I Ate the State – Clallam County

Greetings!

Clallam County has it good. So very, very good… Epic rivers, lakes and mountains, the UNESCO-designated Olympic National Park, sweeping oceanfront majesty, abundant wildlife and plentiful farmland – All steeped in Native American heritage dating back thousands of years. Clallam County has it all!  Please join me in celebrating the greatness of this Washington State wonder in this installment of I Ate the State.

Size and population-wise, Clallam County sits midstream in a comparative list of Washington State counties. This never occurs to me, however, when visiting the area. There are so many Clallam County roads I’ve driven, trails I’ve hiked and beaches I’ve combed that are nearly, if not completely, gloriously deserted – And I’ve only scratched the surface of areas to explore. Whenever I need to clear my mind and grab a bit of peaceful solitude, Clallam County heads my list of destinations; especially if I want to escape the ever-encroaching march of connectivity and technology. Aside from the major towns in Clallam County, I rarely have cell reception, etc. and it is absolutely, positively magnificent. (Unless it’s you trying to call me, of course… 😉

PhoneBooth
Phones don’t get as much use up in Clallam County…

There are many ways in and out of the Clallam County area. Car, bike, boat, plane – take your pick!

  • Coming from the Seattle area, I usually opt for a car/ferry combo and it’s always a beautiful trek. To get there from Seattle, take the ferry from Edmonds to Kingston, head over the Hood Canal Bridge on SR-104 and then connect to US Route 101 in the Discovery Bay
  • If you happen to be coming from Olympia or further south, a good option is I-5 to US Route 101.
  • From the Tacoma/Gig Harbor area, take SR-16 to Bremerton, then SR-3 north from Bremerton to SR-104 and finally, hook up with US Route 101.
  • If you’re coming from the north and don’t mind hopping a couple of ferries, take the Mukilteo/Clinton Ferry (Everett to Whidbey Island) then – Port Townsend/Keystone Ferry to Port Townsend and then onto US Route 101.
  • Pro Tip: A fun thing to do is to make a loop trip of your Clallam County adventures. For example, if I start out in Seattle and head over on the Kingston ferry, I like to return via US Route 101 and come up through Olympia and back to I-5. Each route is relatively close in travel time and it makes for a beautiful and interesting round-trip adventure. So many ways in and out of Clallam County!

Check out my Kitsap County and Jefferson County articles for adventures in the counties surrounding Clallam County.

For purposes of this journey, I took the ferry out of Edmonds and headed towards the junction of SR-104 and US 101. Not too far past the junction, you’ll enter the land of the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe. Native to the area for thousands of years, the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe continues to call the area home and watch over the land.

I always like to stop in this area. The view of Sequim Bay is beautiful, the local Longhouse Market and Deli has a great selection of supplies, including a rather good beer/wine/spirits selection and if you’re running low on gas, it’s a great place to fuel up. Additionally, if you’re feeling lucky, stop into the 7 Cedars Casino for a go at the gaming tables and slot-machines, enjoy a meal at the Double Eagle or Stymie’s Bar & Grill or take in a leisurely golf game in the Cedars at Dungeness golf course.

Heading further north on US 101, you many notice the air gets drier and the sun gets… sunnier. Sitting in the rain-shadow of the Olympic Mountains and known as a micro-climate, the Sequim area is rich in agriculture and enjoys loads of sunshine. Quite unique when compared to the perpetually damp city of Forks and other nearby, rainy-day Clallam County towns…

With all the sunshine, it’s easy to take advantage of Sequim’s many outdoor opportunities. Hiking, biking, camping, climbing, fishing and boating are all in easy reach of Sequim. The stunning Olympic National Park with its epic peaks and valleys is the perfect host to near limitless, adventure-filled prospects and Sequim is an excellent jumping-off point to such splendor. In addition, Sequim’s close proximity to coastline and waterways provide for sensational off-land explorations

Sequim is an excellent gatekeeper to Clallam County outdoor endeavors. Here’s but a small list to get you started:

  • Check out Sequim Bay State Park if you’re in need of camping and RV spots with access to a boat launch and moorage. There are also hiking opportunities, clamming, crabbing and oyster harvesting spots and access to the 120-mile, multi-use Olympic Discovery Trail. (Goes from Port Townsend to La Push!) Also located in the area is the Camp Ramblewood retreat center. With room to sleep 60 and a commercial-size kitchen, it’s a great place to consider for family reunions, school functions and more.
  • For a bit of hiking and climbing adventure, check out the highest point in Clallam County, Gray Wolf Ridge. On the way, you’ll also pass over Baldy and both summits will provide stunning views and wide stretches of wildflowers to enjoy. The access road to these areas is just east of Sequim Bay State Park.
  • Hit up the beautiful Dungeness Spit in nearby Dungeness if you’re in need of some serious sand. (The famed Dungeness crab is named for this area.) It’s the longest natural sand spit in the US and goes out more than 5 miles into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The area is part of the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge and is noted for its large variety of birds, mammals and marine life. There are many hiking, boating, clamming and crabbing opportunities throughout the area, but be sure to respect the protected areas within the refuge.
  • Located at the end of the spit is the historic New Dungeness Lighthouse. Built in 1857 and on the National Register of Historic Places, it’s now maintained by the New Dungeness Light Station Association. If you’re willing to pitch in, you can stay at the lighthouse as part of the Lighthouse Keeper Program. (1-week programs)
  • If you’re looking for a good place to moor your boat, the John Wayne Marina is located conveniently in the Dungeness and Sequim area in Sequim Bay. Built on land gifted by John Wayne’s family in 1985, the marina is an excellent spot to spur your coastal journey. (John Wayne used to love sailing around the Sequim area in his yacht, The Wild Goose!) If you’re looking for nearby campsites, cabins or RV spots, check out the nearby John Wayne’s Waterfront Resort. If you’d like to take a break from campsite or galley cuisine, the Dockside Grill at the marina can set you up. (Closed Mondays and Tuesdays)

If outdoor pursuits aren’t on your list, a fine way to enjoy the sunshine and not don hiking boots is to take in the area’s greatest agricultural tribute. In recent decades, Sequim has become quite well known for its contribution to the lavender industry. Gorgeous, fragrant lavender fields dot the farmlands surrounding Sequim and make for a delicious visit any time of year. (And even more so when the lavender is in bloom!)

One of the best times of year to visit is around the Sequim Lavender Festival, which takes place in July. The town comes alive with all things lavender and there are many options to fulfill all your lavender needs. Music, food vendors, dancing, crafts and ‘lots of the purple stuff – the Lavender Festival is a great event to take in. Of the many local farms participating in the local lavender scene, a few highlights:

  • The Purple Haze Lavender downtown store, their local lavender farm and farmhouse vacation rental make for a fine weekend in and of themselves. (Try the lavender ice cream!)
  • Representing not only the state of Washington, but paying homage to George Washington, himself, the Washington Lavender Farm, located on oceanfront overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca, is an absolute gem. If the gorgeous lavender fields and wildflowers aren’t enough to pull you in, stay for a spell in their Mount Vernon replica, the George Washington Inn & Estate and check out their full-size replica of the Old North Bridge.
  • Victor’s Lavender Farm is a large farm and retail store located outside the Port Angeles area. Their onsite farm store is set inside an old red milking barn and is open Memorial Day through September. They also have a vacation home called the “Candlelight Cabin” for rent overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
  • In addition to the beautiful lavender fields at Jardin du Soleil, don’t miss the beautiful gardens, fruit trees, onsite farm store and gorgeous grounds – located just outside of Sequim. If you’re in the area during July or August, be sure to check out their Jungible Music Festival on Friday nights.
  • If you’d like to get into the thick of it and experience Sequim’s beautiful countryside by your own steam, check out the Tour de Lavender bike tour through lavender country. (Aug 3rd, 2019) Sign up for either the family-friendly, more leisurely Fun Ride (35-mile loop) or go the distance with the more intense Metric Centric Ride. (62.5 mile loop)
  • In addition to the impressive number of lavender farms in the area, don’t overlook the u-pick berry opportunities of the summer. For example, not only does Graymarsh Farm grow beautiful lavender, they also have an excellent berry scene!
Lavender
Beautiful lavender at the Jardin du Soleil lavender farm. Lavender as far as the eye can see!

For those of you not looking to celebrate the purpley goodness of lavender, there are many other excellent adventures to be enjoyed in Sequim. A few for your list:

  • Sequim Open Aire Market – Local farmer and artisan market open on Saturdays, May to September. For the holiday shoppers, be sure to check out their special events in November and December.
  • Clallam County Farm Tour (end Sept/early Oct) – Dairy farms, lavender farms, produce farms – Farms of all kinds! The day-long tour takes place annually at the end of September / early October and is a great opportunity to check out the inner-workings of the some of the area’s most established farms. Great for families!
  • Sequim Museum & Arts – As I might have mentioned in previous articles, I love museums. LOVE them. The Sequim Museum is definitely worth a look and definitely on my list of museums to love. Not only do they have a great exhibit featuring a Jamestown S’Klallam Longhouse, they also have an exhibit featuring the Manis Mastodon. That’s right – A MASTODON. (Uncovered by Emanuel Manis in 1977 while digging a pond in his Sequim front yard. The bones are nearly 14,000 years old!)

If all of the hiking, boating, lavender sniffing and mastodon investigating has worn you out, take a break and enjoy some of the local dining options:

  • Tedesco’s – Cool Italian restaurant in downtown Sequim featuring fresh pasta and sauces with a full bar.
  • Salty Girls Sequim Seafood Co. – Right next door to Tedesco’s, Salty Girls feature fresh, local seafood including a raw oyster bar and homemade chowders. They also have a kayak guide service and fresh fish counter. All the things!
  • Peninsula Taproom – Also next door to Tedesco’s the Peninsula Taproom features NW craft beer and cider, both on tap and in bottle. They also host potluck / slow-cooker events on Sundays for your Seahawks viewing pleasure. Bring your best casserole!
  • Alder Wood Bistro – Local, farm-to-table, wood-fired cuisine featuring NW inspired recipes. They also host regular pairing dinners where NW vintners and brewers are featured.
  • Dynasty Chinese Restaurant – I’m fond of this place. They serve tasty, Cantonese-style Chinese food in a low-key, comfortable downtown spot. I’m particularly fond of their House Special Chow Mein Noodles and honey-walnut prawns.
  • Nourish – Lovely organic, farm-to-table restaurant with a dedicated gluten-free menu.

If you’re looking to stay in the Sequim area, there are plentiful lodging options. As one of the state’s more quaint areas, the overnight accommodations do not disappoint with their welcoming, cozy demeanor.

  • Lost Mountain Lodge – Bed and breakfast lodge situated on 10-acres of gorgeous land just outside of Sequim
  • Dungeness Barn House – Bed and breakfast overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the New Dungeness Lighthouse
  • Domaine Madeleine – Beautiful suites and cottages on a bluff overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the New Dungeness Lighthouse

Just up the road from Sequim, traveling on US 101, you’ll come to the largest city in the Olympic Peninsula and the seat of Clallam County, Port Angeles. Western settlers began arriving in the area around 1857, but the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe has been in the area for a bit longer. The west end of what is now Port Angeles Harbor was once home to a large village called Tse-whit-zen. It was unearthed in 2003 during work on a Department of Transportation project and is the earliest confirmed settlement in the area, dating back to 750 BCE. The Elwha Klallam Heritage Center is a great place to go to learn more of the area’s history and tribal heritage as well as view artifacts from the village and surrounding areas.

There are many things to do while in Port Angeles. I always enjoy strolling along the waterfront area (part of the Olympic Discovery Trail) and taking in the harbor scene.  Grab a cup of coffee at one of the nearby cafés and enjoy the scene. Check out – or hop aboard – one of the International ferries going to/coming from Victoria BC. It’s a 90-min trip across the Strait of Juan de Fuca and a great way to cross the border. Additionally, Victoria BC is one of the most charming spots on the planet. (Bring your passport!)

Other great options when hanging out in the downtown Port Angeles area:

  • Port Angeles Underground Heritage Tours – Located in downtown Port Angeles, tour the 100-year old tunnels and basements of Port Angeles’ underground history. Who doesn’t love a spooky underground tour?? (They have a special “haunted” tour during October!)
  • Maritime Festival – Celebrate the maritime history of the North Olympic History on the Port Angeles waterfront in June. Tour the beautiful tall ships and enjoy music, food and more!
  • NOAA Olympic Coast Discovery Center – Located on the waterfront. Stop in to learn all about the marine aspects of the Port Angeles and surrounding coastal areas. It’s an excellent local resource and it’s FREE!!
  • Olympic National Park Visitor Center – Check out the main visitor center and back-country permit office for the Olympic National Park. They have loads of information, friendly rangers and exhibits to get you started on your mountain adventure.
  • Jazz in the Olympics – Celebrate Jazz with NW artists in various venues around the Port Angeles area. (April)
  • Arts & Draughts Festival – Featuring 20+ local breweries, wineries and cideries, the Arts and Draughts Festival takes place in downtown Port Angeles in September. Mmm… Beer… And art!
  • Farmers’ Market – Operating year-round in the downtown area, the Port Angeles Farmers’ Market is a wonderful opportunity to snatch up fresh fruit and veggies as well as local artisan wares. (Saturdays – 10am to 2pm)
  • Swains General Store – A quirky, old-school hardware store that sells much more than hardware. Stop in for a look and you just may find something you never knew you couldn’t live without!
  • For a truly epic Port Angeles experience, don’t miss the sweet deliciousness of the annual Dungeness Crab & Seafood Festival. Celebrating one of the region’s most famous residents, the Dungeness Crab, the festival offers three days of savory seafood shenanigans to enjoy. Happening in early October on the Port Angeles waterfront, it features glorious seafood, music, arts, crafts and more. And it’s FREE! (But you gotta pay for the crab, of course.)

It’s true. I like to eat. I like to eat and I love to eat good food. There are definitely some Port Angeles restaurants that accommodate this love in wonderful fashion. Throw in the fresh abundance of all things seafood and I’m hard-pressed to leave the area every time. I can honestly say I would eat Dungeness crab EVERY day if my wallet would allow… Some of my favorite local spots:

And what goes better with a delicious meal than a delicious beverage? There are several excellent options in Port Angeles and these are all high on my list:

  • Camaraderie Cellars – A well-established winery just outside of Port Angeles. I’m particularly fond of their Quadra. It’s an aged Tempranillo with a bit of Port added – rich and delicious! Quite lovely to enjoy by a fire while watching (from the cabin window) as the winter ocean storms roll in…
  • Housed in a lovely old barn, Olympic Cellars has been a mainstay of Olympic Peninsula wine-making for many years. Enjoyable wines and a cool weekend summer concert series to accompany said wine – check them out!
  • Barhop Brewing & Artisan Pizza – Looking for great pizza and a tasty brew down by the waterfront? This is the place to stop!
  • Harbinger Winery – I love this place. Great wine, super friendly staff and a cozy tasting room – located directly off US 101. I’m very much a fan of their El Jefé Reserve Rhone Blend and Rhone Rosé And if you feel the need to rent a kayak or mountain bike or sign up for a local outdoor adventure tour, you need only pop in next door to the very friendly Adventures Through Kayaking shop.
  • Harvest Wine Tour (November) – A great way to experience and learn about the wine and cider-makers of the Olympic Peninsula is via the Harvest Wine Tour. Camaraderie Cellars, Harbinger Winery, Olympic Cellars and Wind Rose Cellars (Sequim) are all part of the tour. The Red Wine & Chocolates tour in February is also fun to check out and is hosted by the same establishments. Mmm… Wine and chocolate! (And if red wine isn’t your thing, not to worry – I enjoyed some very lovely white wines and white chocolates when I did the tour earlier this year.)

If you’d like to extend your stay in Port Angeles or use it as home base for exploring the Olympics, Hurricane Ridge or any of the other beautiful nearby spots, I suggest these local options:

  • A Hidden Haven – Lovely forest cottages located just outside of Port Angeles.
  • Sea Cliff Gardens – Very charming and well-appointed B&B lodging with gorgeous gardens and views. Located in the Sequim / Port Angeles area.
  • Colette’s – Port Angeles B&B with stunning ocean views, delicious breakfast and beautiful grounds.

