I Ate the State – Okanogan County

Greetings!

Welcome to the largest county in Washington State, Okanogan County. Seriously, this county is ENORMOUS! In fact, I’d go as far to say it is ginormous – and filled with an equally large bevy of adventure-filled opportunities. I am absolutely blown away by the size and scale of the county every time I’m lucky enough to visit. Towering mountains, beautiful forests, winding rivers and some of the darkest, star-filled skies in North America are just a few of Okanogan County’s stunning attributes. It would take many trips to cover all it has to offer, but please join me as I pay tribute to the amazing areas I’ve visited thus far.

North Cascades
The North Cascades are calling!

There are many ways to hit up Okanogan County, including via our lovely neighbor, Canada. It is also possible to visit Okanogan County via the 440-mile Cascade Loop as it circles through King, Snohomish, Chelan, Skagit and Okanogan counties. This amazing route was recently and appropriately designated a National Scenic Byway in January of 2021. It is a fantastic way to visit the state and a beautiful representation of everything Washington has to offer.

Included as part of the Cascade Loop is the North Cascades Scenic Byway, also known as SR-20. Opened in 1972 to accommodate area hydroelectric projects as well as access to the newly created North Cascades National Park (1968), it is the longest highway in Washington. It is possible to traverse the entire state, beginning from coastal US-101 and ending at the border with Idaho. If you want to experience an amazing cross-section of the state’s bounty, SR-20 is the way to go!

Travel Alert: Okanogan County typically deals with very serious wildfires throughout the summer months. Portions of SR-20 and other thoroughfares are periodically closed and many trails, campsites, homes, lodges, etc. can close or experience various levels of evacuation. Please check the WSDOT before traveling and follow all fire stages and restrictions whenever in forested and dry areas. Be smart. Be safe!

Since Okanogan County is so large, it took me a few visits to experience even the moderate amount of adventures I’m about to share. I took different routes in and out of the county, but for this take, we’ll start out heading east on SR-20, off of I-5 in the Burlington area. (A great alternative off of I-5 is SR-530 to Darrington and then over to SR-20 near Rockport.) When the North Cascades pass is closed during the winter, another great route out of the Seattle area is via I-90 to Cle Elum and then SR-970­ to US-97 and Blewett Pass. US-97 will then meet up with US-2 at Peshastin and then back to US-97 at Orondo. Once in Okanogan County, take SR-153 from Pateros to head towards Twisp and Winthrop or stay on US-97 north towards Okanogan and the Canadian border. If you’re heading over from the eastern side of the state, US-395 out of the Spokane to SR-20 at Kettle Falls is great, as is US-395 out of the Tri-Cities area to SR-17 in Mesa and on to US-97.

The route via SR-20 through Skagit and Whatcom counties is spectacular. There are so many things to see and do along the way and so many glorious distractions. Eyes on the road, lovely travelers – we’re headed towards Okanogan County! That said, if you’re headed along SR-20, it would be road trip silliness to not check out a few of the more amazing spots along the way. I double-dog dare you to pass up these surreally beautiful sights on your next trip through the area. (Don’t actually take my dare – check out the sights!)

  • Directly off of SR-20 is the amazing Gorge Creek and Gorge Lake interpretive trail. The waterfall itself is breathtaking and can be viewed via a careful walk across the highway from the parking area. Even if you’re not a fan of heights, the area is well worth investigating.  
  • The deep turquoise, glacial waters of Diablo Lake blow me away every time I see them. There is much to do in the area, but taking a ride with the Diablo Lake Dam Tour, operated out of the very cool North Cascades Institute, is a great way to experience the area in a few hours. (Also a pick-up point for the Diablo Lake Ferry which heads to the incredibly unique, floating Ross Lake Resort.) Hit up my Whatcom County article for a more detailed view of the area.
  • If you don’t have time to stop at Diablo Lake proper, a quick stop at Diablo Lookout is a must! The views are soaring and everywhere you look presents the most perfect picture you’ve ever seen. (Pro Tip: It’s also a rest area and there aren’t many along this route. Just sayin’.)

Alrighty. After all that preamble and amazing roadway, we have at last arrived in Okanogan County! I will also commend you (and me!) for your fortitude while traversing over the formidable Washington Pass. (This part of SR-20 is very appropriately closed during the winter.) The North Cascades have been nicknamed “The Alps of North America,” and the comparison is well-deserved. This area is a haven for mountaineers, hikers and skiers alike, but even if you’re just heading over the pass, a stop at the Washington Pass Observation Site is a worthy adventure. At around 5500 feet, the views of Liberty Bell Mountain, Early Winters Spires and the highway as it snakes through the valley are awe-inspiring. The Alps are certainly something to behold, but the North Cascades are in a class of grandeur all their own.

After maneuvering through the impressive twists and turns of Washington Pass, the highway descends towards the idyllic, mountain town of Mazama and the enchanting Methow Valley. Washington has its fair share of stunning locales, but I can honestly say I’d move to the Mazama area tomorrow if it were possible. The most amazing scenery imaginable, all the outdoor adventure opportunities you could ever desire and the peaceful bliss of dark, star-studded skies can all be found in Mazama. While the area is rugged and doesn’t cater to modern convenience, it is not without its charms. A few places not to miss in the Mazama area:

  • If I lived in Mazama, I’d be at the incredibly cool, local institution, The Mazama Store every day. I’d have a regular table inside or a spot in their super-cool, outdoor courtyard. I’d eat one (or several) of their ridiculously tasty baked goods with several cups of their excellent coffee – in my personal mug. (OMG – their cream-cheese filled Everything Bagel!) I’d get my groceries, gas and takeaway food there. I’m pretty sure they’d be sick of me, but I wouldn’t leave. I can’t quit you, Mazama Store! And I would most certainly hang out at their yearly, Christmas at the End of the Road celebration. Cheers, Mazama! (Store open daily, 7am – 6pm. Gas 24hrs.)
  • Located conveniently behind the Mazama Store, The Goat’s Beard Mountain Supply has everything you need for exploring the local splendor. Gear sales and rentals available year-round, they have bikes, skis, snowshoes and more. A perfect spot to hit up before setting out on the amazing Methow Trails trailhead, located very close by. (Store open daily, 9am – 6pm)
  • Enjoy the ranch life at Freestone Inn at Wilson Ranch. (c. 1940s ranch) A lovely lodge and cabin layout feature 36 units with lake or forest view. For dining, check out their Sandy Butte Bistro, Moonshine Bar and Jack’s Hut. (Note: Dining options currently closed Monday/Tuesday. Check online for updates.) They are also located along the beautiful Sandy Butte Trail and are close to the Early Winters Campground and Early Winters Trail.
  • Close to cross-country ski trails and year-round activities, check out the Mazama Country Inn for their cozy inn and cabins. They also feature onsite yoga and tennis as well as a seasonal restaurant.

