winthrop, take the continuation of the main street north from SR-20 through the end of the business district. Curving to the right, this street becomes Bluff Street, then East Chewuch Road as it heads north out of town, reaching an intersection with Bear Creek Road in 1.6 miles. (Continuing straight with East Chewuch Road will take you to Baldy Pass and Roger Lake.) Turn right; the park entrance is on the right in 1.7 miles. Park in the main parking area, walk past the restrooms to the far southeast corner of the tent-camping loop, and continue south along a gravel lane signed No Unauthorized Vehicles, quickly leaving the commotion of the campground behind. Vesper Sparrows nest on the bunchgrass- and Bitterbrush-grown slopes on the left, while the lakeshore on the right offers marsh and riparian habitats where you may find Hooded Merganser, Pied-billed Grebe, Mourning Dove, various owls including Great Horned, Northern Pygmy-, Long-eared, and Northern Saw-whet, Common Poorwill, Red-naped Sapsucker, Lewis’s and Downy Woodpeckers, Willow Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, Gray Catbird, Black-capped Chickadee, House Wren, Veery, American Redstart (occasional), Yellow Warbler, Spotted Towhee, Black-headed Grosbeak, Lazuli Bunting, Red-winged Blackbird, Western Meadowlark, Brewer’s Blackbird, Brown-headed Cowbird, and Bullock’s Oriole. Ospreys are often seen around the lake, and Common Nighthawks over the surrounding hills. Persistent seeds and fruits on lakeside trees and brush attract waxwings, finches, and other birds in winter.

Bear Creek Road (now gravel) continues 0.2 mile past the park entrance to an intersection with FR-100. Sullivan Pond is reached by turning left onto FR-100, which climbs steeply to the pond in 2.0 miles (check boxes along the way for Western and Mountain Bluebirds). Nestled on a broad ledge, this small lake, some years merely a marsh, has wonderful views of the Methow Valley below. Enjoy the cacophany of nesting Pied-billed Grebes and Yellow-headed Blackbirds; Ring-necked and Ruddy Ducks are also here in summer. Open, mixed forest and riparian growth have Common Nighthawks and Common Poorwill, Red-naped Sapsucker, Dusky Flycatcher, Warbling Vireo, and Vesper Sparrow. All three nuthatches may be found in Ponderosa Pines throughout the area. White-headed Woodpecker is fairly common above the pond in the Ponderosa Pines.

Backtrack along FR-100 and take Bear Creek Road in the other direction (left if coming from Sullivan Pond, straight ahead if coming from the state park). Stay right at the T-intersection in 2.0 miles, and in another 1.6 miles turn left and follow Lester Road for 2.4 miles to an unsigned dirt road. Turn right and drive past Campbell Lake, ending in 1.3 miles at the trailhead for Pipestone Canyon in the Methow Unit (16,775 acres) of the Methow Wildlife Area (Discover Pass required). Walk a half-mile on the wide trail along the canyon floor through habitats of cliffs, talus slopes, Bitterbrush, fruiting shrubs, and Douglas-fir forest with a Douglas Maple understory. A great diversity of birds can be found here including Dusky Grouse, Golden Eagle, White-throated Swift, Northern Flicker, American Kestrel, Prairie Falcon, Western Wood-Pewee, Dusky Flycatcher, Say’s Phoebe, both shrikes (seasonally), Cassin’s and Warbling Vireos, Violet-green Swallow, Red-breasted and White-breasted Nuthatches, Rock and Canyon Wrens, Gray Catbird, Cedar Waxwing, Nashville Warbler, Spotted Towhee, Lazuli Bunting, and Red Crossbill. It is a good low elevation site for Clark’s Nutcrackers. Owling can be good here. Listen for Great Horned, Northern Pygmy-, Short-eared, and Northern Saw-whet Owls.

From the main intersection in downtown Winthrop take SR-20 westbound across the Chewuch River bridge. In 0.2 mile, on the opposite side of the highway from the USFS Methow Valley Information Center, turn right onto West Chewuch Road. Drive north 0.9 mile to Rendezvous Road. Turn left, proceed 1.1 miles, and make another left onto Gunn Ranch Road. In 0.8 mile, stop at a parking area off to the left for the Rendezvous Lake Unit (3,180 acres) of the Methow Wildlife Area (Discover Pass required). Except in the fall hunting season, the riparian thickets and open fields around Riser Lake,a short walk ahead, make an excellent birding site. Look for Cinnamon Teal, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Pied-billed Grebe, Spotted Sandpiper, Eastern Kingbird, Tree Swallow, House Wren, Western Bluebird, and Bullock’s Oriole.