If you’re not already bowled over by the beauty of the Sequim and Port Angeles areas, head further west on US 101 or take a beautiful detour into Olympic National Park (via Mount Angeles Road/Hurricane Ridge Road) and head towards the spectacular Hurricane Ridge area. In the summer, a trip to Hurricane Ridge will make you think you’ve been transported to a scene from The Sound of Music. Wildflowers, sweeping views, plentiful deer and a lovely day lodge at the top of drive greet you like an old friend. Maybe there wasn’t a lovely day lodge in The Sound of Music, but if there were, Hurricane Ridge has nailed it. Grab a snack in the Visitor’s Center and learn more about the area’s plentiful hiking opportunities and miles of beautiful vistas and breathtaking scenery. If you’re looking to do some camping in the area, check out the Heart o’the Hills Campground about 12 miles before Hurricane Ridge. (Open year-round)

In the winter, Hurricane Ridge is open for skiing and snowboarding, Nordic skiing and snowshoeing and general enjoyment of the winter wonderland. The road is only open Friday-Sunday in the winter and definitely check ahead as the road can get dicey on snowy days. (All vehicles must carry chains – including 4-wheel drive) I will admit to not yet having skied this area, but it is high on my “Ski all the ski hills in Washington State” list – and I will get there soon. Big hills, small hills – I shall ski them ALL!

Heading further west on US 101 gives you access to the gorgeous and newly dam-free Elwha Valley. In the last few years, both the Elwha Dam and Glines Canyon Dam were removed allowing the Elwha River to again make its way to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The byproduct of this effort is a new, sandy beach that is growing daily.  After having been dammed for nearly 100 years, the valley is returning to its natural rhythms and the river is reclaiming its territory. The salmon are making a comeback, the flora and fauna are prospering and the water is flowing unfettered out to sea. It is truly a beautiful area to explore and an opportunity to witness first-hand nature’s resilience.

For a beautiful hiking or backpacking adventure in the area, check out the Elwha River Trail. Also in the area, located off of the Boulder Creek Trailhead, the Olympic Hot Springs are a very unique and invigorating destination. (All-natural springs and pools not maintained by the NPS) When hiking and adventuring in the Elwha River Valley, be sure to check the NPS website beforehand for road conditions and information on obtaining necessary permits. And as always, make sure you’re prepared for your adventure by bringing along the 10 Essentials.

Continuing west on US 101 will bring you to a truly extraordinary part of the state. (And that’s saying something given the Washington State bounty!)  I’m usually heading further on towards the coastline, but every time I make the effort to explore this area I am simply blown away. The scenery, wildlife and ecological diversity is overflowing and it would be easy to spend a week (or more!) marveling at the wonders of this section of Clallam County.

As you’re driving along US 101, you won’t be able to miss Lake Crescent on your right. The nearly 12-mile long lake is filled with beautifully clear, deep water and is home to many a water-filled adventure. Boating, fishing, scuba-diving or just a bit of recreational swimming – you name it – Lake Crescent represents.  A longtime destination for Washingtonians, Lake Crescent has been inspiring happy vacation memories for generations. Take the time to investigate what lies along the winding, lake-hugging highway as it heads toward the coast – you won’t be disappointed. (Note: The highway in this area can get icy year-round and the winds are often quite strong. Drive carefully!)

The list is long for this area, but here are a handful of can’t-go-wrong opportunities to explore:

  • Directly off the highway as you’re headed west, look for a small sign to the La Poel day-use/picnic area. Take the access road to a surprisingly extensive and winding loop snaking along the lake’s shoreline. There are many tucked-away picnic spots and it’s a great way to relax and enjoy a snack. (Note: The road is very narrow and not suitable for RVs and larger vehicles.)
  • Located on the north shore of the lake, the Spruce Railroad Trail is an easy-going 4-mile trek near and beside the lake. For those looking for a longer jaunt, the trail is part of the aforementioned Olympic Discovery Trail and is accessible via an extensive hike or bike ride from Port Angeles. For a quick hike, head about a mile into the trail until you get to the bridge. Look to the right of the bridge and check out the eerily calm waters of the “Punchbowl” – very much worth the trip!
  • There are good camping opportunities in the area, but the Log Cabin Resort is an excellent lakeside option if you’d like a cozy bed and a step back in time. (Although, the area has been recently renovated and features newly built cabins) The cabins are open end of May thru end of September.
LogCabin2
Lovely Log Cabin Resort on Lake Crescent
  • If you’d like to upgrade from a log cabin, check out nearby Lake Crescent Lodge for classic, National Park lodging. (Including charming cottages and cabins) Built in 1915, it has a storied past, including a very important visit from President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He visited Washington’s coastal regions in the 1930s and very shortly thereafter signed the paperwork creating our beloved Olympic National Park. (Note: The Lake Crescent Store and Lodge are closed January thru April, but you can reserve the cabins on weekends during winter.)
  • Near the Lake’s midpoint, take the exit off of US 101 towards the historic Storm King Ranger Station / Marymere Falls parking area. Located just over a half-mile from the ranger station is the stunning Marymere Falls The hike to the 90-foot falls is fairly accessible and the falls are well worth investigating.
  • Not too far past Lake Crescent, look for the signs to Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort. Featuring naturally fed mineral hot spring pools as well as a freshwater pool, Sol Duc Hot Springs is a wonderful spot to spend a relaxing few days. (Or more!) The lodge hosts well-appointed cabins and riverside suites and they also have camping and RV opportunities in the vicinity. Located close by are the beautiful Sol Duc Falls – not to be missed!

Next on my adventure path is an area very near and dear to my heart; La Push and its surrounding beaches and coastal lands. I’ve been coming to this area for years and while I will fully admit to having read the Twilight books, this part of the state has been a favorite travel destination for many years prior. (Which is why I initially read the books – A vampire/werewolf story set in Forks and La Push?? Come on!)

In recent years, the wave of Twi-hards has begun to subside and a peaceful calm is returning to the area. That said, the related tourism was a great boon to the area’s economy and if it exposed the beauty of this part of the state to a greater audience, all the better. The undeveloped coastlines and easy solitude have always drawn me in and I hope many more come to know the magical allure of the area.

As you’re traveling west on US 101 and getting close to Forks, look for the turn-off to SR-110 which will take you to the La Push area. The 25-minute drive to La Push is fairly uneventful with swatches of logged land along the way and I always lose my cell reception about half-way into the drive. (And don’t regain it until I head back out towards US 101. No cell reception in the La Push area for me… Heh heh…) Keep an eye out along the drive for locals selling firewood. This is where you’ll find the best deals for campfire happenings and it’s a nice chance to chat with the local residents. (Although some of the stands are on the honor system and you just drop the fee in a lock box.)

The first place you’ll come to along SR-110 is the Three Rivers Resort. (The Treaty Line) It’s a diner, store, gas station, resort with RV hook-ups and cabins and a fishing guide service. (And a good option for firewood and ice!) This place is a gem and I always make a stop. They have tots AND fry sauce, great burgers, a friendly staff and restrooms.  It’s also a great checkpoint before making the decision to head a few more minutes on to La Push proper or to head over towards Mora Campground and Rialto Beach.

Mora Campground and Rialto Beach are truly remarkable areas and I keep returning over and over again to take in their glory. The campground is extensive and usually busy, but the plentiful old-growth trees and coastal shrubbery make it seem fairly exclusive and it’s easy to enjoy your privacy. Rialto Beach is also a quick drive up the road or a very doable walk. Located just across the entrance to the campground is the trailhead for James Pond. (Pond, James Pond.) (That joke will never get old.) This is a fairly short hike leading to the absolutely stunning James “Pond” area and is very much worth the effort. For another nearby wetlands hike, check out the beautiful Quillayute River Slough area.

On Rialto Beach, it’s more than feasible to just hang out on the immediate beach all day and enjoy the ocean and spectacular driftwood deposits – not to mention the seals, sea birds and ever-changing weather. If you head about a mile and a half northwest on the beach, you’ll come to the Hole in the Wall sea arch. Beautiful any time of day, you can walk through it at low tide. (Always pay mind to the tidal charts! You can pick one up at the Quileute Oceanside Resort in La Push or at the Three Rivers Resort.) Once on the main beach, stroll to your left for a better view of nearby James Island and venture out on the rock spit dividing Rialto beach from 1st Beach in “downtown” La Push.

If you keep heading west on SR-110, past the Three Rivers Resort, it will lead you down into the tiny coastal town of La Push, home to the Quileute Nation. Calling the area home for thousands of years, the Quileute have a history rich in coastal stewardship and a deep respect for the land. There’s just something about this area that gets in your soul and it’s understandable how it could inspire devotion for thousands of years. The rugged coastline, dotted with gorgeous sandy beaches and a solitude not easily found in modern times make La Push one of my favorite places on the planet.

Some of spots I love to visit in this remote, beautiful area:

  • For easy beach access, check out 1st and 2nd beaches in the main part of La Push. (There is a short hike to get to 2nd beach, but it’s very worth it. Amazing tide pools!) These beaches are usually the more crowded in the area, but they’re beautiful and quite expansive. 1st Beach is a favorite of local surfers and it’s always fun to watch them battle the NW surf. If you’d like to try some surfing yourself, check out North by Northwest Surf Co in Port Angeles or at the Hobuck Beach Resort (in Neah Bay) for all your needs.
  • My favorite local beach is just a little south of La Push proper on SR-110. 3rd Beach is a relatively easy hike down to the coastline and is one of my very favorite spots to camp, pick berries, do nothing for hours while staring aimlessly out to sea, etc. Due to the hike required for beach access, it’s not as crowded as 1st or 2nd Beaches, but in can get a little busier on weekends. If you’re looking for near total seclusion, keep hiking down the beach and locate one of the rope ladders heading back up the bluffs. The adjoining trail will take you through beautiful coastal forest and eventually back down onto more beach. The quiet, the calm and the beautiful sand are overwhelming in their welcome and I could stay there indefinitely… (Note: It is absolutely necessary to know the tidal tables for this portion of the hike.)
  • If camping isn’t your thing, check out the Quileute Oceanside Resort for hotel and cabin lodging. The area can be a bit noisy, but the beach front location is beautiful and you get to wake up looking out over 1st Beach in the morning. Not too shabby!
  • Directly next door to the Oceanside Resort is the Lonesome Creek Store & RV Park. (And propane station. And post office.) This is the only store in La Push proper and they have a decent supply of all things you might need or have forgotten for your stay. As the hours/days of the local River’s Edge Restaurant can at times be fleeting or inconsistent, their deli and supplies are a good option for your next meal. (But do check out River’s Edge if it happens to be open as it is indeed the only restaurant in La Push proper.)
  • If you’re visiting the area in mid-July, check out the Quileute Days celebration and learn all about Quileute history and culture. If you happen to be in town on the 4th of July, you’ll need to embrace the boom or head further inland for quieter times. The main section of 1st Beach is filled with campers all trying to out-do each another with bigger and louder fireworks. It’s crazy. It’s loud. You’ll pay for the whole seat, but only sit on the edge!!

Ohhhh Forks, you quirky little town that I love so much… And even though you refuse to cave to my desire for a “Forks of July” celebration, I will still continue to regularly visit the area. However, as their annual Forks Old-Fashioned 4th of July celebration is pretty great and goes for a whole week every year, I guess I’ll let it slide… For now.

As a sole destination, Forks itself isn’t a hotbed of activity, but it’s a great jumping-off point for visiting Olympic National Park, exploring the surrounding coastline areas, embarking upon epic fishing adventures or just enjoying the peace of the state’s lesser traveled back roads and byways.

A few of the places I like to visit whenever in Forks:

  • Forks Outfitters – If you’re in need of all things grocery, the local Thriftway store can meet your needs. And if you also happen to be in the market for hardware/fishing/hunting supplies – or a generally interesting array of random goods – they’ve also got you covered. Need some Twilight souvenirs to bring home? They’ve got ‘em.
  • Highlighting the area’s largest industry, the Forks Timber Museum is an interesting look into the past and present of the Fork’s famous timber scene. It’s located on US 101 and conveniently next door to the Forks Chamber of Commerce. Pop in and chat with the locals about their favorite spots and learn about the history and interesting characters of the area. (And marvel at the floor to ceiling Twilight displays)

If you don’t happen to be staying in the area, Forks is a great spot to stop for a meal on your way to either the coast or over to La Push. Most of Forks commerce and business is located directly on US 101, so access is particularly convenient. Some of my favorite spots:

  • Sully’s Burgers – Classic drive-in with great hamburgers, fries and shakes.
  • The In Place – Home-style diner fare, including tasty breakfast, lunch and dinner options.
  • BBG – Blakeslee Bar & Grill – Good pub food and a full bar.
  • Golden Gate – Classic take on Chinese food favorites. I’ve eaten here several times and it’s always pretty tasty. And I shall eat there again…
  • Hard Rain Café and Campsite – Located outside of Forks proper at the Olympic National Park entrance to the otherworldly Hoh Rainforest. Not only do they have a cool café, they have lodging and serve as a great base location for Hoh Rainforest adventures. (Including close proximity to what is said to be the Quietest Spot on Earth. I haven’t been, but it is high on my list.)
  • Creekside Restaurant (At Kalaloch Lodge) – I actually included the Creekside in my I Ate the State – Jefferson County article, but as Kalaloch Lodge is technically listed with a Forks address, I’ll include it as part of Clallam County as well. Double-duty! Not only is the Creekside a great place to stop, but a longer visit to Kalaloch should definitely be considered. (Check out my Jefferson County article for all the details!)
Thriftway
Where I get all my food – AND hardware in Forks.

There are several options for lodging in the Forks area. Prices are generally reasonable year-round, but I always find particularly good deals during the off-season. Couple that with the plentiful winter storm-watching opportunities and you’re golden!

  • The Olympic Suites – Tucked back in the trees off of US 101, the Olympic Suites offer very reasonably priced lodging with modest suites that include full kitchens and spacious rooms.
  • The Dew Drop Inn – Nice hotel/motel located directly off of US 101 on the way towards the coast. Nicely appointed rooms, quiet and conveniently located.
  • For charming Bed & Breakfast options in the Forks area, check out both the Miller Tree Inn and the Misty Valley Inn.

Heading back towards the Port Angeles area, a fabulous detour and whole new leg of Clallam County adventure can be found via SR-113 to SR-112 and on towards Neah Bay. Turn off of US 101 onto SR-113 and follow the signs.

As the road twists and turns, leading you further into no-reception territory, it’s easy to become blissfully lost in the seclusion of this area. There aren’t a lot of travelers on this road and it’s common to go miles and miles without passing another car. This is especially true in the winter months. I’ve taken a couple of solo journeys during winter and on one occasion actually turned back towards US 101. Snowing hard, no one else on the two-lane, windy road, no cell reception, making solo tracks in the snow while gaining elevation… I have a lot of faith in my AWD Sportage, (AKA: Sporty Spice) but I do try and err on the side of caution. Sometimes… (Note: While unfortunately I don’t have a street bike, this road would be pretty amazing on one.)

About 10 miles in, stay left and SR-113 becomes SR-112/the Strait of Juan de Fuca Scenic Byway. (If you head right on SR-112 it takes you towards Joyce and back to Port Angeles – we’ll cover that route later in the article.) A few miles further on SR-113, you’ll come to the Clallam Bay and Seiku areas. If you’re in need of a quick break, stop and take in the beautiful view of Clallam Bay at the Clallam Bay Spit County Park. (Also one of the only public restroom breaks along the way…)

The Clallam Bay / Seiku area is relatively small, but it’s a cozy little place to visit. Some places of note in the area:

  • Hess Mart & Espresso – Great stop for a quick snack, espresso beverage, picnic additions, etc. (in Clallam Bay)
  • Sunsets West Co-op – Cool shop in Clallam Bay with organic foods, snacks, café treats, coffee, sundries, etc.
  • Clallam Bay / Seiku Fun Days – Fun festival taking place in mid-July with food vendors, music, fireworks and a parade.
  • By the Bay Café – Very cute little café in Seiku overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Great diner-style food – breakfast, lunch and dinner!
  • Mason’s/Olson’s Resort – If you’d like to stay in the Seiku/Clallam Bay area, hit up Mason’s/Olson’s Resort. They offer houses, cabins, camping and hotel lodging and are the longest operating fishing resort in Washington State.

Traveling on SR-112 will take you in the direction of lovely Neah Bay. An amazing detour along the way is to head towards Ozette and the beautiful Lake Ozette and Cape Alva. (Take the Hoko-Ozette Road off SR-112) Granted, the road can be slower going and it’s most worthwhile if you’re able to camp overnight, but even a day trip is justified the trek.