One of the biggest draws to the area is the undeniably spectacular North Cascades National Park. Featuring 300 glaciers, soaring mountain peaks, rugged terrain and lush forest, it is one of America’s most glorious gems. Just next door is the winner for *Best Supporting Forest in a Gorgeous Nature Scene, the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. You truly can’t go wrong wherever you end up in this expansive, amazing setting. (*Not a real award, but should be)

If you’re up for an adrenaline rush and a view of all this majesty from the highest drivable point in Washington, take a trip to Slate Peak Lookout, located above Hart’s Pass. The road ends at 7488 feet at the Slate Peak parking area and is a narrow, steep gauntlet of unpaved twists and turns, complete with no guardrails. (Important note: Trailers are not allowed and RVs are highly discouraged.) Once you’re at the parking lot, it’s a half-mile hike to the lookout. If you happen to be in the area at night, I’ve heard the dark skies are filled with an absolute blanket of stars. Dreamy! (Side note: I totally got sucked into watching videos of people driving up the road. Yikes!)

Pro Tip: While there are no fees required to drive through the North Cascades National Park, they are often involved for parking within the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. Various National Park trails actually begin within the National Forest and could require a NW Forest Pass.

If you’d like to do some hiking, backpacking and camping or perhaps a climb in the park, there are SO many wonderful options for your adventure. For something epic, the 2650-mile Pacific Crest Trail runs through the south part of park and the 1200-mile Pacific Northwest Trail (WA, MT, ID) traverses through the upper-north of the state, through the park and down towards the coast. (Note: All overnight camping within the park requires a park Backcountry Permit.) Good spots to join up with the Pacific Crest Trail are off of SR-20 near the Rainy Pass Trailhead, the Cutthroat Lake trailhead or via the aforementioned Hart’s Pass.

For something not quite as involved, but equally epic and beautiful, consider these great backpacking and camping spots for your next trip to the North Cascades and Mazama area:

  • For the perfect combo of stunning views and a loop trail, check out the Heather-Maple Pass Loop off of SR-20, across from the Rainy Pass Trailhead.
  • Located in the area of the Washington Pass Lookout, Blue Lake is a very reasonable 2-mile hike from SR-20. The elevation gain is relatively low (1050 ft) and makes for a lovely family daytrip. You might even see a mountain goat!
  • Sporting some pretty amazing scenery and backcountry camping, Easy Pass and the Fisher Creek Trails offer a splendid cross-section of North Cascades glory. Park at the trailhead at milepost 151 on SR-20 to start your adventure.
  • For an amazing view, head to the historic Goat Peak Lookout and revel in the wonder of the North Cascades and Methow Valley.
  • Following along with the goat theme, Goat Wall Overlook offers yet another spectacular view of the North Cascades and Methow Valley and is easily reached from Mazama proper.
  • For great forest, flowers and more, the Robinson Creek Trail and the West Fork Methow Trail are very enjoyable hikes. (Hot tip: The Pacific Crest Trail can also be accessed from the West Fork Methow Trail.) If you’re up for camping in the area, the River Bend Campsite and Ballard Campground are good options. (Note: A NW Forest Pass is required for the Robinson Creek Trail and Ballard Campground areas.)

I am a creature of the snow. Winter is coming! (Doesn’t matter what time of year you might be reading this article…) The North Cascades are known for their stellar climbing challenges, both rock and alpine, and I dream of conquering even a small portion. Those snowy heights are within reach. I know it! (Gear up and grab the 10 Essentials first, but the mountains are calling!) In addition to climbing, the North Cascades and Methow Valley offer some of the country’s (nay, world’s) best cross-country skiing opportunities. Should you feel inspired to don your Gore-Tex and hit the winter wonderland, here are just a few of the snowy possibilities:

  • There are SO many amazing places to climb in the North Cascades. WOW. If you’ve got nerves of steel and a love of heights, the iconic Liberty Bell awaits. Forbidden Peak is considered one of the top, classic climbs in North America and is a surefire adrenaline rush. Add to that list, Sharkfin Tower, the Goat Wall and Eldorado Peak and you’re looking at some serious mountaineering magnificence.
  • If you’d like an assist with your ascent, hit up the experts at North Cascades Mountain Guides for both alpine and rock adventures – year-round! (Open Monday – Friday, 9am – 3pm and Saturday/Sunday, 8am – 5pm)
  • The North Cascades and Methow Valley support an incredible Nordic scene which includes cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and fat-biking. In operation since the 1970s, the non-profit Methow Trails system is now North America’s largest cross-country ski area. Working with local landowners to allow access to private land, the groomed trails feature over 120-miles of snowy opportunity. One can even ski town to town and lodge to lodge – just like in Europe! Methow Trails also support some pretty amazing summer action as well.
  • In addition to climbing expeditions, North Cascade Mountain Guides also offer ski tours in North Cascades National Park. You could even try your hand (and legs!) at heli-skiing or backcountry touring with local outfit, North Cascades Heli.
  • Perhaps you’d like to sit down while enjoying your snowy adventuring. If snowmobiling is your jam, there are many amazing areas to hit up in the Methow Valley. Yellowjacket Sno-Park provides access to excellent snowmobile trails in the Hart’s Pass and Blackpine Basin areas. Eightmile Sno-Park, located out of Winthrop on West Chewuch Road is another great area to check out. Visit the Methow Valley Snowmobiling Association for local tips and be sure to have your Sno-Park and snowmobiling permits sorted out. (Required November thru March)
Liberty Bell
Liberty Bell, stunning with snow or without!

Heading east through the Methow Valley towards Winthrop is a beautiful adventure in and of itself. Any time of the year you happen to be in this area is guaranteed to be an extraordinary experience. Featuring snow-covered pastures and scenery in the winter, idyllic harvest colors in the fall and abundant flora and fauna in the warmer months, the area is a picture-perfect wonderland.

Longtime stewards of the valley, the Methow People, now part of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation have cherished the area for millennia. Flowing through this beautiful valley, the Methow River was a vital part of the Methow Peoples’ lives and to this day is an extremely integral part of valley life. A fine way to experience this timeless splendor is with a horseback riding adventure or a hike along the Methow Community Trail. Take a stop on the lovely Tawlks-Foster Suspension Bridge and take in the river scene. (Groomed for skiers in the winter!) The Methow Valley is always striking and not to be missed on your Okanogan County adventure.