Wolf Creek Road offers an easygoing route upvalley on the opposite bank of the Methow River from the highway. Headed southeast from the main intersection in the Winthrop business district, SR-20 bends right and crosses the Methow River (0.5 mile). Take a right 0.1 mile after the bridge onto Twin Lakes Road, passing the Winthrop National Fish Hatchery (short trail with good riparian birding) and reaching the intersection with Wolf Creek Road in

1.3 miles. Turn right onto this road, paved the first four miles, then gravel, which runs beside riparian areas (Purple Finch) and pine and Douglas-fir forest. Look for Black Swifts overhead (easier to spot when foraging low in cool and cloudy weather). Reach SR-20 in nine miles.

An access to Big Valley Unit (847 acres) of the Methow Wildlife Area is not far downstream from this intersection. Turn right onto SR-20, travel 1.6 miles, and turn right onto Dripping Springs Road (known on some on-line maps as Big Valley Ranch Trail). Park in 0.3 mile. Choose the trail that takes off directly behind the restrooms. It is about a quarter-mile walk to the Methow River. Pines and Douglas-firs en route should have Western Wood-Pewee, Hammond’s Flycatcher, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and Yellow-rumped Warbler. Riparian growth nearer the river may produce Red-naped Sapsucker, Northern Flicker, Red-eyed Vireo, Veery, American Robin, Cedar Waxwing, and Nashville, MacGillivray’s, and Yellow Warblers, and American Redstart. Bald Eagle and American Dipper are found along the river, especially in winter. Irrigated and dryland pastures in other parts of the wildlife area are managed for Mule and White-tailed Deer. Golden Eagles hunt over these fields in winter. At night, listen for Great Horned, Barred, and Northern Saw-whet Owls.

Turn left from Dripping Springs Road and backtrack northwestward on SR-20, then go right in 1.1 miles onto Goat Creek Road. In 3.5 miles, an obscure, unmarked gravel spur on the left leads to parking for the Methow Community Trail. Follow the old roadbed for one mile to an impressive suspension bridge over the Methow River, passing coniferous and riparian habitats. Look for Harlequin Duck, Common Merganser, Rufous and Calliope Hummingbirds, Red-naped Sapsucker, Hammond’s Flycatcher, Mountain Chickadee, Red-breasted and White-breasted Nuthatches, American Dipper, Veery, Yellow Warbler, American Redstart, Black-headed Grosbeak, Cassin’s Finch, and Red Crossbill. The riparian woodland and sloughs beyond the suspension bridge are especially good for “eastern” species such as Least Flycatcher, Red-eyed Vireo, Veery, Gray Catbird, Northern Waterthrush, and American Redstart. For a much shorter hike to this superb area, go west on SR-20 from Goat Creek Road one mile to milepost 183. There is very limited parking here by the highway. Walk west on the trail which parallels the highway as it crosses the first driveway and swings to the right (north).

Mazama (limited services) is 1.7 miles ahead on Goat Creek Road. A short connector on the left leads to SR-20 (0.4 mile). From here SR-20 (closed in winter) begins its ascent of the North Cascades along Early Winters Creek, reaching Western Washington via Washington Pass (17.5 miles; page 124). On the way up, Klipchuk Campground (4.3 miles) is a fine place to study birds of the upper forest, including Sooty Grouse, Williamson’s Sapsucker (uncommon), Hammond’s Flycatcher, and Varied Thrush.

In Mazama, Goat Creek Road changes name to Lost River Road and continues straight ahead up the Methow Valley. In 2.1 miles, find North Cascade Base Camp (866-996-2334,, a rustic lodge set in forest. Birders are welcome to walk the grounds, but be quiet in the early morning to avoid disturbing guests. The Tractor and Beaver Trails can be walked as a loop (about a mile) past a number of Beaver ponds lined with riparian vegetation, and areas of wet coniferous forest with giant Western Redcedars. Typical birds in summer include Ruffed Grouse, Barred Owl, Red-naped Sapsucker, Downy, Hairy, and Pileated Woodpeckers, Hammond’s Flycatcher, Warbling and Red-eyed Vireos, Veery, Swainson’s Thrush, MacGillivray’s and Townsend’s Warblers, and Red Crossbill. Rufous and Calliope Hummingbirds visit the feeders outside the dining-room windows. Winter birders on cross-country skis might encounter Northern Pygmy-Owl, Brown Creeper, and Pine Grosbeak.