Located in Olympic National Park, Lake Ozette is a gorgeous and remote destination. The lake is crystal clear and there are numerous hiking and backpacking opportunities in the area. (Including boat-in campsites on the tiny islands of the lake!) Cape Alva, the westernmost point in the contiguous US, is an absolutely amazing place to visit. It is the site of a Native American village buried by mudslide some 300-500 years ago, recently rediscovered and unearthed in the 1970s. Several longhouses, scores of artifacts and examples of native culture were perfectly preserved in the layers of mud and silt. Many of these artifacts are now on display at the nearby Makah Museum.

A beautiful hike starting out of the Lake Ozette area is the 9.4 mile Cave Alva Loop. Along the way, stop to respectfully take in the 2000-year old petroglyphs carved into the “Wedding Rocks” by ancestors of the Makah Tribe. There is no signage, but they can be found while heading south, once you’ve reached the beach. For more camping details in the area, check out the NPS site. It should also be noted that the western terminus of the 1200-mile Pacific Northwest Trail is located at Cape Alva. #GOALS

Back on SR-112, keep heading west to its terminus at the lovely Neah Bay. As you travel along SR-112, keep an eye out for herds of elk grazing in the coastal meadows and soaring hawks and eagles stalking their prey along the shores. The views of the coastline are beautiful and rocky and on several occasions I’ve seen giant eagles casually perched on rocks taking it all in. (As an eagle does) I’ve also noticed that while I typically don’t have phone coverage in this area, I do often pick up roaming coverage from nearby Canada. To enjoy BC roaming coverage while checking out the eagles firsthand, check out the shoreline cottages at Chito Beach Resort for a lovely local stay.

Neah Bay, with its excellent coastal access is the home of the Native American Makah Tribe. Having called this area home for thousands of years, their culture and heritage runs deep in the coastal legacies. A fine way to learn more about the Makah history is with a visit to the well-curated and designed Makah Museum, located directly off of SR-112. If you happen to be visiting during August, make an effort to catch the Makah Days celebration to experience first-hand the traditions of the Makah Tribe.

If you’re looking for a bite or a cup of coffee, Neah Bay is small, but does indeed have some nice options:

  • Linda’s Wood Fired Pizza – In addition to wood-fired pizza, Linda’s offers fresh fish, soups, homemade pies and more!
  • The Warm House – Fresh fish and clam chowder, tasty burgers, waterfront location – serving breakfast, lunch and dinner.
  • Washburn’s General Store – A True Value hardware store AND a fully stocked grocery store. (And in keeping true to their name, they carry all sorts of other general items) It’s Neah Bay’s one-stop shopping store – and a great place to stock up for local picnicking and camping adventures. They also sell the Makah Recreation Pass needed for exploring several local sites.

To check out the most northwestern point of the contiguous US, head west out of Neah Bay on the Cape Flattery Road. Park in the parking lot and head down the well-maintained, but at times, very wet and slippery, Cape Flattery Trail towards the ocean. (Note: You will need a Makah Recreation Pass to park in the trailhead lot.) The trail down to the actual most northwestern point in the US is gorgeous and filled with beautiful old-growth trees and sweeping views. I continue to be stunned each time I stand on the edge of the bluff, looking out to Tatoosh Island and the Cape Flattery Lighthouse and back over to the breathtaking cliffs and coves on either side of the outcrop. The water is a striking teal green and it’s entirely easy to imagine pirates stashing treasure in the various caves and coves. I will never tire of exploring this part of the state and always find something “new” and amazing to take in.

For another amazing coastal adventure in the Neah Bay area, head up Cape Flattery Road and turn left onto Hobuck Road. (Before getting to Cape Flattery.) There you will find the Hobuck Beach Resort and beautiful Hobuck Beach. (A Makah Recreation Pass is required to park in the day use area.) There are cabins, camping and RV sites at the resort and surf rentals for enjoying the local surf scene. A great hike in the area is the 2-mile trek to Shi-Shi Beach and Point of the Arches. (To camp on Shi-Shi Beach requires a Makah Recreation Pass and a wilderness camping permit. And make sure you have a tidal chart with you.) The sunsets are exquisite and the remoteness of the beach is a reward in and of itself.

ToFlattery1
Beautiful and winding Cape Flattery Road

Heading back towards Port Angeles on SR-112, take the left fork to stay on 112 rather than going right and back to SR-113 and US 101. (The turn is about 6 miles beyond Clallam Bay.) The drive is winding, beautiful and another great candidate for a street bike excursion.  Enjoy a picnic along the drive with a break at Pillar Point County Park or stop in the nearby town of Joyce for a step back in time at the Joyce General Store & Depot Museum. Over 100 years old, the charming store and museum features displays from the bygone Port Crescent days as well as offering food and sundries.

Check out these additional enjoyable distractions on the drive back to Port Angeles:

  • Joyce Days Wild Blackberry Festival – A local festival celebrating the town of Joyce and wild blackberries on the 1st Saturday of August. Local music and crafts and a lot of blackberry goods.
  • Blackberry Café – Open during the summer months (June – Sept), stop in for delicious pie and burgers.
  • Salt Creek Recreation Area – Check out the rocky tide pools and enjoy the sandy beaches, hiking trails and camping opportunities. The area also features remnants of the WWII era Camp Hayden – bring your flashlight!

Continuing east on SR-112 will eventually bring you back down to US 101 and into Port Angeles. It is completely possible to take in Clallam County on a very long, summer day trip, but I’d recommend taking a good few days to savor the area. (Or many more!) With miles and miles of unspoiled land, water and coastline stretching out across the county, the beauty is immeasurable and the opportunities for adventure are limitless.

It is rare these days to find areas untouched by modern endeavors, but Clallam County seems to corner the market. Take in the charm of its cities, but make sure to explore its back roads, towering mountains and sweeping shorelines. There is nothing like Clallam County. It never fails to rejuvenate, add perspective to these hectic and cluttered times and provide me with a much needed sense of calm. I hope you’ll find Clallam County as amazingly beautiful and revitalizing as I do.

Cheers!

Ferry5
See ya next time!

 

For a few road trip tune suggestions, check out my Clallam County playlist on Spotify:

  • You’re A Wolf – Sea Wolf (from Leave in the River)
  • Satellite Heart – Anya Marina (from The Twilight Saga: New Moon Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
  • Vengeance Is Sleeping – Neko Case (from Middle Cyclone)
  • Mixtape – Tift Merritt (from See You on the Moon)
  • Spotlight – Mutemath (from Spotlight EP)
  • The Long Way Home – Norah Jones (from Feels Like Home)
  • Shooting the Moon – OK Go (from Of the Blue Colour of the Sky – Extra Nice Edition)
  • Oh My My – Jill Barber (from Chances)
  • Tilted – Christine & the Queens (from Christine & the Queens)
  • Lay Your Head Down – Keren Ann (from Keren Ann)
  • Goddamn Lonely Love – Drive-By Truckers (from The Dirty South)
  • Harvest Moon – Jeff Peterson (from Maui on My Mind)
  • Love Throw A Line – Patty Griffin (from Impossible Dream)
  • Rainbow Connection – The Muppets (from The Muppets – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
  • I Can See Clearly Now – Holly Cole Trio (from The Best of Holly Cole)

 

For other delicious possibilities, check out these additional I Ate the State Adventures:

Kitsap County

Jefferson County

Mason County

Kittitas County

Yakima County

Chelan County

Special Edition – Puerto Vallarta

 

I Ate the State – Yakima County

I love to travel. I love seeing the world, meeting new people, experiencing new things – I love to explore just how I fit into the greater scheme of it all. Learning about this planet we share is at the core of what makes me happy, and the core of that core owes its existence and curiosity to the feature of this edition of I Ate the State.  Please join me in exploring one of my favorite areas in the entire world and place of my birth; the lovely, nearly always sunny, Yakima County.

On the topic of cores, it is impossible to discuss Yakima County without mentioning its profound contribution to the agricultural bounty of Washington State as well as the country. (Vague attempt at apple core/fruit humor. Check.) Yakima County boasts the largest amount of commercial produce crops in Washington State, including producing roughly 78% of the nation’s hops and comes in a close second to California in wine production. Amazingly, there are over 1000 varieties of fruit and vegetables grown in the Yakima Valley area!

Not only does Yakima County feature sweeping orchards, vineyards and hop fields, it is a land rich with rivers, rolling hills and geological wonders, all crowned by the beauty of the Cascade mountain range. Due to its proximity to the Cascades, Yakima County benefits from the resulting rain shadow and typically enjoys around 300 days of sunshine a year. (Giving the city of Yakima the nickname, ‘The Palm Springs of Washington State.’ It’s very official – There’s a billboard on the way into town…) For wine and beer lovers, this climate provides the perfect growing conditions for grapes and hops and contributes greatly to the burgeoning popularity of Washington State wine and beer. As the second largest county in the state with a size larger than the combined areas of Rhode Island and Delaware, there is much to explore and so much to enjoy.

If you’re venturing to Yakima County from the west, which is my usual trajectory, there are several scenic options. In the summer, one of my favorite routes is over Chinook Pass via State Route 410. As you wind towards the top of the pass, you’ll begin to understand why it’s closed during the winter months. It can be precarious enough on a rainy, foggy July day, let alone during the deep snows of winter. The views are absolutely stunning as you look out over the valley and follow the White River to its origin at the base of Mt. Rainier. Near the top, be sure to stop at Tipsoo Lake to enjoy the scenery and take a quick hike around the lake. Often times, when the pass first opens in late spring, the road seems like a gauntlet with snow towering up on both sides of the road. This changes by the time July rolls around and you’ll be met with an explosion of amazing wildflowers and color. It’s truly spectacular.

In addition to the Pacific Crest Trail passing directly across the crest of Chinook Pass, one of my very favorite hikes on the planet takes off from the top off the pass. The Dewey Lake Trail is beautiful and traverses down into the valley alongside Mt. Rainier National Park, arriving appropriately at the lovely Dewey Lake. Camping by the lake is an excellent way to spend a weekend, but as there are a few bodies of water in the area, be sure to bring bug spray. On a clear night, the view of the stars reflecting on the lake is sublime and is actually the inspiration for my upcoming novel, The Secret Galaxy of Stars. (Which I will be finishing soon. For realsies.) Dewey Lake, as well as the smaller, unnamed lakes in the near vicinity are great for summer swimming – bring your suit!

Hwy410
Once you get over Chinook Pass, the sky widens and the wilderness spreads out in front of you…

Heading over the pass and continuing east, the sky seems to widen and the trees begin to change from denser Douglas Fir and Western Hemlock to the more sparsely populated Ponderosa Pines. The air immediately lightens up and on a summer day, you can almost immediately feel the temperature change. Air-conditioners come on, jackets come off – welcome to Central Washington!

My family has been camping, dirt-biking, hiking and generally adventuring in this part of the state from a time long before I was born. These trees, these rivers, this land is an essential part of my identity and any time I travel through its corridors, a sense of peace and calm takes over. Memories of family and friends, food on sticks and whatever gash or scrape I was nursing from whatever trail I’d wrecked the bike on all come flooding back and the world, at least temporarily, seems right again.

There are so many parts of this area I absolutely love, but here are a few of my personal favorites:

  • In need of a winding, uphill trek on crazy mountain back roads, ending with a sweeping view of Mt. Rainier and surrounding peaks and valleys? Take Forest Service road 1900 (aka: Little Naches Road or FS 19) to Forest Service road 1902 and head up to Ravens Roost Lookout and enjoy the remarkable view. For those of you camping and in need of cell reception, it’s upwards of an hour trek to the lookout, but you’ll likely get a decent connection at the top.
RavensRoost
Late afternoon at Ravens Roost
  • Along the way to Ravens Roost Lookout, there are many campsite areas and scenic spots to stop and check out. (Cliff jumping anyone?) The Naches River is beautiful, with plentiful fishing and recreational opportunities and has been the centerpiece of my family’s camping adventures for decades. On a clear night, the stars are plentiful, the air crisp and the sounds of coyotes, wolves, bear, elk – or maybe it’s just a squirrel – keep the imagination alive and alert around the campfire. While my family does have a tendency to bring everything but the kitchen sink to the campsite bar and grill, there is something to be said for figuring out all the foods one can cook on a stick over an open fire… (Note: There are many excellent areas to backpack and hike in the area, but most of the campsites in this particular area cater more to RVs, ORVs, dirt bikes, etc. There are also several camps used as starting points for horse riding on local area trails.)
  • Bring a flashlight and head over to the Boulder Cave area for a nice hike through the Ponderosa Pine and basalt-walled gully leading down to the cave entrance. The cave is several hundred meters long and has an entrance and exit. Water streams through the cave system and it can be slippery with loose rocks – a flashlight is imperative. This is definitely a great area in which to check out the geology and makeup of this part of the state. And caves are cool!
  • If you’d prefer to not tough it out in a tent or even sort of tough it out in a RV, check out the lodging opportunities at Whistlin’ Jacks in the Cliffdell area. A main point of gathering, lodging and dining in the area since the 1930s, Whistlin’ Jacks is a beacon on the drive between Enumclaw and Yakima. They have a small motel as well as several cabins dotted around the grounds, all located alongside the Naches River. The dining room in the main lodge also features a great view of the river and they serve breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. (Note: If you’re running low on fuel, gas up at Whistlin’ Jacks before heading over the pass – there’s no fuel until Greenwater if you’re headed west – 50 or so miles away!)

If you happen to be coming from the southwest part of the state, hit up US Route 12 (Goes from Aberdeen, WA all the way to Detroit, MI!) over White Pass for a beautiful mountain drive. You’ll pass through several small towns along what is also known as the White Pass Scenic Byway before arriving at the top of the pass and home of the White Pass Ski Area.

On the topic of skiing, White Pass is one of my all-time favorite spots to enjoy such snowy pursuits. The snow is excellent, the skiable areas are abundant and the main lodge has thoroughly maintained its old-school charm. Additionally, it’s still a locally-run operation, the lodge hasn’t changed much since I was a kid and I always meet the friendliest group of winter-enthusiasts every time I visit.

As if the sun and snow weren’t enough, the White Pass ski area also hosts one of my favorite winter destinations ever… Imagine flying down a run on a beautiful, sunny day. Your legs are feeling the burn and you realize just how much you’d love a cold beer and a quick rest… But the lodge is way down at the bottom of the mountain! WHAT DO YOU DO??  And then, just when all hope seems lost, you come around the bend and a delightful little scene appears before your eyes.  Behold the glory of the Mid-mountain Yurt! (Cue angelic choir) It’s usually not crowded and completely feasible to pop off your skis, walk inside and have a cold beer in your hand in total of one minute.  On nice days they often have a BBQ going outside and you can grab a quick brat for some extra energy. Mid-mountain yurt for the win!  (Only open on Saturdays through March 31st) There’s also the High Camp day lodge, with its outdoor BBQ and beer options, but there’s just something to be said for the best-kept-secret of the mid-mountain yurt. Sigh…

If you’d like to stay near the ski hill, there are several options:

  • White Pass Village Inn – Comfortable, condo-style and studio lodging directly across the street from the main ski lodge – with a year-round, outdoor pool!
  • “Lot C” – Camper/RV camping. There’s a parking lot just past the crest of the pass, heading east. It’s first-come-first-served and can get crowded on weekends, but it’s FREE and depending on time of year, you can ski down from the hill, directly to the lot/campsite. There’s also often a cozy, communal fire pit going on into the late night where you can hang out with fellow ski bums.
  • There are many cabin rentals available in the near vicinity. From small cottages to cabins that will comfortably sleep 10+, there are many great options. Hit up VRBO or Airbnb for a great selection. (The one we usually rent sleeps 9 of us, has a great kitchen and a nice outdoor hot tub – about a 20 minute drive to the ski hill.)
  • Packwood Lodge – About a half hour west of White Pass is the little town of Packwood. This is a nice spot located directly off the highway. There is also a RV/camper lot adjacent to the lodge.

In addition to the sacred pastime of downhill skiing and snowboarding, there are also many other outdoor opportunities in the White Pass area.  Hiking, camping, rock climbing, fishing and dirt biking in the summer and snowmobiling and cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter, to name a few. There is definitely no shortage of amazing outdoor opportunities to be had in the White Pass area or its parallel adventure zone, SR 410 and the Chinook Pass area.

Heading east on either SR 410 or US 12, you will arrive in the small town of Naches. Gateway to the Yakima Valley, the sky further opens and the horizon begins to stretch out in front of you. Tucked into the hills overlooking the Naches area is the even smaller town of Tieton. Surrounded by beautiful orchards and vineyards, this area once (and still) dedicated to agricultural pursuits, is now also home to a growing Arts community called Mighty Tieton. They have regular events in the area featuring local artisans and the local cidery, Tieton Cider Works has a new tasting room close to the downtown Yakima area where they showcase their cider creations. (With bocce ball and cornhole!) And if you happen to make the trek over to Tieton Cider Works, also consider stopping into nearby Yakima Craft Brewing. They’ve been brewing great beer for the last 10 years and now have a new tasting room and events space. I’m particularly fond of their Good Monk Belgian blonde and their 1982 red ale. Delicious! (Kid friendly, too!)