Continuing through the Methow Valley on SR-20 will bring you directly into the very unique town of Winthrop. As you enter town, you might question if you’ve just stumbled into an Old West movie set. Nope – it’s just a typical day in Winthrop! Feel free to bust out your chaps and ride in on a horse, but more modern methods of transportation are equally welcome. In fact, on a busy weekend day, you’ll be lucky to snag one of the parking spots in the center of town. (SR-20 is the main route through town.)

While there are many aspects of early settler life that remain in Winthrop, the “western” feel of the town was inspired by the opening of SR-20 in 1972. Local merchants contributed $1000 each and a new era of industry began. Along with general updates, false facades were rebuilt, sidewalks were replaced with boardwalks and a “Westernization Code” was put in play. (In effect to this day.) Similar to what the nearby town of Leavenworth also accomplished, the town modernized its tourist appeal by taking a step back in time. Everything old is new again! (I say that to myself every birthday.)

Just as is the scene in nearby Mazama, outdoor activities and beautiful views are plentiful in Winthrop any time of the year. Whether you’re into cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, fat biking, ice-skating, hockey, hiking, camping or fishing, Winthrop has you covered. And that’s just the short list! Even if you simply want to sit out at night and marvel at the wonderfully dark skies or look out from your hotel deck onto the Methow and Chewuch rivers as they converge, Winthrop can accommodate you. It is truly an excellent town to spend a spell. And maybe water your horse…

If you’re anything like me, you’re likely pretty hungry (and thirsty!) after all of that adventuring. Even if you were only sitting by the river, that takes some concentration! Which surely burns some amount of calories, right?? At any rate, it’s a very wise plan to spend some time enjoying the food and beverage scene in Winthrop. It may be a small area, but Winthrop certainly packs in some delicious options! Here are some of my favorite spots in Winthrop:

  • Featuring delicious craft cocktails and locally sourced ingredients, Copper Glance is an excellent place to enjoy a meal. The atmosphere is modern, but is set in a historic Winthrop locale. (Open Thursday – Saturday, 4-pm)
  • I absolutely love the Old Schoolhouse Brewery. If it’s a nice day, head directly to the beautiful riverside seating, overlooking the Chewuch River. I particularly enjoy their Methow Blonde with one of their amazing burgers or an order of Totchos. They also regularly feature live music in the summer. (Open Monday – Thursday, 3-8pm, Friday/Saturday, Noon – 9pm, Sunday, Noon – 8pm)
  • If you’re in need of a sugar fix, don’t miss a stop at the popular Sheri’s Sweet Shoppe. It can be a bit touristy on a busy weekend, but the delicious treats are worth the wait. (Open daily, 7am – 6pm. Open seasonally.)
  • I have a very special place in my heart for the fabulous Rocking Horse Bakery. Perhaps I’ll tell you the story one of these days… Don’t miss the amazing carrot cake and cup of their always excellent coffee. They feature Lariat Coffee Roasters which are conveniently located next door! I truly love this place. (Open Thursday – Monday, 7am – 2pm. Closed Tuesday/Wednesday.)
  • My brother and I enjoyed some seriously delicious pizza at East 20 Pizza. Featuring excellent pizza along with great beer and a fun atmosphere, it’s an all-around enjoyable place to stop. (Open daily, 3-8pm.)
  • Should you be feeling a little fancy during your Winthrop visit, head to the Arrowleaf Bistro for a delicious evening. Their menu features locally-sourced ingredients and a modern flair. Check out the roasted quail with local Bluebird Grain Farms farro! (Open for dinner, Thursday – Sunday, 5-9pm)
  • Featuring apples they grow themselves, the Methow Valley Cider House is a great place for cider and food. They also have the Apple Amphitheatre for live events and music. (Winter 2022 – Open daily, 12-8pm, closed Wednesdays.)
  • Stop in at the tasting room of boutique, family-owned Lost River Winery and enjoy a glass or two. A nice glass of Cab on a fall afternoon… yes, please! (Friday – Sunday, 11am – 5pm)
  • Offering tastings and small plates, the Brix Wine Bar & Bottle Shop is a lovely spot to both relax with a glass and replenish your wine rack. (Open Wednesday, 4-9pm, Thursday – Sunday, 1-5pm, 6pm on Friday/Saturday – Closed Monday/Tuesday)
  • If you’d like to take home a bit of the area bounty, stop by the Winthrop Farmers Market and stock up! (Sundays, 10am – 2pm in Winthrop Park. Spring thru Fall)

The very strollable boardwalks in Winthrop not only host excellent dining options, but feature several wonderful shops. Grab a good book, gear up for your outdoor adventures or stock up on crafting items – Winthrop has what you need. A few of the excellent shopping possibilities for your next visit:

  • In addition to a great supply of crafting, quilting and gift items, the 3 Bears Café & Quilts also offers casual breakfasts and great coffee in their inviting shop. Located at the east end town, it is well worth a stop. (Winter hours: Thursday – Monday, 10:30am – 5:30pm. Closed Tuesday/Wednesday)
  • If you’d like to cozy up in your cabin, stop by the charming Trail’s End Bookstore and grab something for your weekend library. (Open Wednesday – Sunday, 10am – 6pm and Monday/Tuesday, 10am – 3pm)
  • Forget your ski poles? Need some cool new hiking boots? Stop in at Winthrop Mountain Sports and let them outfit you. They can fill your Nordic ski needs and rentals as well as hook you up with a sweet kayak. (Open daily, 9:30am – 6pm, 9am – 6pm on Saturday, 5pm on Sunday)
  • Backpacks, tents, Nordic ski gear and more! The very cool Cascades Outdoor Store has everything needed to trick out your outdoor adventures. (Sunday – Thursday, 9am – 6pm, Friday/Saturday, 9am – 5pm)
  • Should you plan on braving the local rivers, hit up Methow River Raft & Kayak and make sure you’re ready to go. In addition to gear and rentals, they also offer guided trips for rafting and kayaking. (Open daily, 10am – 5pm)
  • Want to learn more about the fat bike craze or rest a pair of skis or snowshoes? Stop by Methow Cycle & Sport and let them hook you up with all your year-round sporting needs. (Open daily, 9am – 5:30pm, 5pm on Sunday.)