Famous for mountain scenery, backcountry trails, and subalpine meadows with an extravagant summer wildflower display (160 species), the Cascade crest around Harts Pass is an exceptional site for high-country and boreal bird species. Extensive wildfires have changed much of the higher elevation subalpine forest on this route, causing a marked reduction in birds tied to mature forests such as Spruce Grouse, Boreal Owl, Boreal Chickadee, and Pine Grosbeak but attracting another cast such as Northern Hawk Owl to the sea of burnt snags.

The first rocky wagon track to the gold mines west of the crest at Chancellor and Barron was engineered by Colonel W. Thomas Hart in 1900. The road was widened (to 36 inches!) in 1903 and a second time in 1936. Although well maintained and easily travelable by any passenger auto, it is too narrow in some places for two cars to pass. The main complication is not there, however, but on the rest of the road where the smooth surface may give drivers a false sense of security and tempt them to go too fast, leading to hair-raising close encounters at the many blind curves and dips. Nor is this a place for long, wide vehicles; trailers are expressly forbidden.

Continue west on Lost River Road (becomes FR-5400), staying right at a fork seven miles past North Cascade Base Camp. The steep gravel road cut into the side of the mountain continues steadily uphill through a variety of forested habitats harboring bird species such as Sooty Grouse, Rufous Hummingbird, Western Wood-Pewee, Hammond’s Flycatcher, Cassin’s and Warbling Vireos, Swainson’s and Hermit Thrushes, Nashville, Yellow, Yellow-rumped, MacGillivray’s and Townsend’s Warblers, Chipping Sparrow, Western Tanager, Dark-eyed Junco, Lazuli Bunting, and Pine Siskin. A half-mile section, known as Deadhorse Point (about three miles past the fork), is subject to rockslides and washouts and must be negotiated carefully. Park beyond the steepest portion and look below to a natural salt lick that attracts Mountain Goats, up to 50 on occasion, especially in early summer.

A sea of blackened snags covers much of the landscape beyond Deadhorse Point. These remain from several big forest fires. Mountain Bluebirds and Chipping Sparrows are common. Woodpeckers and Northern Hawk Owl are about, too At a junction 9.8 miles from the fork, just before Harts Pass, turn left onto FR-500 to reach Meadows Campground (primitive) in one mile and the road’s end at the Pacific Crest Trail a mile beyond that. The subalpine forest, formerly good for boreal species, is now in a regenerating state. Northern Hawk Owls have nested amid the burned snags nearby.

To try for boreal forest birds, head back to Harts Pass, which escaped the fire. Return to the junction with FR-5400 and turn left for 0.1 mile to reach Harts Pass (elevation 6,198 feet) and another small USFS campground. These meadows and lichen-festooned forests of Engelmann Spruce, Subalpine Fir, and Subalpine Larch can be excellent for boreal specialties such as Spruce Grouse, Boreal Owl, American Three-toed Woodpecker, Boreal Chickadee, Pine Grosbeak, and White-winged Crossbill (irregular). Other inhabitants include Rufous Hummingbird, Gray Jay, Clark’s Nutcracker, Common Raven, Mountain Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Pacific Wren, Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Mountain Bluebird, Hermit Thrush, American Robin, Varied Thrush, Yellow-rumped and Townsend’s Warblers, Chipping and Fox Sparrows, Cassin’s Finch, and Red Crossbill.

The road forks again; go right onto FR-600 and continue past a trailhead parking area for the Pacific Crest Trail to another parking lot where the road is gated (2.4 miles). You are at the highest point reached by road in Washington (elevation 7,200 feet). Walk up the road for a few hundred yards beyond the gate to a trailhead for the West Fork Pasayten River Trail. Often closed by lingering snow until well into July, the trail switchbacks down through the meadows into a cirque. At the first fork, go left with the main trail a few hundred yards onto the rocky north slopes of Slate Peak, or right into a compact basin that contains examples of most of the upper subalpine and alpine plant communities found in the North Cascades. Fox Sparrows are numerous in trees at timberline, joined by a few White-crowned Sparrows (gambelii race); the adjacent forb meadows have Savannah Sparrows. Above treeline, American Pipits perform their flight song and aerial display. Search the snowbank edges and mats of alpine vegetation for Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch. White-tailed Ptarmigans are here, but luck and hard work are usually needed to find one. Males seem tied to boulder-strewn slopes with scattered heather patches: you might even spy one by looking down from the parking lot. Females with broods are most often noted in seep habitats with high insect availability, just below the snowbanks.

The summit of Slate Peak is another few minutes’ walk up the road. In good weather, beginning in August and continuing through mid-October, the summit can be a decent hawkwatching platform. Expect Sharp-shinned and Red-tailed Hawks in modest numbers, with a sprinkling of other species. The peak’s north ridge is another possibility for ptarmigan.