When driving through the idyllic hills of the Naches Heights area, a good spot to enjoy the view and a nice glass of wine is the Wilridge Winery & Distillery.  The winery is located on a hill overlooking Naches and is nestled next to well-established orchards and vineyards. On a recent visit, many of the people visiting the winery had made prior stops at nearby “you-pick” cherry orchards to stock up on Rainier cherries and other local varieties.  (Check out Thompson’s Farm or Johnson Orchards for you-pick opportunities throughout the various fruit harvesting seasons.) The tasting room is set inside a 100-year old farmhouse and on summer days, it’s lovely to sit outside on the porch while enjoying your wine tasting. The staff is very accommodating and the tasting experience has a relaxing, homey feel about it.  They also have live music and themed events throughout the year. Additionally, they’re dog-friendly, put out fresh water dishes and like to indulge their four-legged guests with giant treats.

If you’re in need of a little adventure with your wine, there are also rock climbing and rappelling opportunities on nearby cliffs as well as quick access to the Cowiche Canyon Uplands Trails. I was much too interested in wine-tasting endeavors on my recent visit, but hope to check out those areas on my next trip. (Preferably before doing any wine-tasting…)

Driving out of the Naches area, there are many ways to head into Yakima proper. North 16th Ave and North 1st Street are two main thoroughfares available off of US 12, but for the most direct route to the downtown heart of Yakima, I’d recommend hitting up I-82. If you’re heading over from western Washington during the winter, chances are you took I-90 through Ellensburg. (Check out my Kittitas County article for more info about the Ellensburg area and I-90 corridor.) Since I-90 goes over the lowest mountain pass in the state, Snoqualmie Pass, this is hands down the most popular winter route between western and eastern Washington.  That said, I-90 is generally the most popular route year-round, which can make for long drives heading back to western Washington on Sunday afternoons. If you’re good with night driving, it’s often a much better deal to get on the road in the evening and plan for a later return. Stop at a nice restaurant on the way out of town and enjoy the sunset before returning to what very well might be a rainy evening…

On that note, there are many great dining opportunities and general distractions to enjoy in the downtown and greater Yakima area. Since Yakima is my hometown, there are many standards to which I’m loyal. However, with the expansion of the local wine and brewery scene, Yakima is exploding with new and exciting eateries to check out.  Here are a few of my new – and old – favorites:

  • Crafted– Trendy, but relaxed dining in downtown Yakima. Housed in one of Yakima’s classic brick buildings, Crafted offers seasonally-inspired NW cuisine and features locally sourced ingredients. Great food, delicious craft cocktails and a good wine list – A fine addition to the downtown Yakima scene.
  • Cowiche Canyon Kitchen & Icehouse – Located in downtown Yakima, Cowiche Canyon Kitchen & Icehouse is known for great steaks, hand-crafted cocktails and farm-to-table ingredients, all presented in a well-designed, modern setting.
  • Carousel – Right around the corner from Crafted, Carousel offers a NW take on classic French cuisine. Dinner, brunch on Sundays and a well-rounded wine and cocktail offering – check them out!
  • The Sports Center Restaurant & Bar – The Sports Center is classic Yakima and offers a classic American pub-style menu. They regularly feature music and it’s usually a pretty lively scene on the weekends. My dad and I both have played their stage in our early performance days – And back when my dad was a sign man in Yakima, he also worked on the artwork for their iconic neon sign. The Sports Center will always hold a special place in my heart.
  • Essencia Artisan Bakery – Stop by Essencia when downtown and in need of fresh baked pastries, breads, coffee or a tasty, café-style lunch.
  • Golden Wheel Restaurant and Lotus Room – Bringing Cantonese-style Chinese cuisine and powerful cocktails to downtown Yakima for the past 75 years, the Golden Wheel is another Yakima classic.
GoldenWheel
Part of the downtown Yakima scene for 75 years!

Even though Yakima has been rocking the nation’s hop scene for many decades, it’s really only been in the past 20 years that local breweries have come on the scene and started taking advantage of the hop bounty.  Some tasty options in the downtown area:

As thankful I am Yakima finally has a local brewing scene, I am extremely thankful to the vintners of the Yakima Valley for fully embracing the area’s vast potential for wine making. (Mmmm – delicious, delicious wine…) The wine-making efforts of Washington State have come to legitimately rival those of California and France and the Yakima Valley is key to this success.  If you’re in the downtown Yakima area, here’s a list of tasting rooms to check out:

  • Gilbert Cellars – Comfortable tasting room in downtown Yakima with a modern flair. I very much enjoy their 2017 Vin du Vallee and their 2012 Reserve No. 2.
  • Antolin Cellars – Across the street from Gilbert Cellars. A cozy atmosphere, friendly staff and tasty wine.
  • Kana Winery – Located in the beautiful, Art Deco style Larson building in downtown Yakima. Stop in for their happy hour tastings and live music.

Downtown Yakima is known for its classic buildings and many are featured on the National Register of Historic Places. One of the things I always loved checking out as a child were the various merchant advertisements painted on the sides of the classic brick buildings. Many of these are still visible and will hopefully continue to stand the test of time and urban development. Some of the gems in downtown Yakima architectural crown:

  • E. Larson Building – Beautiful, Art Deco style building, circa 1931. A true standout in the Yakima skyline housing various businesses. They also have a long-running light display on the side of the building at night which is regularly updated.
  • Hotel Maison – Looking for a classic place to stay while indulging in local wine and beer? Built in 1911 to accommodate the local Masons, it’s now home to Hotel Maison and is a wonderful tribute to the heyday of downtown Yakima. (Well on its way to enjoying the next heyday!)
  • Capitol Theatre – Built in 1920, the Capitol Theatre has hosted quite an amazing array of Arts and Entertainment over the years. (My grandfather performed there in big band shows!) After a horrible fire in the 70s nearly destroyed the theatre, it has been lovingly rebuilt and maintains its strong dedication to Arts in the Yakima Valley area today.
  • Fruit Row – Not really a building, per se, but more a series of buildings and warehouses which greatly helped define the importance of the Yakima fruit growing operation. (And still do!) There is presently a grant in place to fund exploration of making this part of town a National Historic District. I sincerely hope this effort succeeds. In the meantime, it’s an interesting drive through the area roads. Wooden fruit crates stacked tall, in far-stretching rows all the way down the street… My mom worked for the Washington State Fruit Commission back in the day as well as doing much seasonal work at the Snokist cannery. The fruit scene of the Yakima Valley is part of my history and I’m always proud to hear of Yakima Valley produce making its way around the world.

There are many ways to enjoy Yakima and several events and festivals throughout the year can set you on that path:

  • Craft Beverage Yakima Walk – November 10th in downtown Yakima. Walk around the downtown area and sample what all of the cideries, breweries and wine tasting rooms have been up to!
  • Fresh Hop Ale Festival – Takes place at the end of September and features many of the local area breweries. This year it was set up right in front of the historic Capitol Theatre.
  • Yakima Taco Fest – Happening mid-September, it’s a festival of Tacos! Enough said.
  • Yakima Uncorked – Visiting Yakima in June? Consider checking out the Yakima Uncorked festival to learn all about – and taste! – local wine and food.
  • Downtown Yakima Farmer’s Market – Buy directly from local farmers, check out local artisans, enjoy local food – all in the heart of downtown Yakima. (Sundays, May – October)
  • Yakima Valley Museum – There are a few sources responsible for molding me into the nerd I am today, but the birthplace of said nerdiness can be traced directly back to the Yakima Valley Museum. I continue to channel that same sense of wonder I experienced there as a 5-year old anytime I visit museums to this day. Thanks, YVM!
YakimaCycleShop
Now displayed in the Yakima Valley Museum, this neon song is classic Yakima. (My dad worked on the artwork for it!)
  • Franklin Park – Directly next door to the Yakima Valley Museum is the lovely, Franklin Park. I spent many a day with my parents, grandparents and friends enjoying its grounds and it always makes me smile. The terraces in the park are particularly cool in the winter and they have great concerts and festivals during the summer.
  • Birchfield Manor – Just outside of the downtown area, check out the Birchfield Manor inn and restaurant for a delicious meal, a cozy room and a step back into old Yakima charm.
  • Central WA State Fair – Here’s the deal: I LOVE the Central Washington State Fair. I love looking at incredibly intricate fruit/vegetable/agricultural displays. I love checking out vintage tractors. I love eating GIANT “elephant ears” (Fried bread with a lot of cinnamon & sugar on it – YUM!) and hand-dipped corn dogs. I love visiting the horses, cows, chickens, rabbits, goats, etc. and generally taking in the farm animal scene. I looked forward to the fair every year as a kid and I look forward to it presently. Crisp fall air, the smell of the harvest season… Bring it on. Bring me to the fair! (And please bring me another elephant ear. Thanks!)

Yakima is the largest city in the area and the namesake of the county, but there are several other interesting towns and places to visit in the nearby vicinity. Heading east out of Yakima, I-82 is the most popular and direct route. However, for an interesting (and potentially delicious) detour, consider heading out of town via the Union Gap area.

Often considered part of Yakima, Union Gap is its own town and brings important history and charm to the greater Yakima area. It also sits at the official gap in the rolling hills surrounding Yakima, welcoming travelers in and out of the area. Some noteworthy places to visit when in Union Gap:

  • Miner’s Drive-In – Classic burgers in Yakima/Union Gap. Miners has been around for 75 years and shows no sign of slowing down. I have the fondest memories of rolling through their somewhat awkward drive-thru with various family members over the years. The burgers are HUGE, they have awesome shakes and fries and they have the most glorious condiment ever created – FRY SAUCE. No arguments will be entertained. Fry sauce is the best.  Annnnnnnd… SCENE! Go to Miners. You don’t even have to hit up the drive-thru if you don’t want to as they have added ample indoor – and outdoor picnic – seating over the past many years. Go to Miners!
  • Yakima Farmer’s Market – Check out this version of the Yakima Farmer’s Market in the Valley Mall parking lot on Valley Mall Blvd and S. First Street. On my recent visit they had a good variety of stands and produce as well as several great food truck/stand options. One of the stands was serving straight-up high tea – with all the trimmings! (Sundays, May – October)
  • Los Hernandez– Pride of Union Gap – and rightly so – Los Hernandez serves absolutely amazing tamales which recently won a James Beard America’s Classics  Try the asparagus tamales when they’re in season – SO delicious!
PepStick2
Classic burger drive-in in Union Gap. I think they serve Pepsi…
  • Fruit City – An excellent selection of local produce as well as smoked salmon and cheeses. The staff is very friendly and helpful – and the prices are great! (But don’t shuck the corn. Just don’t.)
  • If snowmobiling is your thing, check out the action around the Tampico area and the Ahtanum State Forest. The trails are plentiful, the snow excellent and the scenery beautiful. This is also a great place to hit up year-round and is equally excellent for ATVs and UTVs as well as general summer outdoor pursuits. I have very fond memories of snowmobiling with my family in this area… Beautiful! Note: You’ll need a Discover Pass when visiting.

Heading out of Union Gap, through the actual gap, will take you in the direction of many small towns along I-82.  If you’re feeling leisurely, another option is to take the Yakima Valley Highway. (Take Exit 40 off of I-82 to hook up with the Yakima Valley Highway.)  The section of I-82 from Union Gap to Prosser wasn’t actually built until the late 70s and the Yakima Valley Highway was one of the main thoroughfares in the area. It can be slow going, but it’s an interesting look at rural Central Washington and how things have developed over the years. (Note: I’ll be covering Prosser, the birthplace of Washington wine, in my upcoming Benton County feature.)

UnionGap
The actual gap heading into Union Gap!

On the topic of rural sights, there are many beautiful spots in the area highlighting local history as well as many spots which have hardly changed at all over the course of history.  From the ancient rolling hills (which have always reminded me of pushed up, rumpled carpet) to old wooden barns and rusty tractors, it’s easy to forget what era you’re in – especially when there aren’t many cars on the road. There are numerous spots along these Central Washington back roads worth investigating, but here are some of my lifelong favorites:

YakamaMuseum
Yakama Nation Museum in Toppensish
  • Feeling lucky? In need of some buffet action? Check out the Legends Casino and get started on that new retirement plan.
  • Toppenish is known for its large number of murals painted around town and you can hop a horse-drawn, narrated wagon tour to learn all about them!
  • In celebration of one of the valley’s most lucrative and enjoyable crops, the American Hop Museum will tell you all about how the area grew to become the nation’s premier hop supplier. BEER!
  • Fort Simcoe State Park in the White Swan area is an interesting look into the history of the area’s western settlers and their expansion into the Yakama lands. Note: One of the things I remember vividly from childhood visits were the rattlesnake warning signs posted around the grounds. There are also bears. Watch where you step – and watch after your picnic baskets… You’ll also need a Discover Pass – or there’s also the option of paying a day fee to visit.
  • Have a group of friends and want to do some local area wine-tasting? The Cornerstone Ranch Farmhouse is a good option for lodging while enjoying such pursuits.
  • Located not too far from Toppenish, is the small town of Grandview. On one the many clear days, you’ll have good view of both Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainier as well as a short route to nearby Bill’s Berry Farm. Year-round events (Pumpkin patches and Christmas trees!) and a farm store with fresh berries and take-n-bake pies make this a great stop any time of year.
  • Visit the Teapot Dome Gas Station in nearby Zillah for a dose of kitschy Americana. It was originally built as a send-up on the Teapot Dome Scandal which occurred during the Warren G. Harding administration, but more importantly to me, it always reminds me of my mom. Every time we drove by it on road trips, she’d break out in song…

I’m a little teapot, short and stout

Here is my handle – Here is my spout

When I get all steamed up, hear me shout,

“Tip me over and pour me out!”

If you’re traveling through the Zillah area, there are many local wineries to check out. (Part of the Rattlesnake Hills AVA) On my most recent visit, I spent some very enjoyable time at J. Bell Cellars. Their gorgeous grounds are surrounded by vineyards, orchards, a giant lavender field and play host to quite a few delicious wines. I could’ve easily spent the entire day hanging out. This would certainly be an easy task on a summer weekend as they have an outdoor, brick oven for pizza and other eats, lovely patio seating and regular music events. I very much enjoyed my wine tasting that day, but particularly liked their 2016 Le Blanc and the 2013 Syrah Yakima Valley. They also have a tasting room in the Woodinville area.

Also in the Zillah area:

  • Set atop a beautiful rolling hill with a stunning, 360 degree view of the valley, Knight Hill Winery was a lovely place to stop. I very much enjoyed their 2015 Cabernet Franc.
  • Stop in at the Jones Farms fruit stand for excellent local fruit and produce. (They also have a Yakima location) They feature a straw maze, duck pond and picnic area at the farm proper.
  • Check out The Cherrywood B&B, a working farm where you can stay in a tepee, take a horseback tour of local wineries and enjoy a lovely breakfast on the patio!

Traveling further east on I-82 will bring you to the sunny town of… Sunnyside.  Pun intended – just like Yakima, it’s typically sunny year-round. Super-hot in the summer and super-cold in the winter, but usually always sunny… A portion of my family lives in the Sunnyside area, so I make regular visits to and around the region and I very much enjoy soaking in the vitamin D.