Whether you want to enjoy some quality indoor time or spend your time trekking on a hiking or x-country trail, there are SO many possibilities in the Winthrop area:

  • Even if you are only passing through Winthrop, make time to visit the fascinating Shafer Museum, situated on a small hill above downtown. This step back in time features well-curated indoor exhibits as well as an extensive outdoor collection of mining implements and more. Open daily, 10am – 5pm in summer. (May 9th – September 19th) Note: The museum is also open in winter, but the buildings are closed and snow doesn’t get cleared. Also open by appointment year-round.
  • Looking to see that cool new indie film or catch a live performance from a NW band? The Barnyard Cinema is the place to be! Along with movies and live music, they also have a concession stand and a lounge with beer, wine and coffee.
  • In addition to the stellar Nordic scene, there are other chilly options to explore while in town. Head to the Winthrop Ice and Sports Rink for ice skating and hockey during your winter visit. This all-season rink also has roller/inline skating, roller hockey and pickleball in the summer. Check out their online schedule for more info.
  • In addition to the excellent, year-round outdoor opportunities of the Methow Trails, there are many other areas to check out. The Pipestone Canyon Rim Trail between Winthrop and Twisp and the Sa Teekh Wa Trail (Riverwalk Trail) via the beautiful Sa Teekh Wa Suspension Bridge are excellent options. Just out of Winthrop on East Chewuch Road is Falls Creek Falls with its lovely, 2.6-mile roundtrip trail to a series of falls. If you want to extend your trip to the area, hit up the Falls Creek Campground for some further outdoor adventure.
  • Perhaps you rolled into town with your ski boat or jet skis. If you’re looking for a place to put in, head to Pearrygin Lake State Park located just outside of Winthrop. It’s a great state park with camping, boating, fishing and winter Nordic opportunities. (Discover Pass required)

There are so many beautiful lodging options in Winthrop and surrounding areas. In addition to the large list of local hotels, lodges, cabins and campgrounds, there are also many opportunities available via sites like Airbnb and Vrbo. It does, however, get pretty busy in the summer months in particular. Book early for your adventures! A few of the excellent places where you can rest up from your adventuring:

  • Overlooking Winthrop and the valley, the Sun Mountain Lodge has much to offer from its spectacular, mountaintop perch. Even if you’re not staying at the lodge, the amazing views and beautiful drive are worth your time. If you are lucky enough to be staying there, be sure to check out the spa, excellent wine cellar, gift shop, pool and comfortable lodging. I wasn’t actually staying there on my last visit, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying a delicious breakfast in their restaurant – AND a gorgeous view! Part of the Methow Trails system, there are winter trails for cross-country skiing, fat-biking, snowshoeing and summer trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding. There is truly something for everyone at Sun Mountain Lodge.
  • I’ve stayed at the Hotel Rio Vista and very much enjoyed my time there. It’s more of a traditional motel setup, but what sets it apart are the river views from each room’s private deck. A glass of wine, the river and those star-filled skies? Dreamy!
  • The River’s Edge Resort is located appropriately on the Chewuch River in downtown Winthrop.  Featuring a series of charming cabins, some with their own hot tubs, the resort is an excellent place to spend your holiday.
  • Situated on the Methow River, River Run Inn & Cabins feature lovely rooms, cabins and a 6-bedroom house. They also have an indoor pool and hot tub, large grounds and a fire circle by the river. Methow River Raft & Kayak also offer trips leaving directly from the inn. Adventure at your doorstep!
  • Not only does the Spring Creek Ranch have lodging and host beautiful weddings and events, they are also well known for their alfalfa. Throw a wedding, rent a cabin and grab a bale (or ton!) of alfalfa from their 6-acre farm. All the things!
  • In addition to cozy rooms and complimentary breakfasts in their lodge, the Chewuch Inn also has seven cabins and lovely grounds which include a small, organic orchard.
  • Hit up The Virginian Resort & Hotel for their cozy, western-themed cabins and rooms with tranquil river views. I’m giving them extra points for having a groovy “1969” themed cabin.

As the area can get incredibly dry during the long, hot summers, the danger of wildfires runs extremely high. This danger has been increasing over the years, making the need for a rapid-deployment fire-fighting presence incredibly important and necessary. Enter the North Cascades Smokejumper Base. Located between Winthrop and nearby Twisp at the Methow Valley State Airport, the base supports the local firefighting effort, including the specialized smokejumper crew.

In 1939, Methow Valley became the birthplace of smoke-jumping. Today, there are nine primary locations in the western part of the US and Alaska. These bases support around 400 smokejumpers and owe their existence to the first crew out of the Methow Valley. If they’re not otherwise engaged in fighting fires, the base is open June 1st thru October 1st for free tours. (Daily, 10am – 5pm) The tour includes a museum and smokejumper planes. Go check out what these brave women and men do!

After visiting with the smokejumpers, hop back on SR-20 and head towards the wonderful town of Twisp. This little paradise of a town is well-known as an artist’s haven and even a quick visit easily showcases this claim. Packed into its relatively small borders lie tasty food options, top-notch galleries and beautiful outdoor possibilities. You won’t want to miss taking in the charms of Twisp.

On your next visit through the area, fuel up for your Twisp adventures at these delicious spots:

  • Don’t miss a stop at the iconic Cinnamon Twisp Bakery. Not only do they feature super tasty pastries, they also feature excellent breakfast bagel sandwiches and lunch offerings. Open Wednesday – Sunday, 7am – 3pm, Closed Monday/Tuesday.
  • For wood-fired, tasty Italian goodness, reserve a spot at Tappi. Enjoy pizza, pasta, delicious wines and more! (Open Friday – Tuesday, 5-7:30pm. Closed Wednesday/Thursday)
  • Who doesn’t love a bahn mi sandwich, a tasty burger or maybe a Korean fried chicken sandwich? YUM!! Check out the Fork food truck, located seasonably on the TwispWorks campus. (May thru mid-October, Wednesday – Saturday. Check online for hours.)
  • If you’re looking for a great cup of coffee, stop in at Blue Star Coffee Roasters and get your caffeine fix. Visit the coffee roasting plant where you can get fresh pastries and coffee onsite or order online. (They have a coffee subscription deal!) Open Monday – Saturday, 7:30am – 1:30pm.
  • The very cool Glover Street Market, located in the heart of downtown Twisp features a great grocery selection along with a food counter and groovy wine cellar. (Open Monday – Saturday, 9am – 6pm. Kitchen open 9am – 4pm. Closed Sunday.) Note: They’re for sale! If I had money to buy a local grocery spot… Crowd fund me??
  • If you happen to be in town on a Saturday between April and October, stop by the Twisp Farmers Market and stock up on local goods. (AKA: Methow Valley Farmer’s Market) Saturdays, 9am – noon (April – October)

There are so many amazing things to experience in the Twisp area. Want to add a bit of the Arts to your adventure? Done! Consider these creative options for your next stay in the area:

