The Washington State Department of Transportation (DOT) will begin the process of reopening the North Cascades Highway for the season on Monday (March 25).

The 37-mile stretch of State Route 20, which includes Rainy and Washington Passes, closes annually during the winter months from the Ross Dam Trailhead to Silver Star due to heavy snow and persistent avalanche risks.

DOT spokesperson, Lauren Loebsack, says the closure typically lengthens to 43 miles of the highway as the winter snow deepens, but that never happened during the 2023-24 season.

"This year, we do have a lighter snowpack than in previous years and we never did actually fall back to the Early Winters closure point that's at a lower elevation. So there's about six less miles to clear this year."

Loebsack says the conditions left by a milder winter could make for an earlier opening of the highway than is typical, but crews still have a lot of assessments to make and work to do before the gates can swing open for the travel season.

"We don't really know what's in the avalanche chutes up there until we can get in there and take a look. There could be a lot of debris and rock and there's still the possibility of early spring storms that might bring more snowfall to the passes. So they'll (crews) just keep at it until they get there and until then we remind people that it's still likely to take six to eight weeks to get the highway fully cleared."

Recreationists who have snowmobiles parked behind the closure points are reminded to remove them sometime this weekend and that any vehicles which have not been moved by Monday morning will be towed at their owner's expense.

The DOT will once again be providing weekly progress reports about the reopening process at its website and social media platforms.

The earliest opening in the 52-year history of the North Cascades Highway was March 10, 2005, and the latest was June 14, 1974. During the drought of the winter of 1976-77, the highway did not close for the season.

More From KW3