Comparatively, Sunnyside is fairly small in the greater scheme of Washington towns. However, when stacked against the towns between Yakima and the next large urban area, the Tri-Cities, Sunnyside is quite big and very strategically located. It enjoys easy access to an expansive section of wine country as well as being centrally located for Yakima/Tri-Cities work commutes and adventuring. Sunnyside is a great jumping-off point for a bevy of central and eastern Washington exploration as well as being a nice place to visit in and of itself.  A few noteworthy spots to check out on your next visit to the area:

  • Snipes Mountain Brewery & Restaurant – Great beer and tasty pub-style dining, my family has been visiting Snipes for several years. In addition, we’ve hit up their event spaces for wedding receptions, retirement parties, general family celebrations – the list goes on. My only wish is that they bring back the delicious lavender Hefeweisen they were making about 6 or 7 years ago… Please!?
  • Bon Vino’s Bistro & Bakery – I’m fairly certain my dad and stepmom live at this place. Not to say I blame them as the food is delicious, they have great coffee and pastries and their biscuits and gravy breakfast is sublime. They also offer great catering services.
  • Glez Family Restaurant – Classic, low-key local diner with great food and good service. I’ve only enjoyed breakfast there, but they also offer lunch and dinner.
  • Bob’s Drive-In – Bob’s Burgers! Not the show – the actual burgers. A Sunnyside classic, Bob’s Drive-in has been serving burgers, shakes and fries to local residents since 1947!
Bobs
Bob’s Drive-in in Sunnyside. Classic!
  • Co Dinn Cellars – New to the downtown Sunnyside area, Co Dinn Cellars is a modern tasting room set inside the former Sunnyside Water Department building. (c. 1930)
CoDinn
Co Dinn Cellars in downtown Sunnyside.
  • Located directly across the street from Co Dinn Cellars, Varietal Beer Company brings a lively brewing scene to the downtown area. They host a great variety of in-house brews as well as featured guest taps. (Cider, etc.) They don’t have a kitchen, but they regularly host local food trucks in their outdoor patio area. Live music is also featured on the patio on weekends.
  • A well-stocked grocery store featuring a large variety of Hispanic foods, specialties and sundries, Fiesta Foods is a great foodie stop. I love this store and am fairly addicted to their freshly baked jalapeno cream cheese rolls, in-house tortillas and amazing salsas. (Also in Pasco, Yakima and Hermiston)
  • I am a bit of a shoe collector. I admit it. And whenever I’m in town, I love to hit up Taylor’d Footwear. They have a great variety of shoes, boots, clogs, etc. and I always seem to find something I really REALLY NEED. (Back off – I really needed those clogs…)
  • Sunnyside is a key stakeholder in the agricultural and farming development of Central Washington. A couple of great places where you can learn more about the area’s history and contribution:
    • Sunnyside Historical Museum – Check out the many interesting displays featuring local history and development in what used to be the town funeral home. (Spooky!)
    • Located directly across the street from the museum, be sure to investigate Ben Snipes’ Cabin. (c. 1869, originally located 7 miles from current Sunnyside.) Known as the “Northwest Cattle King”, Ben Snipes is credited with giving the name “Horse Heaven” to the area and is the naming inspiration for local Snipes Mountain. (Also an important AVA)

If you’ve been visiting from the western side of the state, rather than returning to Yakima via I-82, consider heading back via WA-241 (Hanford Road) over a 16-mile stretch of the Rattlesnake Hills. Once arriving at the “Yakima Barricade” near the Hanford Site, take a left and head towards Moxee and Yakima via SR-24. (Moxee Highway) This route will take you through beautiful rolling hills and across the geological wonder of the Columbia Plateau. Stark and expansive, this part of the Yakima County can seem timeless when you’re the only one on the road. My favorite time of the year to travel these byways is during March and April when the desert grasses are (briefly) green and the air is fragrant with the smell of sage.  (Note: These routes can get fairly treacherous during the winter months. Drive with caution and be prepared for black ice.)

Once you’ve made it over the hills of SR-24, you’ll arrive at the tiny town of Moxee. Tiny in size, but big in importance, the greater Moxee area is responsible for growing and harvesting approximately 78% of the nation’s hops. A very important job, indeed…

When I was young, my parents decided to move from Yakima and build a new home in the Tri-Cities area. We’d drive from Yakima to Pasco nearly every weekend for what seemed like a thousand years while our hew home was being constructed. We always took the Moxee Highway and my brother and I would sit in the backseat of our sleek Datsun B210 watching mile after mile of hop fields pass by. HOPS AS FAR AS THE EYE CAN SEE!! What seemed like the most boring scene ever to me as a child now seems like an enchanted wonderland in my adult years. #PRIORITIES #BEER

Datsun
Our super sleek, family ride: The Datsun B210. In Kermit Green!

It should also be mentioned that if you happen to be traveling this road on a clear night, once you are away from town, stop and get out of your car. Look up and marvel at just how many stars are visible and just how limitless and vast the sky is. It never ceases to humble me. It is truly beautiful and positively splendid to behold.

If you happen to be in Moxee in early August, hit up the Moxee Hop Festival for a celebration of all things hoppy. I have very fond memories of visiting the festival as a child. Maybe beer and hop-worship wasn’t involved in my earlier years, but I’m prepared to represent as an adult in current festivities. #PRIORITIES #BEER

Not too far away from the Moxee area, stop in at Bale Breaker Brewing Company to partake in the majesty and bounty of the Moxee area hop harvest. Set in the heart of expansive hop fields, Bale Breaker is both a taproom and brewery. It’s family friendly, dog friendly, regularly hosts local food trucks and various events and is a great place to hang out on a sunny afternoon. Sample their brews, play some cornhole, enjoy a bit of local food… Golden! On my recent visit, I very much enjoyed their Sesiones Del Migrante Mango IPA and their Peach, Love & Happiness Blonde. A big favorite of my family is their Topcutter IPA – a standard pick at the aforementioned White Pass Mid-mountain Yurt…

Coming in or out of Yakima on US 12, I-82 or the Yakima River Canyon Scenic Byway, you’ll have the option of hitting up the Selah area. (Check out my Kittitas County feature for more information on the Yakima River Canyon Scenic Byway) Selah is a small town, but there are definitely some cool places to check out. Consider these options when visiting the area:

  • In case you are wondering where the “Apple Juice Capitol of the WORLD” is, wonder no more – it’s in Selah! Help celebrate Washington’s love affair with the apple by visiting the Tree Top Store & Visitor Center All hail the mighty apple!
  • Yakima County has its fair share of old-school burger drive-ins and Kings Row Drive-In is Selah’s contribution to the scene. My mom used to take me there for milkshakes and fries after visiting the dentist as a child. Visit to the dentist to remove sugary treats from teeth = trip to get milkshakes after dentist to reinstall sugary treats to teeth. It’s the dentistry circle of life!
  • Nana Kates – Breakfast, lunch, smoothies, Tree Top juice (of course!), local catering – Check out Nana Kates for many great options!
  • If you’re up for a little outdoor adventure, the Yakima Greenway trail offers many miles of opportunity. (Goes between Union Gap and the Naches/Selah area) There are also many great snowmobiling opportunities in the hills surrounding the Selah area. I have quite a few excellent memories of winter snowmobile adventures with my uncles in this area…
  • Barrett Orchards is located outside the Selah area and is a great option for u-pick fruit. They also have a seasonal pumpkin patch and a store featuring local fruit and wares.
grapes
Delicious Concord Grapes!

Heading back on I-82 towards the western side of the state, there are a few more things to check out before leaving my beloved Yakima County…

In my Kittitas County feature, I made mention of my great love for the Thorp Fruit Stand. Admittedly, I do have a slight bias towards the Thorp Fruit Stand, but I also very much love visiting Precision Fruit & Antiques on my way out of the Yakima area. They have a great seasonal produce offering, delicious local preserves and traditionally canned goods and a great local wine and cider selection. I was also pretty happy with the antique selection on my most recent visit…

Not too far from Precision Fruits and right off of I-82 is the Selah Creek rest stop. Granted, it’s just a rest stop and there’s not a lot to doo, but the view from this area is absolutely spectacular. (Watch out for rattlesnakes!) On a clear day, you can see Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainier from around this area and if you happen to visit near sunset, the scene is breathtaking.  A little further west on I-82 you will cross over Manastash Ridge and Umtanum Ridge. This part of the drive through Yakima County is unpopulated and somewhat forbidding, but the views are amazing and it is one of the largest shrub-steppe habitats remaining in Washington State.

Stationed amidst the sparseness of the area is the Yakima Training Center. (Formerly the Yakima Firing Center) The area is not open to the public and is maintained by the military. Oddly, the area actually factors into how I came to be.  As a young man, my dad was in the army and stationed at Fort Lewis. He came with his unit to the Yakima Firing Center for maneuvers and ended up meeting my mom at a local USO dance. (My mom was Miss USO Washington at the time!) They met, they danced…. And the rest is history. Yakima County history!

And so ends this entry of I Ate the State.  Yakima County is not only near and dear to my heart, it is what actually shaped my heart. Family, experience, memories, life – it is what made me who I am today.  I may have long moved out of its borders, but the (apple) core of me will always proudly reside within its boundaries. Visit the area, enjoy the wine, down a beer, revel in the freshness of the produce – I will be right there with you, savoring every last morsel.

Cheers!

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I Ate the State – Yakima County – The Playlist!

A few tunes I took along on my Yakima County adventure…

  • Carry on My Wayward Son (Anchorman Medley) – Kansas & Will Ferrell
  • Crazy on You – Heart
  • Barracuda – Heart
  • Rocky Mountain High – John Denver
  • Outfit – Drive-by Truckers
  • All Your Favorite Bands – Dawes
  • Dusty Trails – Lucius
  • Magnolia – J.J. Cale
  • Thunderbolt’s Goodnight – Josh Ritter
  • Come and Find Me – Josh Ritter
  • Wherever Is Your Heart – Brandi Carlile
  • The Wind – Zac Brown Band
  • Ready to Run – Dixie Chicks
  • Take A Back Road – Rodney Atkins
  • West Bound and Down – Jerry Reed & Bill Justis

I Ate the State – Chelan County

Hello! And welcome to the latest edition of I Ate the State – Chelan County style!

My biggest takeaway from recent Chelan County adventures is I haven’t spent nearly enough time in the area. I’ve visited many times over the course of my life in Washington State, but now having focused more closely on the area, WOW – there is seemingly limitless possibility for adventure, beauty, deliciousness and more. Mmmmm…

Lake Chelan
Beautiful Lake Chelan

Chelan County is located in the north central part of Washington and is home to some of the most stunning scenery in the state. Surrounded by the rugged mountain peaks of the North Cascades and the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest and packed with rivers, lakes and beautiful valleys, Chelan County has breathtaking beauty any direction you look. Add in 300 days of sunshine a year to the many unique, idyllic towns gracing the county and it’s absolutely reasonable to start making plans to run away permanently to the area.  (Come on – VPN is a completely valid way to get the job done… Right??)

This journey actually played out over the course of two separate adventures as the area simply has way too much to pack into one day. (Or several days, for that matter) In fact, I think it’s fair to say one could visit every weekend for a year and still have places to see and cool things to check out. Granted, you’ll need trusty transportation if you’re traveling to the area over any of the mountain passes – or for general north central/eastern Washington winter driving. Just as western Washington gets a lot of rain in the fall and winter months, north central/eastern Washington gets a comparable amount of snow.

Heading from the greater Seattle area, we took US Route 2 towards the mountain pass, Stevens Pass. To be added to the ‘Wow – I didn’t realize that’ file, I was foolishly unaware that US Route 2 goes essentially all the way across the northern part of the United States. (Hence, the “US Route” designation. Duh, Dayna.) Along with swearing to finally drive the entire Cascade Loop, which sweeps gloriously through Chelan County and beyond, I will now be adding US Route 2 (in its entirety) to my road trip ‘to do’ bucket list. The more you know…

Stevens Pass
Highway 2 can be a bit precarious in the winter – drive safely!

At the top of the pass, you’ll come to the beautiful Stevens Pass Ski Area. I will admit to not often stopping during the snowless months, which is sad as there are many excellent outdoor adventures to be had in the area. The ski resort is also open during the summer for mountain biking and often hosts fun summer events. On the hiking side, a section of the multi-state Pacific Crest Trail ambles through the area and scores of other beautiful backpacking, camping and hiking opportunities are close by. A few great options to check out:

If you happen to be in the area in the winter and are in need of some exciting vertical challenges, Stevens Pass is a great place to ski and snowboard. Additionally, they have a great Nordic ski and snowshoe area a little further east down the highway. Words of warning: Stevens Pass has a tendency to get incredibly busy on weekends and they have somewhat limited parking which fills up very early. It can be rather frustrating to arrive at 9am and still have to park in the overfill parking well down the road – and then wait a minimum 30 minutes for the shuttle to take you back up to the ski hill.  OR – find that even the overfill parking is full and you have to turn around and go home… There are, however, a few ways to circumvent the parking madness:

  • Leave at an insanely early hour of the morning and get to the hill no later than Glass half full, you’ll likely get in some first tracks.
  • Take a ski bus or shuttle from either the Seattle/Bellevue area or Leavenworth. Several outdoor outfits offer the service as well as many Leavenworth hotels/lodges.
  • Leave at a completely reasonable hour of the morning and get to the ski hill around noon. Some of the hard core, early bird skiers are starting to leave and you’ll very likely get good parking close to the lodge. Then – ski later in the day and into the night skiing hours. The day lodge and dining options are also much less crowded if you start your ski day while everyone else is trying to grab lunch. Same goes for leaving the hill to head home – you will inevitably hit MUCH less traffic the later you leave. As Highway 2 can get incredibly backed up in either direction, especially after a ski day, it’s worth its weight in gold to not get stuck in it. Bah.
  • Ski during the week. Preferably Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. Come on – take the day off – all the cool kids are doin’ it!

Heading further east on Highway 2, you’ll pass a few tiny towns with a couple of service options such as The Squirrel Tree lodge, restaurant and lounge in Coles Corner. (Conveniently next to a little market and gas station.) Largely, however, beautiful mountains and the gorgeous, sometimes treacherous Wenatchee River will be accompanying your travels.

The Wenatchee River is an incredibly popular river for rafting and fishing. There are many areas along the river showcasing calm, deep blue-green pools, but equal are the sweeping sections of dangerous rapids and precarious obstacles. Outfitters such as Alpine Adventures are good options to help guide one through the watery maze. I have yet to make the journey, but whitewater rafting down the Wenatchee River has always been on my bucket list. SOON!

Shortly before entering Leavenworth, look for an Alpen-style building just off the side of Highway 2. Even if you don’t have a sweet tooth, the Alps Candy store is a great place to stop for local specialties, sauces, mustards, pickles, etc. It’s been there since the 60s and is always an interesting place to stop for a snack or just to use the restroom and stretch your legs.

Just as you’re heading into Leavenworth (from the West), you’ll see Icicle Road off to the right. Down this road are great options for lodging, camping, hiking, biking and more. It’s a beautiful road with cool campsites right along the creek. This is also a great road for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling during the winter months. Some great options in the Icicle Road area:

Snowy Trees
Snowy trees on Highway 2

It’s hard not to be charmed as you’re driving into Leavenworth proper. Especially if it’s a sunny day and you’ve just ventured over from a grey, western Washington day. Home to bright blue skies and surrounded by beautiful mountains and the Wenatchee River, Leavenworth is one of the most unique destinations in the state. Leavenworth has been an established town since the early 1900s, but didn’t come into its current, Bavarian-themed incarnation until the mid-60s. Resurrecting the timber town proved a great success and Leavenworth has become an incredibly popular and charming tourist destination year-round.

Leavenworth
Charming downtown Leavenworth

I’ve visited Leavenworth many times over the years and have enjoyed more than a couple raucous Oktoberfest undertakings. For this excursion, however, I was joined by a true Leavenworth aficionado, one of whom I like to refer to as the mayor of Leavenworth. (He’s not really the mayor, but plays one on TV.) (Not really, but maybe he should.) There was definitely an enduring consumption of wine and beer, joined by delicious meats and accompaniments, but this outing was perhaps a little more civilized than past adventures. (Adventures which may or may not have involved my family, ridiculous amounts of beer and a very lethargic, super majestic RV named ‘Lethargo’)

The first point of action on our very civilized adventure was that of meat procurement. For the record, I’ve taken to bringing a mini-cooler and ice-packs along with me on my escapades. Too many times have I come across goods I’d like to bring home which require refrigeration… My trusty cooler did indeed come in handy that day and we returned home with bacon, Currywurst, chocolate, etc. A fine haul for the day! If you’re looking for items to fill your cooler, I highly recommend the following establishments:

  • Cured – Home to all things meat with a nice side of sauces and condiments to help out the party. I love their Currywurst and was happy to take home a tasty package of it. Suffice to say, it’s long gone… I also grabbed a package of their buckboard bacon and am presently formulating recipe plans…
  • Schocolat – Set in the back of the lovely gift shop Ganz Klasse, local chocolatier, Schocolat offers delicious chocolate treats and beyond. (And they give samples!) The chocolates are a great pairing to local wine-tasting endeavors, but do also try their caramel sauces. I took home the Pear Cinnamon Caramel and I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t eat with a spoon, late at night in the kitchen. With the lights off. Don’t judge me.
Caramel
Does it look like some is missing?
  • The Cheesemonger’s Shop – A longtime favorite stop in Leavenworth, The Cheesemonger’s Shop is a must if a) you like cheese (it’s in the name), b) like mustard and c), like good German beer. (Or real-deal German gummy candy – In the form of Smurfs!) They also have great sausage (Currywurst!) and various cuts of meat. And a cheese of the month club! (Shipped to you direct!)