  • Perhaps you’d like to stay right in the middle of all that Twisp action. Drop off your bags at the very cool Twisp River Hotel Suites, located on the lovely Twisp River and relax in style.
  • I’m a sucker for a good vintage or thrift shop. I had a great time perusing the goods at The Thrifty Fox in downtown Twisp. (Open Wednesday thru Saturday, 10am – 4pm. Closed Sunday – Tuesday.)
  • Featuring local artists, the Confluence Gallery is an excellent place to check out all things arty. (Open Thursday – Saturday, 10am – 5pm)
  • Should you be looking for some local theatre or maybe even a theatre camp, check out The Merc Playhouse in downtown Twisp. Check online for upcoming shows and auditions.
  • Located in the downtown area, the Methow Valley Interpretive Center features exhibits and an interpretive garden focusing on indigenous peoples and natural surroundings of the area. They also feature very interesting events and classes. (Open Friday – Sunday, Noon – 4pm, 10am on Saturday)
  • You can find Samantha Carlin’s work in various shops around the area, but Twisp-based Lucid Glassworks is also available online. I picked up a lovely glass from the Sun Mountain gift shop and I’m looking forward to expanding to a full set. (Currently waiting for it to ship, in fact!)
  • For a great opportunity to enjoy all things Twisp and gear up for the holidays, check out their Mistletoe Madness celebration in the downtown area. (December 3rd, 2021 from 3-7pm)

I can’t say enough good about local arts mecca, Twispworks, located in the downtown area. It’s an incredibly cool artist collective, sculpture garden, business incubator and more. A must-stop for your next Twisp visit. A few of the eclectic spots to explore at Twispworks:

  • If you’re looking for tasty beer, visit the OSB Taproom, located on the TwispWorks campus. An extension of Winthrop’s Old Schoolhouse Brewery, this new production facility and adjacent taproom are a great place to spend an afternoon. They also feature Methow Pure sparkling water. (Open Monday – Friday, 3pm – close and Saturday – Sunday, noon to close.)
  • Outside food is welcome at the OSB Taproom and Saskatoon Kitchens is ready to fill the bill. Located on the Twispworks campus, they feature some very tasty items. (Check out their Menu!)
  • Featuring artisan gifts and goods from the Methow Valley and Okanogan County, Methow Valley Goods is the perfect place to stop for that special gift. (Open Monday – Saturday, 11am – 4pm. Also available online!)
  • If you’re in the market for beautiful, hand-dyed wearable art, Culler Studio is the place to be! (Thursday/ Friday, 10am – 4pm, Saturday, 10am – 2pm. Closed Sunday – Wednesday.)
  • Featuring super cool bags, wallets, masks and more, the innovative eqpd is a great place to check out. Their HEPA masks and stadium bags are super rad!  (Monday – Friday, 10am – 4pm, Saturday to 2pm, Closed Sunday)
  • Check out the Fireweed Print Shop for their letterpress facilities and unique hand-printed items. (Open Thursday/Friday, Noon – 4pm and Saturday, 11am – 2pm. Closed Sunday – Wednesday.)
  • As soon as I have a spot to hang one of their one-of-a-kind nests, I’m heading directly to Nice Nests. These species-specific nesting boxes use recycled materials and are absolutely charming. (Call for hours)

Okanogan County has definitely cornered the market on amazing outdoor opportunities and Twisp certainly holds up its part of the bargain. Beauty is everywhere! Here are a few amazing spots from which to view the majesty:

Trees
Take a moment and enjoy the beauty of the area…

After reveling in the artistic grandeur of Twisp, it was time to head back into the surrounding mountains. As a skier, it’s long been on my bucket-list to ski every ski hill in the state. Sadly, I still have a few places on my list and nearby Loup Loup Ski Bowl is one of them. Since I’m located on the west side of the state and the North Cascades pass is closed during the winter, it’s a bit of a haul to get to the area. However, since my most recent trip was in the summer months, I merrily made the trek. (Sans skis, unfortunately.)

Located in between Twisp and Okanogan off of SR-20, Loup Loup is small, but mighty. They have runs to suit all levels as well as cross-country trails and… Luge sledding!! I might just have to make the long winter trek to the area and check it out. A snow cat ferries lugers up the mountain, where an epic-looking ride down then ensues. COOL! And should snowmobiles be more your thing, head to the South Summit Sno-Park and unload your beast. (The area also features groomed cross-country trails.) Located on the south summit of Loup Loup pass.

Pro Tip: For the record, I’m used to driving in snow and I’ve driven my fair share of wacky ski-hill access roads. That said, the portion of SR-20 leading to Loup Loup pass and ski hill is not for the faint of heart, or driver of non-winter-friendly vehicles. Make sure you have chains and/or AWD during the colder months.

Another route out of Twisp is via SR-153. This path heads east towards a more arid region along the Columbia River before meeting with US-97. If you plan to head further north from Twisp, SR-20 is the most direct route, but heading down SR-153 allows a look at a beautiful part of the Columbia River as well as a visit to the nearby towns of Pateros and Brewster.

Located directly on the Columbia River at an especially wide bend in the river, Pateros is a nice place to enjoy a bit of sun. Set at the confluence of the Columbia and Methow Rivers, it is a particularly excellent spot for all water-based endeavors. Nearby Brewster offers many outdoor opportunities and sweeping views of the river. A few options to consider should you be visiting the area:

  • If you’d like to wake up to a view of the beautiful Columbia River, be sure to book Howards on the River for your overnight stay. In addition to the beautiful view, they feature a boat launch to help with your pursuit of watersports. Hit up their Super Stop for gas and groceries and adjacent restaurant, Rivers by Ed’s Mudville for a tasty breakfast, lunch or dinner.
  • Featuring scratch-baked goods, coffee, pizza and more, The Sweetriver Bakery is a great place to stop in the town center. They also feature live music in the summer months on their back patio. (Open daily, 7am – 7pm)
  • Stop in at the Pateros Museum for a look into the history of the area. (City Hall entrance – Open Monday – Friday, 8am – 4:30pm) Don’t miss the Methow Monument Native American sculpture park located behind City Hall near the river. For a more in-depth look into local Native American history and heritage, visit Fort Okanogan Interpretive Center in nearby Brewster. Managed by the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, the center features an emphasis on the Okanogan Tribe. (Open Wednesday – Friday, 8:30am – 4pm from May – September)
  • If you’re looking for golf action, there are great options in the area. Along with golf, the Pateros Alta Lake Golf Resort features lodging and a café by the name of Scratch. (Café open daily 7am – 3pm, 4pm on Friday/Saturday) Located in Brewster, the Gamble Sands course and their Danny Boy Bar & Grill are also a great choice. (Open daily, 60-min after sunrise – 10pm. Winter hours vary – check online) Lodging can be found at The Inn at Gamble Sands, which features a pool, fire pits and beautiful views of the Columbia River.
  • If you’d prefer to rough it a bit, nearby Alta Lake State Park offers camping, hiking, fishing, wind-surfing and swimming. (Discover Pass required for parking and permit required for boating.)
  • Should you be visiting during the winter, ample snowmobiling and x-country skiing opportunities can be found in the Black Canyon and South Fork Gold Creek sno-park areas. (Sno-Park permits required)
  • The towns of Pateros and Brewster and relatively small, but they do feature some big celebrations. Going since 1947, the Apple Pie Jamboree takes place the third weekend in July and is a great opportunity to indulge your love of pie as well as jet-ski races, fireworks and more. Taking advantage of that big bend in the river, the Pateros Hydro Races feature old-school hydroplanes in all their speedy glory. (August 26-28, 2022)

The most common route when heading north from Pateros and Brewster is via US-97. If you’re partial to roads less traveled, hit up Old Highway 97 off of US-97 in the Brewster area. It’s a lovely, tranquil route with acres of cherry orchards, waving fields of grain and sweeping vistas. That said, there was a bit of road construction on my last trip and several miles of it were unpaved gravel. It was well worth it, however, to experience the area from a less modern perspective. It was very easy to imagine riding horseback through the area en route to the next outpost…

Along the route, there are some excellent places to stop for a rest, enjoy the views and sample the area’s bounty. A couple of options to check out on your trek through the backroads:

  • Pull over in tiny Malott and visit the charming Malott Country Store. Along with all-day breakfast and desserts, they feature coffee, groceries, ice cream and more! (Open Monday – Friday, 9am – 7pm, Saturday, 10am – 7pm and Sunday, 11am – 6pm)
  • Don’t miss a stop at Smallwood Farms, located on SR-20 after the merge with Old Highway 97. Along with being a working farm, it’s a restaurant, fruit stand and grocery/gift store – and they have plenty of picnic space! If you’re into cherries, you’ll be extremely happy with your visit. (in season, of course) The store/restaurant is open seasonally – check online for hours.

After adventuring on Old Highway 97 and merging onto SR-20, it’s not too long before you’re back on the modern US-97. Heading further north on US-97 will soon bring you to the county seat of Okanogan County, fittingly named Okanogan. Established in 1888, Okanogan has long been at the center of local area commerce and culture. Located along the Okanogan River, it continues to serve as an important part of Okanogan County industry and interests.

One of the very interesting stories to be found in Okanogan involves the life and work of artist, Frank Matsura. After emigrating from Japan to the US in the early 1900s, he answered a Seattle newspaper ad and was hired at a hotel in nearby Conconully. During his time at the hotel, he spent his spare time photographing the Okanogan area and eventually moved into Okanogan proper in 1907. He became well known as both a photographer and muralist and contributed greatly to the commemoration of early Okanogan life and heritage. In January of 2022, a 60-foot mural was discovered during renovation of a downtown Okanogan building. (c. 1907) The hand-painted mural is being potentially attributed to Frank Matsura and the building’s new owners are currently working to restore the mural.

To explore the culture, history and industry of Okanogan and surrounding areas, consider these great options for your next visit:

  • Learn more about Frank Matsura and the early days of Okanogan with a visit to the Okanogan County Historical Museum in the downtown area. In addition to the museum, there is a firehouse exhibit next door as well an outdoor, historic Okanogan exhibit. (Open Memorial Day weekend – Labor Day weekend, call for hours/days)
  • For local festivities, entertainment and all things fried, head to the Okanogan County Fair & Rodeo every September and revel in this celebration of the county. If you’re in need of some new boots or a cowboy hat to pep up your rodeo-attending attire, stop in at longtime Okanogan staple, Rawson’s and get yourself outfitted.
  • Enjoy the area bounty and explore offerings from local artisans at the Okanogan Valley Farmers Market. (Saturdays, May thru October, 9am – 1pm. Hot tip: There is also a Tuesday version in nearby Omak from 3:30 – 6:30pm, June thru October.)

Important to any adventure is a great meal and a cozy place to stay. Okanogan can certainly help you out in both departments. On your next visit, check out these fine establishments:

  • For hearty panini sandwiches and fresh salads, head to The 509 – just good food for a tasty lunch. Monday – Friday, 10:30am – 2pm. Closed Sat/Sun
  • If a place features “wieners and wine,” I’m in! The Dawg House, located in the heart of downtown features both as well as delicious BBQ and a respectable tap list – not to mention mouthwatering cheesecake. They also feature live music on weekends and great outdoor seating. (Wednesday – Saturday, 4-8pm)
  • If you’re in the mood for a hearty breakfast or juicy burger, stop by local fav, the Stockyard Café and fill up. Also, they have crinkle fries. Very important to note. (Open Tuesday – Saturday, 7am – 2pm)
  • I require a good cup of coffee (or three) in the morning and drive-thru spot, Free Bird Espresso fully came to the rescue on my recent visit. (Open Monday – Friday, 5:45am – 6pm, Saturday/Sunday, 6:45am – 5pm)
  • There are Vrbo and Airbnb options in the greater Okanogan area, but on my last visit I stayed at the local Quality Inn & Suites. It’s relatively basic, but reasonably priced and the staff was very friendly and helpful. Located close to US-97, it’s well situated as a base for exploring the area.

Not far north on US-97 lies the largest city in Okanogan County, Omak and its suburb, North Omak. The area is famous for its yearly Omak Stampede, but there are many great ways to enjoy the area. Located in the foothills of the Okanogan Highlands, a hilly, mountain range spread across Canada, Washington and Northern Idaho, the dark skies alone are worth a visit. It is also a great base of operations for your northern Washington adventures.

Okanogan is a big county and you’ve likely worked up a big appetite if you’ve made it all the way up to Omak. There are many great options to stave off the hunger on your next visit:

  • Check out the fresh bread and home-style cooking made with locally sourced ingredients in this classic Omak location. (c. 1906) The Breadline Café offers tasty lunch and dinner and is open Tuesday – Friday, 11am – 8pm.
  • Located on the main route through town, Magoo’s Family Restaurant features classic, diner breakfasts all day and hearty lunch options. (Open daily at 7am, 11am on Wednesdays.)
  • Stop in at family-run Red Rooster Grill for classic diner dishes with an international flair. Located in the heart of downtown Omak and open daily from 8am – 9:30pm.
  • Head to the hip, downtown spot, The Loggerhead for artisan pizza, good beer and a fun atmosphere. This family friendly location in downtown Omak is typically open Wednesday – Saturday, 3-9:30pm. (Check online as they are open seasonally – and for the occasional special event in the off-season.)
  • These guys were closed on my last visit, but I WILL be back and I’m planning on a tasty visit. Los Gallos, a restaurant and bar located in downtown Omak features not only Mexican fare, but Chinese as well! That’s a dream fusion, in my foodie opinion. Open daily, 11am – 8pm (11pm, Thursday – Sunday)
  • Located just out of North Omak and flanked by orchards and farmland, the Rockwall Cellars Winery is a nice spot to relax with a glass of wine. In the summer, their tasting room is open Monday – Saturday, 11am – 6pm. During January – April, it’s open Thursday – Saturday, 11am – 5pm. They also host live music and feature “Wine Down Wednesdays” from7-9pm. Bring your own food – there’s a BBQ available for grilling.