Continuing with the meat procurement theme, it was time for a stop at the delicious München Haus Bavarian Grill & Beer Garden for a quick beer and sausage. This place is insanely busy all day and night, but it’s well worth the wait. They have a good variety of sausages, excellent toppings and cold, local beer. There are two levels of covered seating and the whole place is filled with beautiful, hanging flower planters. An absolutely lovely spot to take a break… This was a great stop as we perhaps needed a bit of fortifying before embarking upon an afternoon of visiting the plentiful wine-tasting opportunities around the downtown area.

Wine tasting in in Leavenworth is a fine way to spend the day – or better yet, several days. There are far too many places to check out in a day and it is very worthwhile to imbibe in all the town has to offer. Chelan County, along with Washington State in general, is world-renowned for its contributions to the wine world. Leavenworth, in particular, is an excellent place to sample a wonderful cross-section of not only Chelan County offerings, but of the greater Washington State. Several wineries based across the eastern part of Washington host tasting rooms in downtown Leavenworth. If you’re looking for a convenient spot to check out Washington vintners, Leavenworth is the place for you. Some of the tasting rooms we visited:

  • Ryan Patrick – The Woodinville location is very conveniently located for me, but a trip to the Leavenworth location is an excellent idea. In the summer months I lean towards the lighter wines and their Rosé is a particular favorite. But who am I kidding, I’d drink it year-round… Their Rock Island Red and 2015 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon are also delicious.
  • Kestrel Vintners – Okay, there was a decent amount of wine involved, but our stop at Kestrel was pretty entertaining. Excellent wine, well-informed hosts and some rather amusing conversation – it was definitely time well-spent. Of equal importance, they have a wine named SUPER YAKIMA. It is indeed super and it has Yakima in the name – how can you go wrong? (Yakima: City of my birth. Represent.) Additional note – they also have a lovely Woodinville tasting room.
  • Kasia Winery – A cozy tasting room located on the second floor of a classic Leavenworth building on the corner of Front Street. I particularly enjoyed the Wander More 2016 Sauvignon Blanc and the excellent view of the downtown area. They also have a tasting room in Snohomish.
  • Obelisco Estate – Spendy, but tasty, Obelisco wines are easy to enjoy in their well-appointed tasting room. Lovely art, deep-set sofas and an elegant atmosphere all add to the experience. They also have a tasting room in the Woodinville warehouse district.

There are many other wine tasting opportunities to be had in the area. If you’re looking for more of a one-stop location, be sure to head downstairs from Obelisco’s tasting room to the Wine Cellar & Tasting Rooms. Home to wineries such as Patterson Cellars and Walla Walla’s Basel Cellars, you won’t have to walk far to enjoy a good assortment of vintner expertise. (Both wineries mentioned also have Woodinville tasting rooms)

Our sausage stop was initially filling, but wasn’t enough to sustain a full afternoon of wine-tasting shenanigans. Along with the chocolate we procured at Schocolat, another stop found us enjoying delicious fried pickles at the Bären Haus Restaurant across the street from Kasia Winery. (So convenient!) Anyone who knows me, is aware of my undying love of fried pickles. I’ll of course take the pickle chip variety, but Bären Haus features the coveted pickle-spear version. (Just like the People’s Pub in Seattle. RIP.) Fried pickles, you say? I’m in!

Rounding off a great day of wine-tasting, food and sunshine, we enjoyed a rather delicious, northwest-inspired dinner at the Watershed Café on 8th Street, near the river. Featuring locally-sourced ingredients, the Watershed does an excellent job of combining a fusion of techniques and cuisine as well as elevating comfort classics such as the humble meatloaf. From starters to dessert, the meal was delicious – and the bread… I’d happily eat a meal of just the bread and butter. With some Washington wine, of course.

Looking for a more classic, Bavarian-themed meal in Leavenworth? Check out these options:

  • Andreas Keller Restaurant – Andreas Keller has been a part of the Leavenworth scene for many years. Schnitzels, sausages and even Schweinshaxe are featured on the menu. I particularly enjoy their cream of weinkraut soup.
  • Rhein Haus – A favorite Seattle and Tacoma destination, now in Leavenworth! (Although, I’m sad to see they don’t have Bocce Ball like they do at the Seattle/Tacoma locations.) But they do have Currywurst and schnitzels, so I’m gonna let it slide… (Related note: They have schnitzel sliders.)

If you’re up for shopping, checking out the Arts scene or enjoying one of the many events occurring in the area, here’s a (very brief) list of highlights:  (Leavenworth really does have something cool happening every week!)

  • Village Art in the Park – Runs early May through mid-October. Local artists’ market in the center of downtown Leavenworth. Meet the artists and stop to listen to the music featured regularly on the town stage. (Often Bavarian-themed – Bring on the accordion!)
  • The Hat Shop (and the Wood Shop) – One of my favorite stops in town. It’s fair to say I’ve purchased quite a few hats at this shop over the years. (Do I really need that many hats? Yes.)
  • Simply Found Boutique – I particularly love this shop for their quirky shoe and boot offering. They carry the Jafa brand which I absolutely love.
  • Leavenworth Community Farmers Market – Thursdays, June – Oct, 4-8pm. Located near the community pool, check out the local vendors and farmers. Create your own farm-to-table scene!
  • Oktoberfest – I could write an entire article about Oktoberfest. Not quite as extensive as events taking place in Germany, but they do a pretty good job of channeling the vibe. And the beer. And the sausage. Two important notes: If you plan on staying the night during Oktoberfest, plan well in advance. If you plan on parking downtown during Oktoberfest, arrive early.
  • Christkindlmarkt (Thanksgiving weekend) – A lovely holiday market that takes place every year, the weekend after Thanksgiving. I’ve been wanting to go for years and have yet to make it. Maybe this is the year!
  • Christmas tree lighting – A downtown Leavenworth holiday tradition, beginning weekends at the end of November through mid-December. Leavenworth is a winter wonderland this time of year and the town spares no expense in making visitors feel as if they’re walking around in a Christmas tale come to life. Nutcrackers, roasting chestnuts, carolers, St. Nickolaus – all await you during the Leavenworth holiday season. Just as is the case with Oktoberfest, make your arrangements early as things get chaotic this time of year.
  • Leavenworth Snow Train (Alki Tours via Amtrak) – If you’d like to avoid the sometimes dicey drive over the pass, or want to enjoy a nice glass of wine as a train navigates the weather, check out the Leavenworth Snow Train. Note: Get your reservations well in advance. There are very limited offerings and they are quickly reserved.

In addition to the outdoor opportunities mentioned above off of Icicle Road, there are many other options in the area.

  • Leavenworth Ski Hill – Want to check out where the some of the first US ski jumpers trained and competed? The Leavenworth Ski Hill has been in operation since 1928 and is still going strong. It’s a smaller operation with only 2 rope tows, but is certainly a cool bit of Washington State ski history to explore. They also feature Nordic skiing with hiking and biking during the summer months.
  • For more area hiking info, check out the extensive listings HERE.

There are many lodging opportunities in the Leavenworth area. Everything from nice lodges to economy chains are within easy access of the town center. As the area is busy year-round, be sure to make arrangements in advance. There are also many great VRBO and Airbnb options in the area. A few spots to check out:

  • Icicle Village Resort – Nice resort within walking distance of downtown Leavenworth. They have a spa and pool, miniature golf and a game room, regular hotel rooms and condo options for larger parties. Also pet-friendly.
  • Bavarian Ritz Hotel – Located directly in the downtown area, it doesn’t get much more convenient. Stumble back to your room after Oktoberfest… Pet-friendly.
  • Bavarian Lodge – Located directly on Highway 2, in the center of Leavenworth. Nice rooms, outdoor pool and hot tubs and within easy walking distance of downtown.
  • Loge Leavenworth – For the NW outdoor set, the Loge features cool cabins as well as group-style hostel accommodations. I haven’t stayed here yet, but I REALLY want to.
Leavenworth
Bavarian themed lodging in Leavenworth

Just down the road from Leavenworth on Highway 2, you’ll drive through the tiny burg of Peshastin. If you happen to be driving through in the spring, be prepared for a spectacular display of blossoming fruit trees. The scent of blossoms fills the air and it’s quite the dreamy, fragrant experience.

Right along the highway, you’ll come upon the Smallwood’s Harvest fruit stand and country store. This is a great stop for an interesting snack (Cherry flavored pickles, anyone?) as well a great place to stock up on farm-fresh produce or enjoy a quick wine-tasting in their tasting room. Packed inside the quirky store are rooms filled with only taffy or cotton candy, candy and sodas, chickens telling jokes and an impressively large offering of all things pickled. They also have a great outdoor seating area, kettle corn and cotton candy and a COW TRAIN ride for the kids. It’s definitely a worthwhile stop for the whole family.

Not too far from Peshastin, look for signs leading to the small town of Cashmere. I have friends who live a few miles down the road from the area, directly on the Wenatchee River. I love visiting and absolutely envy the quiet calm of life on the river. The glorious weather and quick access to the Applets and Cotlets factory isn’t too shabby a deal, either.

Downtown Cashmere is a picturesque, well-preserved slice of historic Washington. The Wenatchee River runs through the town and longtime businesses such as Liberty Orchard’s Applets & Cotlets factory are featured in the history and industry of the town. (Try the fruit sours – do the factory tour!) Most importantly, in my opinion, they feature a Gnomes of Cashmere walking trail in and around town! (Dad, I’m lookin’ at YOU.) They also feature Cashmere Apple Days in early October, sponsored by the local Cashmere Museum and Pioneer Village.

If you’re looking for food and beverage options, check out the following Cashmere favorites:

  • Milepost 111 Brewing Company – Craft brewing and pub-style food in downtown Cashmere.
  • Rusty’s Drive-In – Classic drive-in burger stand right off Highway 2. A fine late-night option when in need of fries and a corn dog…
  • Country Boy’s BBQ – Popular BBQ spot in the heart of Cashmere
  • Cashmere Cider Mill – Artisan (non-alcoholic) cider mill in the beautiful Cashmere valley. Lodging and event space is also available. Stop in for a tasting and snack – or bring in your own apples and have them create your own custom blend!
  • Barns Etc. Hard Cider Shed – Located a couple of miles off Highway 2, stop in for a pint of hard cider.
  • Apple Annie Antique Gallery and 59er Diner – Located directly off Highway 2 and just outside Cashmere, this is a must-stop if you’re in the mood for antiquing. 70,000 square feet, chock full of antiques and collectibles. I’m still lamenting the day I walked away from a mint-condition, full-headed Darth Vader mask. (Complete with breathing FX.) If you need more than a few hours to check out the scene, they have lodging packages

Next destination on the Chelan County docket was the gorgeous town of Lake Chelan and its namesake, 50.5-mile long body of water. Turning off of Highway 2, we followed US Route – Alt 97 towards the south side of the lake. To say this part of the state is magnificently breathtaking would be an absurd understatement altogether…

Following along the Columbia River, past the Rocky Reach Dam and Visitor Center and the tiny town of Entiat, the highway rambles past amazing displays of ice age geology and hints at the force which shaped the area. Also note the turn-off for Ohme Gardens. I haven’t visited yet, but it looks like a lovely spot to explore and I’m looking forward to doing so on my next visit to the area.

As we were initially heading towards local wine-tasting opportunities, we turned off onto SR-971 (S. Lakeshore Drive) to drive along the south side of the lake. It was apparent we were in for a magical day when, just past the turn-off, we encountered a doe and her three little fauns casually grazing on the side of the road. The deer family, the stunning vista of the brilliant blue water and sky as we descended towards the lake and the perfectly puffy clouds dotting the sky signaled we were about to enjoy quite a lovely afternoon.

There are many wineries and tasting rooms in the Lake Chelan area. Since we were only in town for the day, our reach was somewhat limited. (For a good overview of local offerings, check out the Lake Chelan Wine Valley site.) With a loose outline of interesting sounding spots in hand, we headed first towards Karma Vineyards and its onsite restaurant, 18 Brix. I’m so glad this was our first stop as not only was the wine delicious and the food tasty, the grounds were gorgeous, the staff was genuine and the on-premises wine “cave” was truly cool. (Both aesthetically and temperature-wise) It definitely set a high bar for the day and I absolutely could’ve spent the entire day and evening just hanging out on the grounds. For the record, I highly recommend their 2014 Pink Brut and well as their well-represented charcuterie plate.

Next on the list was Tsillan Cellars, located a little before Karma Vineyards off of Alt-97. The grounds were spectacular and wandering around the Italian-themed landscaping is worth a visit in and of itself. The winery and vineyards are perched perfectly, overlooking the south side of the lake and the view itself is noted as award-winning. The tasting room is large and comfortably arranged with a friendly and knowledgeable staff and a good selection of wines to sample. After visiting other Lake Chelan locations, we later returned to their Sorrento’s Ristorante for dinner and a little more wine in their tasting room.

Also to be considered in the realm of liquid refreshments is the vibrant hard cider scene of Lake Chelan. Check out the Lake Chelan Cider Trail for a good representation of what the area has to offer.

If you’d like to explore more than a day-trip’s worth of adventure, there are many great lodging options in and around the Lake Chelan area. Resorts, mountain lodges, cabins, hotels, B&B’s – you name it, Lake Chelan has it. A few good possibilities:

  • Campbell’s Resort and Campbell’s Pub & Veranda – Right on shores of downtown Lake Chelan with a beautiful, sandy beach for guests to enjoy.
  • Darnell’s Lake Resort – It’s in the name – it’s on the lake! Also with sandy beachfront and all the amenities needed for relaxation.
  • Riverwalk Inn & Café – Historic small hotel and café in downtown Chelan.
  • Mountain View Lodge & Resort – Located close to Lake Chelan in the town of Manson, they feature traditional rooms along with suites and townhomes for larger parties.
  • Howard’s on the River – Waterfront hotel located on the beautiful Columbia River in the nearby town of Pateros. Also features the Rivers Restaurant.
  • Watson’s Harverene Resort – Located on the south shore, Watson’s is old-school Lake Chelan. Built between the 30s and 40s on the original Watson homestead, it’s still run by the Watson family today. Lodging includes cabins, lodges and rustic lake front scenery. Located nearby is Watson’s Alpenhorn Café. (Open primarily summer months and serving the area since 1966.)
  • In the category of full-on bucket list lodging needs, check out the Hobbit House, located in the greater Chelan area. It’s an ‘Underground Hygge’ (Earth House) and is modeled after an actual Lord of the Rings hobbit house. I NEED TO STAY HERE.

For additional dining opportunities in the downtown Lake Chelan and surrounding area, consider these establishments:

If you are an outdoor enthusiast of any kind, Lake Chelan can represent – All seasons, all tastes. The lake activities are near limitless and the hiking, biking, skiing, and sightseeing opportunities in the surrounding mountains are amazing.

One of my very favorite things to do in the area is to take the 3-hour boat cruise up Lake Chelan on the Lady of the Lake to the remote village of Stehekin. The only way into Stehekin is by boat, float plane or on foot. There are around 100 year-round residents in the area and it’s one of the most remote zip codes in the state. If you’re lucky enough to visit, be sure to check out the spectacular 312-ft Rainbow Falls. Aside from camping opportunities in the area, there is limited lodging available at the North Cascades Lodge at Stehekin and through VRBO and Airbnb. For other lodging and activity ideas, check out the Stehekin Valley site.

Lake Chelan
So many watery opportunities on Lake Chelan

A few great options for hikes in the Stehekin area:

If you’re looking to try any of the summer boating or water sports offerings in the area, here’s a quick list to get you started:

  • A quick camping primer for the area
  • Kelly’s Resort – Rustic lakeside resort and cabins on the south shore of Lake Chelan. Boat, swim, fish – enjoy the lake!
  • Learn about all manner of watersports, etc. available in the Lake Chelan area
  • Slidewaters Waterpark – Get wet while careening down a 75-ft vertical drop! Open during the summer months.

For the hiking set and those seeking winter sport options:

This is all just a small scratch on the surface of the beauty, tastes and adventure the Lake Chelan area has to offer. It’s a wonderful place to visit anytime of the year and if I could possibly work out a way to “work from home”, I very well might consider Lake Chelan the perfect spot to hang my hat(s).

Wrapping up the Chelan County adventures brings us to the Wenatchee area. While we didn’t visit Wenatchee on this particular journey, I’ve spent much time over the years in the area visiting family, enjoying the surrounding areas, skiing and more. Wenatchee is the county seat of Chelan County and a well-established, historic north-central Washington destination. Famous for their immense contributions to the fruit-growing operations of the state (Apple capital of the world!) as well as their important stake in the state’s railway industry, Wenatchee is an integral area to the development of Washington State. Check out the yearly Apple Blossom Festival for a great celebration of all things apple!

Wenatchee enjoys a fertile stretch of valleys and orchards (Fruit stands!) as well as the beauty of the surrounding mountains and rivers. As a child, our close family friends lived in Wenatchee and we visited often. My Uncle Pat had a very cool, beautifully restored Model-T Ford (or possibly a Model-A – I was young…) and he used to take us for rides up into the mountains – complete with rumble seat!

Not only is Wenatchee close to amazing mountains and outdoor pursuits, it has quite a fascinating geological history. In recent decades, much geologic and archaeological work has gone into studying the Ice Age Floods and indigenous people of the area and there are several amazing places to check out in and around the area.

  • The Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail is an ongoing National Park Service project meant to provide insight and education into how the Wenatchee Valley and surrounding areas were formed during the last Ice Age. (Starting from Missoula, Montana and extending all the way down through Washington and into Oregon.) The trail is an extensive auto route, but many of the included areas also feature local hikes. Check out the Ice Age Floods Institute for more info.
  • Not only is the Wenatchee Valley Museum a cool spot to visit, they also host bus tours which will take you to key areas of geologic interest and indigenous history around the greater Wenatchee Valley.

If you are looking for outdoor adventure in the area, Wenatchee doesn’t disappoint. Some of the more popular places to add to your Wenatchee list:

  • At the joining of the Columbia and Wenatchee Rivers, Confluence State Park offers camping, hiking and great access to watery pursuits. The Horan Natural Area and hiking trails are in the vicinity and are well worth checking out. (NOTE: Sadly, there is no JIRA park to check out…)
  • For beautiful, close-up views of the Columbia River, the Apple Capitol Loop Trail provides a 10-mile loop trail along the river. (It spans 5 miles on Wenatchee side and 5 miles on Douglas County side)
  • For ski and snowboard enthusiasts, Mission Ridge is a great place to hit up. Tucked away, high on the east side of the Cascade Mountains and about a 30-minute drive from Wenatchee, it is a much less crowded ski hill than Stevens Pass and features high and dry powder and a lot of sunshine. Several Wenatchee and Leavenworth hotels feature ski package deals and there is a FREE, regular shuttle from Wenatchee up to the ski hill. (They also have shuttles from western Washington!) There are also many lodging options on the way up to the ski hill. Check out the Mission Ridge website along with VRBO and Airbnb for good options.

Taking advantage of all the excellent outdoor opportunities can make one hungry. A few Wenatchee eateries and markets that are there to help:

And with that, I shall bring this edition of I Ate the State to a close. (And maybe go get some pie…) I wish very much I’d been able to commit a solid week to tooling around Chelan County and more deeply enjoying its impressive bounty. However, wine glass half-full, I now have so many reasons to return to the area – again and again. It is indeed an expansive county, but to think of all the varied landscapes, history, food, wine, and outdoor opportunities it contains is simply mind-blowing. I can’t wait to uncover more of everything on my next visit!

Until next time – Cheers!

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Chelan County Playlist

Check it out on Spotify 

  • Common Free StyleThe RH Factor, Common (Starting things off funky – we left kind of early…)
  • Crabbuckit K-OS
  • Harry PalmerCorduroy
  • La Coda Del Diavolo – Karminsky RemixNicola Conte
  • Norwegian WoodVictor Wooten
  • You’re All I Need to Get ByAretha Franklin
  • Not Going Anywhere Keren Ann (Moving towards the wine-tasting vibe of the day…)
  • Quelqu’un m’a ditCarla Bruni
  • Les Etoiles (Live)Melody Gardot
  • Non, je ne regrette rienÉdith Piaf
  • La conga bilicotiJosephine Baker
  • Sympathique (Je ne veux pas travailler)Pink Martini
  • Where or When (from “Babes in Arms”)Lena Horne
  • Nocturnes, Op. 9: No. 2, Andante in E-flat Major Frédéric Chopin (Perf. by Elisabeth Leonskaja)
  • Moonlight SerenadeGlenn Miller Orchestra
  • Hang on Little TomatoPink Martini
  • I Want to Be EvilChiwetel Ejiofor (I love the classic Eartha Kitt version, but this is great, too!)
  • Back in Black AC/DC (And now it’s time to try and stay awake for the drive home…)
  • Paradise By the Dashboard LightMeat Loaf
  • Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go – Wham!
  • The Power of LoveHuey Lewis & the News

I Ate the State: Kittitas County

Greetings!

I have the fondest memories of Kittitas County, both past and present. From childhood to teenage years, it was gateway to the magical land of towering mountains and all shades of lush green. Having spent my formative years in the arid and hot, relatively flat expanse of eastern Washington, it was always total nirvana to travel to the “other” side of the state. I perceived it as an absolute divide between east and west. It was a line of demarcation between two very different sides of the state; two environmentally, culturally, and politically different halves of the whole. Now in my adult years, I’ve come to appreciate it as the bridge which brings Washington together. I see it as the part of the state which gloriously blends the beauty, uniqueness, history and future of the state together.

Since I presently live in western Washington, I am all too accustomed to the lush green of the state. (i.e. it rains A LOT in western Washington.) I still love it and will admit to preferring said lushness, but there is a core part of me which yearns for the expansion that occurs once you pass over the Cascades. Beyond any of the mountain passes, once you cross over from western Washington, the sky starts to open up, the landscape widens and the trees begin to grow sparse. The foliage changes, the prairies and brush spread out and the start of sage country begins to unfold around you. The air noticeably becomes less heavy and humid and depending on time of year, the temperature grows either much colder or much, much hotter.  Gone are the relatively mild days of western Washington and its nebulous mash-up of SpringSummerFallWinter. Say hello to four, very distinct seasons with many unique environments and extremes.  Stunning in so many ways, this part of the state is the best of both worlds as well as being a truly distinctive setting all its own. Welcome to Kittitas County!

Canyon Road
The rolling hills of Central WA off of Canyon Road

Kittitas County encompasses a large portion of land from the Cascades and Snoqualmie Pass down to just past its county seat, Ellensburg. The towns are fairly spread out and accommodate upwards of 50,000 members of the state’s population. Settler expansion into this part of Washington State began around the late 1850s with the Native American Yakama Nation having called the land home for many generations prior. Mining, logging, cattle ranching and farming were among the chief draws to the area, bringing people from around the country as well as immigrants from many other countries. Towns such as Ronald, Roslyn and Thorp which may seem fairly sleepy these days, were busy hubs of commerce and activity well into the mid-1900s.

The first stopping point on my Kittitas County tour is the Snoqualmie Pass area, via Interstate-90. Straddling the line between King and Kittitas Counties, The Pass (as it’s often referred to in the Seattle area) is a great day trip option if you’re coming from the Westside. In the winter, you’ve got the allure of the Summit at Snoqualmie ski area with additional tubing, cross-country skiing/snowshoeing and snowmobiling opportunities nearby. In the summer, there are countless hiking, camping and backpacking options as well as it being a good midway stop for travels between western and eastern Washington. (Gas, coffee, bathroom – it has all the things!) Here are a few of my favorite spots and things to do in the Snoqualmie Pass area:

Snoqualmie Pass - Summer
Summer on Snoqualmie Pass

For a quick shot of winter shenanigans, the Summit at Snoqualmie is a relatively painless drive from the greater Seattle area. (Weather depending)  Viewed from the I-90 freeway, it might give the impression of being a smaller ski hill, but the area is actually quite extensive. It contains three, trail-connected ski areas with numerous runs on the backside as well as many trails on the neighboring ski hill, Alpental.  If cross-country skiing or snowshoeing is your thing, check out the scene at the Nordic Center. If you’ve got a group that prefers careening down a hill without something strapped to their feet, hit up the tubing hill across the street from the main ski hill. There is truly an outdoor option for everyone in the family!

For the non-outdoor enthusiasts visiting the area, there are several dining, drinking and general tourist possibilities available. Some are actually part of the ski lodges, but there are additional (and often less hectic) options to be found in near reach of the ski hills. (Year round)

  • If you’re in the market for a good pint and a break from your travels, stop into the Dru Bru brewery just west of the ski area. Super friendly and knowledgeable staff, a great beer selection and conveniently located next door to…
  • A newer addition to the Snoqualmie food scene, (along with neighbor, Dru Bru) The Commonwealth offers a great selection of pub-style food and drink. (Family friendly!) There is something to be said for the convenience of skiing down to the lodge, popping off your skis and quickly grabbing a beer or snack. However, as the lines are often long during the ski season, it’s a nice break to head down the road for a late lunch or dinner on the way home. (Or during any other time of the year!)
  • For the ski and snowboard enthusiasts, be sure to pop into the WA State Ski and Snowboard Museum, located in the same building as The Commonwealth and Dru Bru. It’s a great tribute to the history of downhill snow sports in the state and fun to see how far the pursuit of speeding down snowy hills has come over the last many decades.

In the summertime, there are plenty of snow-free activities to entertain both the nature-lover and just-passing-through traveler alike. Hiking, biking, dining, rest stops, backpacking, camping, swimming – it’s a summer wonderland!

As part of the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, there are countless hiking trails to explore in the Snoqualmie Pass area. The Alpine Lakes Wilderness offers many breathtaking views and dreamy mountain lake access. Part of the epic, 2000-mile Pacific Crest Trail ambles through the area and there’s even an amazing, re-purposed train tunnel you can hike or bike through. (Bring headlamps or flashlights – it’s 2.25 miles and the longest trail tunnel in the world!) During the winter months, if you’re parking in areas other than the ski hills or local area commerce, look out for lots requiring a Sno-Park pass. In the summer months, be aware of those requiring a Discover Pass.

If you’re in need of lodging, I’d recommend investigating VRBO or Airbnb as there are many great cabins and cottages to rent in the area. Neighboring towns such as Suncadia, Roslyn, Easton and Cle Elum also have great possibilities and are a fairly quick drive to Snoqualmie Pass. (Weather permitting, of course.)

For the traveler in need of services, The Pass is an easily accessible visit off and back onto the freeway. There are restaurants, gas stations, coffee spots and restroom facilities located along the main road. (Highway 906)  If you’re coming from the west, take Exit 53 off of 1-90 to get to the Central section of the Pass. Take Exit 54 if you’re coming from the east.

One very important thing to note about the Snoqualmie Pass area: ALWAYS check the pass report before heading out on your trip – spring, summer, fall or winter.  I-90 at Snoqualmie Pass has the lowest elevation in the state and is therefore the most popular and accessible route for traveling over the Cascades. In the winter, there are the obvious delays due to snowy conditions, avalanches, accidents, etc.  In the summer, there is a never-ending string of road construction projects with which to contend and it’s not unheard of to get stuck behind a 2-hr delay due to rock blasting, lane reduction, etc. The WSDOT app and website are good about noting any closures, construction delays, etc. ALWAYS check the pass report before you go. It’s also worth noting that traffic coming back from eastern Washington on Sunday afternoons and evenings can often get quite congested. It’s a good idea to allow for a little extra time in your travels if you happen to be returning to the west side.

A little further down I-90, watch for signs leading to the tiny towns of Easton and Ronald and local campgrounds like Lake Easton State Park and Salmon la Sac. They’re relatively tiny blips on the Washington state map, but well worth the investigation. If you’re looking for lodging not involving tents or campers, check out The Last Resort in Ronald. They’ve also got a restaurant, gas station, a RV park and convenience store. For dining options other than The Last Resort or food-on-sticks at your campfire, also check out pub-style, The Old No. 3 in Ronald. (Named after one of the old coal mines in the area.)

Easton and Ronald are great jumping-off areas not only for camping, but other outdoor classics like fishing, snowmobiling, dirt bike riding, etc. In addition to ample camping opportunities in the area, there are also many great cabin rentals available through services like VRBO and Airbnb. For an area so easily accessible off one of the state’s main thoroughfares, it’s amazing how secluded and private it seems once you’re just a mile off an exit. It’s one of the things I love most about this area of the state; quick and easy access to wide-open skies and absolute, peaceful solitude.

Should you be looking for a more swanky Kittitas County adventure, take the Suncadia/Roslyn exit off of I-90, just a few miles past the Easton/Ronald area. (Exit 80) Paying further tribute to the mining history of the area, both Suncadia and Roslyn feature areas where time seems to have stood still. Suncadia is actually the newer kid on the block and leans more towards modern creature comforts, but it’s still just as easy to envision horse-drawn carts on the back roads as it is SUVs and snowmobiles. (In the winter months, it’s fairly common to see snowmobiles cruising along the main roads and gassing up at the town pumps.) Roslyn, however, largely maintains its turn-of-the-last-century charm and most of the buildings and homes have proudly been in use for over 100 years.

Tucked in amidst beautiful forest lands with sweeping meadows and gorgeous views, Suncadia is a planned community located a few miles before Roslyn, off of Bullfrog Road. It plays host to The Lodge at Suncadia and Swiftwater Cellars Winery, the Hoist House restaurant, additional restaurants and lodging, a spa, three golf courses, private residences and various year-round recreational opportunities. Whew! Suncadia is a great spot for a romantic weekend getaway, a golf outing or a family vacation – it has something for everyone. It’s also quite a nice locale for celebrating occasions such as Father’s Day. Which is exactly what we did this year!

On said Father’s Day visit, we checked out Swiftwater Cellars Winery and their featured restaurant, the Hoist House. The lodge itself is very inviting and well-designed and we enjoyed a very tasty lunch in their spacious dining room. Set next to the entrance to the Old No. 9 mining shaft, the lodge features dining, wine tasting, plenty of indoor and outdoor lounge areas, a lovely gift shop and a golf pro shop. It would be an easy place to relax for the day, sipping a glass of their No. 9 Red on the patio, taking in the stunning views… Sign me up!

Next stop down the road (State Route 903) takes us to not only one of my favorite places in the state, but a favorite spot all-around – the ever-idyllic, Roslyn, Washington.

I visit Roslyn often. I come for the charm, I come for the history and I come for the meat. (Mmmm… Carek’s Meats – we’ll get to that in a second.) It’s also a pretty convenient half-way point for meet-ups between members of the western Washington and eastern Washington Smith family. It’s a very reasonable 90-minute drive from the Seattle/Tacoma area and an equally doable drive from the Tri-Cities and Yakima areas. In addition to my own regular visits to the area, my family tries to meet up for mini-reunions at least a couple times a year. (And meat gathering…)

Roslyn is one of the oldest established communities in the state with much of its town center included on the National Register of Historic Places. Even considering the shut-down of the town’s mining mainstay, the area has stuck it out and is enjoying a much-deserved revival. Mining may not be in the future plans for Roslyn, but the television and film industries, outdoor enthusiasts, distillery and artisan markets have all come to know Roslyn for its lovely, bucolic settings. Most recently, the Amazon Studio series, The Man in the High Castle has shot scenes in the area.