I will admit to enjoying a visit here and there to a good casino. Video poker? Yes, please. Is that a Zillion Gators slot machine I see there?? Move out of my way! (Damn. Now I have the ridiculous Zillion Gators theme song stuck in my head. I have no one to blame but myself.) If you’re visiting the Okanogan/Omak area, smack dab in the middle is the 12 Tribes Resort Casino, operated by the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation. Featuring a large array of slots and table games, the casino also hosts several onsite restaurants, hotel and RV lodging and spa facilities. The casino is a hot spot for nightlife and entertainment in the area and a fun evening out. That said, they didn’t actually have Zillion Gators. I looked… Maybe next time?

While there is much to do in the Omak area year-round, one of the most popular attractions takes place over the second weekend in August. The Omak Stampede has been entertaining visitors since 1933 and features western and native art shows, the Indian Encampment & Pow Wow and the famous Suicide Race. Whether or not you’re a fan of horses and their riders careening down an insanely steep trail in the Suicide Race, there are many sights, sounds and tasty treats to enjoy at the Omak Stampede. (August 11-14, 2022 – Always second weekend in August)

If don’t happen to be around during the Stampede festivities, consider these entertaining options for your visit:

  • Featuring first-run films in a classic movie house setting, the Omak & Mirage Theaters in downtown Omak are the places to be. They also host drive-in movies at the Stampede Arena during the summer months.
  • While currently closed during Covid times, the Omak Performing Arts Center hopes to be back soon. Featuring all varieties of performance, both local and touring, they are the premier destination for the performing arts in the area.
  • If you’re looking for a unique getaway, head to Pine Stump Farms­ for one of their package deals. They feature a Country Weekend that comes with food, lodging and excursions of your choice. (Horseback riding, swimming, canoeing or hiking) as well as horseback adventures of varying length. And be sure to try their tasty cheeses on your visit!
  • If enjoying the natural beauty of the area is on your agenda, check out Omak lake, Washington’s largest salt lake. Located in the foothills of the Okanogan Highlands, the area features beaches, camping, fishing, swimming, boating and more. This beautiful area in Colville Federated Tribes land is well worth a visit. (Camping and boat launch permits required.) Also found in the Omak Lake area is the gravity-defying, 40-ton behemoth known as the Omak Balance Rock. You can hold it up with one finger!

If the laid-back scene in Okanogan and Omak still isn’t mellow enough, consider heading towards Conconully on Conconully Road just out of Okanogan. Set in a beautiful mountain valley, Conconully is surrounded by forest, stunningly dark skies, two lakes and an endless variety of outdoor opportunity. Home to snowmobiling, camping, hunting, fishing and more, it’s the perfect place to commune with the sportsperson in you.

Most importantly, it’s home to the annual Outhouse Races. (The 2022 races took place on January 15th) If you’re not inspired to build your own outhouse racer, line up along the course as outhouses careen down the street. True story! Check out the short film, “Fast Crapper” for an in-depth look into this very excellent Conconully tradition.

Whether you’re in the area to enjoy the outdoors or the outhouses, Conconully has some food and lodging options to help you appreciate your stay:

  • Hit up the Conconully General Store for all your gas, groceries, gifts, and treat needs. (And more!) They’ll also be hosting a local vendor market beginning the weekend of April 23rd, 2022.
  • If you’re up for hearty burgers or pizza, stop in at the Red Rock Saloon and trade some fishing tales with your buddies. Open Tuesday – Saturday, 4pm – 2am. Family friendly. (Closed Sunday/Monday)
  • Enjoy a bit of classic breakfast and pub fare at the Sit ‘n Bull Saloon. Open Monday – Thursday, 9am – 11pm, Friday/Saturday, 8am – 11pm and Sunday, 9am – 10pm. Family friendly.
  • If you happen to be in town on the fourth Saturday in September, don’t miss the Stew & Brew event. A mere $15 buys you tastings of several stews and local brews.
  • Learn more about this tiny community at the Conconully Area Historical Museum. (Open weekends and holidays, 10am – 4pm, Memorial Day to Labor Day and by appointment.)
  • There are plenty of great lodging and camping areas in and around Conconully. The Liar’s Cove Resort, Shady Pines Resort and Gibson’s North Fork Lodge all feature cabins and access to local lakes, fishing, boating and more.
  • Also featuring five cabins as well as RV and campsite accommodations, Conconully State Park features ample boating, camping, fishing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling opportunities. (Discover Pass required. Fishing and boating permits required. Park facilities closed during the winter.)
  • Heading deeper into the forest surrounding Concunully, you’ll find the Salmon Meadows Campground. This area provides access to the Angel Pass Trail as well access to many snowmobiling and horse trails.
US 97
Okanogan Highlands and fruit on US 97

Heading closer to the Canadian border via US-97 will bring you to the tiny town of Tonasket. Fruit is big business in Okanogan County and Tonasket is an important player in the scene. Celebrate their part in one of Washington’s most important industries at these Tonasket spots:

  • Located off of Highway 7, Apple Cart Fruit features farm-fresh fruit throughout the year. Apples, cherries, apricots, peaches, nectarines and more! Open daily, 8am – 5pm, closed Sundays.
  • If you’re in the mood for homemade pie made with local fruit, stop by the quaint Shannon’s Place and dig in. If you need more than pie, check out their hearty breakfasts and weekend dinners. Open daily from 7:00am – 2:30pm. Friday/Saturday, open for dinner 4:30-7pm.
  • Stock up on all things natural and organic at the Tonasket Natural Foods Co-op. They feature an in-store deli with soup and sandwiches, local produce, meats, eggs and more. Open Monday – Friday, 9am – 7pm, Saturday, 9am – 6pm and Sunday, 11am – 4pm.
  • If you’re in the market for antiques or an eclectic gift, stop by The Olde Creamery and find your bliss. Open Monday – Saturday, 9am – 5:30pm, 8:30pm on Saturdays.
  • Buy directly from local artisans and farmers at the seasonal Tonasket Farmers Market. (Thursdays, 2-6pm, Mid May-October)
  • As is the case across Okanogan County, there are many beautiful areas to explore just out of town. Head to Bonaparte Lake and the Bonaparte Lake Campground for an outdoor adventure. The lake is very popular for fishing, including ice fishing in the winter. Along with stellar fishing, the campground features a boat launch, camping, swimming and hiking. (Fishing license required.)
  • For stunning hiking and very cool rock climbing options, hit up the Whistler Canyon Trailhead and take in the beautiful scenery. (Trailhead entrance located just off US-97.)
  • Should you feel like exploring the ghost towns of Okanogan County, head east on SR-20 out of Tonasket towards Wauconda and Old Wauconda. Outside of visiting the ghosts of Washington’s past, there isn’t much to do, but the drive is interesting and fairly quiet. Unfortunately, not to be confused with Wakanda.