Some of my favorite places to visit and things to do in the Roslyn area:

  • One of the spots that keeps me coming back to the Roslyn area is Carek’s Meats. Carek’s has been in business just over 100 years for a very good reason – Their meats are delicious. It’s a tiny shop, frozen in time, but they serve up all the greatest hits as well as making some of the most amazing beef jerky, Landjäger and meat sticks known to the world. Not only are various members of my family now super-fans, I’ve successfully gotten a few of my meat-loving friends addicted as well. I’m regularly given sizable sums of cash to procure ‘meat babies’ when visiting the Roslyn area. (Fact: Several pounds of Landjäger wrapped up in Carek’s butcher paper looks strikingly like a swaddled baby.) Try their old fashioned frankfurters. Try their smoked ribs. Try it ALL!
  • If you’re looking for a great cup of coffee, a delicious light meal or snack and a good book to cozy up to, stop by Basecamp Books & Bites in the center of town. Not only a great hub for food and drink, they support local outdoor pursuits and also regularly feature local events in their downstairs space.
  • In need of a tasty meal? Check out The Roslyn Café for a delicious breakfast, lunch or dinner. They’ve always got a great special on the menu and feature several great local beers. The Northern Exposure mural on the side of the building is also a great photo op. (Note: The mural was there before the show, but they added an apostrophe S to the sign during filming. The S is now gone.)
  • I’ve been monitoring the progress on this for a couple of years and I’m SO excited they’ve finally opened – The Heritage Distillery, set inside the historic Northwestern Improvement Company Store building is not to be missed. Joining the various shops and galleries already housed in the building, Heritage Distillery is an excellent addition to the local scene. Stop in for a very tasty craft cocktail and delicious samples of their vodkas, whiskies, gins, etc. The space is quite large and multi-tiered and can also host private events. It’s also family friendly!
  • One of the most iconic establishments in the town is the vibrant Brick Saloon. Laying claim to title, ‘Longest continually operating tavern in the state’, the Brick is a must-stop destination for any visit to Roslyn. Good pub food, a wonderful vintage, saloon-style bar complete with spittoon trough, live bands and family-friendly to boot, the Brick is never dull. I’ve had the pleasure of performing there on a few occasions and have always had a great time. (Minus maybe the time part of the ceiling dropped on my head while standing in the audience… But whatever – it’s an old building.) It also has some great history which is unfortunately not open to the public. (I was able to check it out one time I was performing there…) As you walk in the front door, notice a narrow stairway off to the left. At the bottom of the stairway is an entrance to the sub-basement of not only the Brick, but an area extending beneath most of the city block. There’s an original, dirt-floor jail cell and a fascinating hodgepodge of Roslyn history lying around. I hope someday they’ll consider opening it up as an underground tour of sorts.
  • If you’d like to dive into the history of area, be sure to pop into the Roslyn Museum. This tiny gem is filled to the brim with fascinating artifacts and treasures from the town beginnings and into more modern times. I’ve visited the museum several times over the years and I always seem to find something new packed into its corners. There is also a great display of mining equipment in the field next to the museum. Like time has stood still…
  • Equally fascinating, but slightly more somber, the Roslyn Cemetery is an interesting look into the very diverse group of immigrants who came to Roslyn to work the mines and helped shape the culture and story of Washington State. The cemetery is actually divided into sections based on nationality and represents over 20 countries including Croatia, Poland, Slovenia, Serbia, Germany, Italy, Scotland and many more.
  • Featuring a wonderful cross-section of goods from local farmers, artisans, vintners, etc. the Roslyn Farmer’s Market operates on Sundays from June through September. (10am – 2pm) The weather is often so beautiful this time of year and it’s a great day trip destination coming from eastern or western Washington.
  • For great camping, hiking, snowmobiling, fishing, etc. options, head up the road, past Roslyn to Lake Cle Elum. There are also local area cabins for rent – check out VRBO or Airbnb for availability.

A few more lovely places to check out in Roslyn:

  • Redbird Café & Bakery – Charming little café with outdoor seating. Also home to the lovely Spruce Moose Inn.
  • Roots BBQ – Excellent BBQ located in the courtyard behind the Roslyn Café.
  • The Roslyn Theatre – First run movies in this recently restored movie house. Two screens, real butter on the popcorn – Cash/CHECK only! (When was the last time you wrote a check for the movies?!)
  • Roslyn Arts Festival – August 3-5 – Check it out!
  • Gypsi & James – Reimagined Furniture and Home Décor – ‘Lots of very cute things I really need!
  • Roslyn Brewing Company – Cool taproom and (weather permitting) beer garden open Friday – Sunday

Heading a few miles further east on SR 903, you’ll arrive at the quaint little town of Cle Elum. It has advertised itself as having ‘easy through access’, but there really is a little more to the area than being a one-street town. (They have multiple streets!!) Although a little larger than Roslyn, it features a similar ‘lost in time’ feel and depending on the age of vehicles on the road, you could easily imagine yourself in the 30s or 40s. Many of the buildings on and around the main street are also included on the National Register of Historic Places.

Continuing on the quest for delicious meats, I made a stop at the iconic Owen’s Meats in the center of town. (Located on East First Street, the ‘easy through access’ street.)  Owen’s has been in business for over 125 years (one of the oldest operating businesses in the state) and has an impressive selection of meats, cheeses and a remarkable array of condiments.  All those delicious facts aside, I’d like to pay tribute to one of their most impressive attributes – They have a meat vending machine! True story. You say you’re craving a beefy T-bone at two in the morning? Maybe you need an addition for your charcuterie plate and it’s eight in the evening?  NEVER FEAR – The Owen’s Meats vending machine is on the job! Located directly outside their front entrance and in glorious operation 24/7, their proprietary vending machine features great cuts of meat as well as cheese, meat sticks and whatever else they choose to fit in. They’ve also graciously set up additional vending machines in key locations around the state. (The Filson flagship store in Seattle and the Mt. Si Shell Station in North Bend to name a couple.)

Rounding out the meaty hub that is the Roslyn/Cle Elum area, Glondo’s Sausage Co. and Italian Market is also not to be missed. In operation since the mid-80s, they’re still the young buck in town, but their expertise and quality of product is definitely in the same storied class as Carek’s and Owen’s. Their sausages are delicious and are featured at various local restaurants. I had a chance to sample their brats at the Iron Horse Brew Pub in Ellensburg and they were fabulous. I was sad when I came back through town that day as they’d closed for the day. Not to worry, I’ll be back!

If you’re looking for a good cup of coffee and an even tastier pastry or pie, stop by the town classic, Cle Elum Bakery. In operation since 1906, the Cle Elum Bakery has been waking up with many generations of townsfolk and shows no sign of slowing down.  The staff is very friendly, there’s a great selection of items in addition to fresh bakery goods and the atmosphere warmly invites you in for a relaxing break, whatever the time of day. I’m particularly in love with both their classic maple bars and custard-filled donuts.

In addition to the various cute shops, restaurants and conveniences lining the main route through town, here are a few more noteworthy spots:

  • New to the Cle Elum restaurant scene, Orchard is located on East First Street. It comes highly recommended to me by the Dru Bru staff and is next on my list of places to try in the area.
  • The Twin Pines Drive-In is a Cle Elum classic and a great place to grab a burger, shake or malt.
  • Happen to be really into the history of the telephone? The North Kittitas County Telephone museum is the place for you!

If you’re in need of lodging, check out these local options:

  • Stewart Lodge – Cozy local lodge. Great spot year around and close to local recreational activities.
  • Ironhorse Bed and Breakfast – Formerly known as the Milwaukee Road Bunkhouse, people have been checking in since 1909. You can stay in a railway caboose car!
  • Flying Horseshoe Ranch – Super cozy cabins, horseback riding, horse boarding and an events space – open year round!
  • Check out this great resource for local camping options

Heading further east is the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it community of Thorp. Many driving through the area via I-90 will know Thorp for its giant fruit stand located directly off the freeway. While that fruit stand is indeed one of my favorite spots in all of Washington State, I prefer to arrive in Thorp via the scenic back way, starting with State Route 10 out of Cle Elum. Once east of Cle Elum, take a right onto SR 10. Follow the road as it winds up and down through a beautiful river-lined valley filled with pastures and farms. About 9 miles up the road, near the wind turbine farm, take a right onto N. Thorp Highway and wind your way down towards Thorp.  And then a little further on to the… Thorp Fruit and Antique Mall!

But first, be sure to stop off and visit the fascinating and remarkably well-preserved and restored, Thorp Mill Museum and Thorp Mill Town Historical Preservation Society located directly off the N. Thorp Highway. The hours of operation are somewhat limited, but it is well worth the effort to stop. I’ve been curious about it for years and had been under the false impression it was some sort of lumber mill. I’m glad I was finally able to investigate as I was completely mistaken! It wasn’t a lumber mill, but was instead one of the first – and largest – flour mills in this part of the country. In its heyday, they were sending bags of flour as far away as China! They also hosted a 23-acre ice pond that provided refrigeration to the local railroad as well as ice for nearby towns. (Interesting note for Tri-Citians: The ice making facilities were later moved to nearby Pasco in 1913. Pasco represent! Go Bulldogs!) Be sure to take the guided tour inside the mill itself. The volunteer staff is incredibly friendly, very knowledgeable and happy to show you around the mill and all its amazing equipment.

As alluded to above, no visit to Thorp, around Thorp or driving by Thorp on I-90 is – or should ever be considered – complete without stopping in at the Thorp Fruit & Antique Mall. Enter a world where you can score a box of apples, an iced mocha, a hand-crafted jar of pickles, a good bottle of wine, some saltwater taffy, a 1920s china teapot and… Two vintage Goonies glasses, circa 1985. YES!! This place is an absolute dream and I always seem to find something tucked away in its packed aisles of cubbies and displays that I REALLY need. Like, really, seriously, I can’t-live-without-it NEED. It’s also a great place to hit up if you happen to have forgotten something for your nearby campsite. Or you’re in need of gas or ice from the gas station next door… Don’t forget to stop at the Thorp Fruit & Antique Mall. It has all the things you need. NEED!! (I swear I’m not a paid agent for the Thorp Fruit & Antique Mall. Unless it were to get me the remaining two glasses in my Goonies set… Just sayin’.)

Other areas to visit in the Thorp vicinity:

  • Iron Horse Trail (Used to be John Wayne Trail and is now officially known as the Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail) A 212-mile trail which traverses through the beautiful and diverse lands of the Palouse area in SE Washington through the central part of the state (Kittitas County!) and on towards North Bend. This trail also includes the train/trail tunnel mentioned earlier in the Snoqualmie Pass section. It is a bucket-list goal of mine to conquer this trail at some point in the next few years.
  • Icewater Creek Campground – This is a favorite camping area of the Smith brood. I’d recommend finding trails further up in the Cascades if you’re looking for a backpacking adventure, but this area is great for car, camper and tent camping – especially if your family has some dirt bike shenanigans to embark upon.

Next up on the tour is a town known for many things – It has one of the state’s main universities, hosts a nationally known rodeo, boasts a charming downtown area included on the National Register of Historic Places, features sweeping farmlands and pastures… So much excellence! But to any of us who’ve spent countless days and nights traveling back and forth across the state, it’s known quite poignantly for another very important feature: It’s pretty much dead-center in the state, especially when traveling on I-90. Are you in need of gas and SOON? Do you need another latte and bag of donuts to keep you going on that late night drive? Do you really have to pee – and RIGHT NOW?? What goldmine of a town is this, you ask? Ellensburg, Washington, of course! Yep – Ellensburg’s got everything you need. Ellensburg is the ONE STOP TO RULE THEM ALL. (Seriously – take Exit 109 off I-90. You’ll find what you need.)

Not, of course, to distract from the fact that Ellensburg is a great place to visit overall – even if you don’t have to use the restroom. It’s a welcoming town year ‘round and has a breadth of things to entertain the passer-through and tourist alike. Some of my favorite spots for dining and adventure:

  • For a completely charming meal, anytime of the day, check out The Yellow Church Café in the downtown area. Delicious scratch baked goods, hearty home cooking and a good wine and beer selection, all set inside a reappointed, old neighborhood church.
  • Just down the block from The Yellow Church Café, you’ll come across a very distinct looking house with surrounding “gardens.” I wasn’t looking for this place, but I’m very happy to have found it. I immediately pulled over and had to see what it was all about. For a completely unique and absolutely interesting shot of local art, definitely check out Dick and Jane’s Spot. The couple that owns the home, Dick and Jane, have been creating and collecting local art for the past 40 years. It’s an amazing display of creativity, whimsy and charm. Don’t miss it!
  • If you’re up for a tasty beer and a really tasty pub-style meal, head over to the Iron Horse Brewery Pub in the heart of downtown Ellensburg. It’s got a nice casual vibe, the staff is easy-going and helpful and the beer is delicious. I’m particularly enamored by their Life Behind Bars Kolsch and their very popular, Irish Death. Their website, along with their onsite marketing and PR is also pretty entertaining. Well played, Iron Horse Brewery. Well played.
  • Looking for a bit of relaxing wine-tasting in the Ellensburg area? Head into the Gard Vinters tasting room in the center of downtown. (They also have tasting rooms in the Woodinville and Walla Walla areas.)
  • Love museums as much as I do? Be sure to stop in at the Kittitas Co. Museum, located downtown in the classic Caldwell Building. Learn all about the history of the greater Kittitas County area! Free admission!
  • Another classic dining experience in downtown Ellensburg can be found at The Palace Café. In operation since 1892, this is one of the oldest operating restaurants in the state.

In addition to more lovely shops, lodging and dining opportunities in downtown Ellensburg, there are many other local options available to keep the visitor busy:

Wrapping up my tour of Kittitas County, let’s take a journey down one of my favorite roads in the state, Canyon Road. (State Route 821) I’d originally considered it as part of my Yakima County piece, but lo and behold, a good portion of this road is actually in Kittitas County. Who knew? (Well, probably the fine folks of Kittitas County…) In addition, one of the stops I’d been wanting to make for a while is conveniently located on the Kittitas County side…

Before Interstate-82 and the pass over Manastash Ridge were constructed, Canyon Road was one of the main routes between Ellensburg and Yakima. It winds along the beautiful Yakima River Canyon, carved out by the equally beautiful and meandering, Yakima River. Take Exit 109 off of I-90 and make a left onto Canyon Road to head into the canyon. During the winter months, this route is quite popular for trucks looking to avoid the long grade of the passes through Manastash Ridge.

If you happen to be traveling through the canyon during the summer months, keep an eye out on the river for flotillas of people leisurely floating downstream – Often with inner tubes containing a cooler somehow rigged to the center of their flotilla. After all, you don’t want your tasty beverages floating away from you while trying to enjoy the afternoon.

About 20 minute or so into the drive, you’ll come upon the Canyon River Ranch and Red’s Fly Shop. I’ve been wanting to stop here for quite a while and am so glad it finally worked out! It was lunchtime when we arrived and their covered patio area made for quite an enjoyable break on the sunny afternoon. From the patio, there’s a great view of the river and the rolling hills sheltering the valley. There are train tracks lining the opposite shore and a train rambled by as we were enjoying our meal. Something about the valley seems timeless and the addition of the train coming through added to that feeling of a bygone era. I’m interested in going back for a longer stay as the lodge looked inviting and the area has such a quiet, peaceful feeling to it. Be sure to walk down along the riverbank and take in the scenery as the river moseys by. And if you have any fishing enthusiasts in your life, be sure to step into Red’s – they have a pretty cool selection of goods and a lot of pertinent local knowledge.

In conjunction with the wonderful fishing, wildlife viewing and river float opportunities, there are several great camping sites as well as boat launches along the canyon. The Roza Dam is a particularly cool spot to spend the afternoon or set up camp. I have very fond memories of water-skiing escapades near the Roza Dam as a child. (I’m pretty sure I was an amazing water-skier. Almost positive…)

And with that triumphant mental image, I shall wrap up my adventures. Kittitas County gathers together so many of the most amazing features of Washington State into an easily explorable package. It spans the beautiful stretch of state from the Cascades down to the Columbia River as it casually winds through the Columbia Gorge at Vantage. With such iconic imagery and landscapes, how could you go wrong? (I must restate, however, to CHECK THE PASS REPORT before you venture out.)

I will always return to this part of the state. Its beauty is etched indelibly upon my soul, forever reminding me of why I love Washington State so much. With environmental, cultural, political and trailblazing diversity brimming across its borders, Kittitas County is an area not to be missed. There is something for everyone – Go eat up Kittitas County!

Until next time –

Cheers!

Kittitas County Playlist 

I was feeling fairly reflective during the bulk of this adventure. Always seems to happen in this part of the state when the sky spreads out and the road opens up in front of me… I brought the groove back towards the end, however.  😉 

Check it out on Spotify

  • Hejira – Joni Mitchell (The lyrics and Jaco’s bass playing – Dreamy…)
  • Cactus Tree – Joni Mitchell (This one’s long been on my adventure playlists…)
  • Lucky One – Alison Krauss & Union Station
  • Daylight – Alison Krauss & Union Station
  • Tennessee Whiskey – Chris Stapleton
  • A Long Way to Get – Bob Schneider (I love Bob. I love this song.)
  • 40 Dogs (Like Romeo and Juliet) – Bob Schneider (I love Bob. I love this song.)
  • Between the Bars – Madeline Peyroux
  • Dis, Quand Reviendras-Tu? – Martha Wainwright
  • Us – Regina Spektor
  • Alaska – Maggie Rogers
  • Heartbeats– José González
  • Come Away with Me – Norah Jones
  • Gymnopedie – Erik Satie (performed by Emile Pandolfi) (Always reminds me of my friend, Emily…)
  • American Beauty – Thomas Newman (American Beauty Film Score)
  • Song for Bob – Nick Cave & Warren Ellis (From the soundtrack The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford)
  • Bad Bad News – Leon Bridges
  • If It Feels Good (Then It Must Be) – Leon Bridges
  • Gwan – The Suffers