If you’ve made it as far as Oroville, it’s only a few more miles to the Canadian border. You’ve also been traversing the beautiful Okanogan Trails Scenic Byway for the past 80 miles from Pateros and as you’ve seen during your trek, this part of the state packs in quite a bit of scenic wonder. If you’re looking to add more road trip street-cred to your adventure, check out the Highland Historic Loop (features northern Okanogan County and includes parts of adjacent Grant County) and the Many Lakes Historic Loop. (out of Oroville, heads to Nighthawk ghost town and on to Loomis and Conconully)

Oroville is the last town before the Canadian border. On my recent visit, the border was still closed due to Covid, but when open, it’s a very low-key affair to cross borders. None of those multiple lanes and gates; One lane and one gate. Voila! You’re in Canada! (As long as you have your passport or Washington State enhanced ID, of course.) Osoyoos is the closest Canadian town to the border and Penticton is just up from there. If you happened to have read my first Puerto Vallarta article, Penticton is home to the awesome couple I met during my adventures, Jorgen and Jen. Last I knew, Jorgen was head of the ski team at Penticton area Apex Mountain Resort, a ski hill I’d very much like to visit one of these days. I never cease to be amazed at just how small a world we all share.

Even during Covid times, it’s been possible to spend the day adventuring into Canada. Granted, it’s via water and you can’t legally touch the shore, but it’s still an international adventure! Spanning the border between the US and Canada, the international waters of Osoyoos Lake provide many relaxing opportunities for both Americans and Canadians. It’s possible to traverse the entire lake without a passport as long as you don’t go to land. Put in at the lovely Osoyoos Lake Veteran’s Memorial Park in Oroville and spend the day cruising the lake. In addition to a boat launch, the park also features fishing, swimming and camping.

When visiting the park, be sure to check out the private pond off to the side of the parking area. The number of trout in that pond – and the amount of commotion they were causing during my visit – was fantastic! (But it’s a private pond, so please don’t drop in a pole.) There was also an amazing variety of birds in the area. For more info about birding in the area, check out the Cascade Loop portion of the Audubon Society Great Washington Birding Trail.

In addition to Oroville’s dining opportunities, there are also some great ways to sample from the area’s wine scene. A few of the spots to help you enjoy your stay:

  • For beautiful views and a little vino, head to Esther Bricques Winery & Vineyard, located off US-97 between Tonasket and Oroville. They’re open daily from 1-6pm as well as Thursday evenings at 6pm for live music and tastings. (Thursday night events are year-round, but call ahead to make sure they’re open for afternoon tastings as they might be out in the vineyard.)
  • It was a beautiful sunny day on my last visit to Oroville and a stop at Taber’s Taste of Summer was the perfect way to celebrate. Set adjacent to a beautiful cherry orchard, this seasonal fruit stand, greenhouse and gift shop is a must-stop. The lovely owners also host “Wine Wednesdays” from 6-9pm with live music and food, which is a great opportunity to enjoy wine from their Copper Mountain Vineyards. (Opens in May, 10am – 5pm, fall hours vary seasonally)
  • While not a wine shop, Akins Fresh Market offers a good selection of local wine and beer as well as tasty treats for your picnic basket. (Open daily, 8am – 8pm) And don’t miss a stop at adjacent Country Store for all sorts of things you didn’t know you needed. Like my new “I heart Chickens” hoodie, for instance. (Open Monday – Saturday, 8am – 7pm, Sunday, 9am – 6pm)
  • Should you be craving a frosty beer rather than a glass of red, stop in at the Pastime Brewery and wet your whistle. (That said, they feature local wines as well!) In addition to a good tap list, they also feature house-smoked meats with homemade sauces and locally sourced ingredients. (Thursday – Monday, noon – 8pm. Closed Tuesday/Wednesday.)

On your next Oroville visit, why not enjoy some of that beautiful lake and mountain scene with a stay at one of the many local lodging establishments:

  • If you’ve been exploring the area around Osoyoos Lake, no doubt you’ve noticed how many homes dot the shoreline. If you’d like to spend more time on and around the lake, check out the Veranda Beach Resort. This upscale resort area is directly on the lake and features cottages, boating slips, a diner, grocery store and Veranda Beach Cellars winery.
  • Located west of Tonasket and Oroville, the Wannacut Lake Resort offers cabins, cottages and campsites on the lake. They have electric boat rentals available and a newly renovated restaurant opening sometime this year. (Opens for 2022 in on April 20th)
  • For a charming B&B experience in a beautiful ranch setting, head to Buena Vista Lodging in the North Oroville area for a relaxing weekend.
  • Work off some of that wining and dining on the Similkameen River Trail, a former railroad line located just west of Oroville off of US-97. Enjoy hiking, biking and gorgeous views on this easy-going paved/graveled trail.
Osoyoos Lake
Private homes and resorts dot the shores of Osoyoos Lake

Okanogan County is a jackpot for ghost towns and opportunities to take a step back in time abound. For a particularly fascinating look into county, state and international history, head to tiny Molson, a ghost town and museum located up Chesaw Road out of Oroville. The drive alone is worth the effort for its rolling hills, winding roads and absolute, complete solitude. Additionally, Molson sits very close to the Canadian border and there’s a country road (9 Mile Road) which parallels the country-dividing train tracks just out of Molson, all the way back down to Chesaw Road and into Oroville. Such an amazing part of the state! (Pro Tip: Cell reception cuts in and out on these roads and there isn’t a lot of traffic. Make sure you have a paper map on hand and know how to change a tire.)

The history you’re able to see along the drive to Molson is noteworthy, but you’ll want to grab your camera and jump out of the car as soon as you enter this tiny town. The first area you’ll come upon is the site of Old Molson and its now ghostly visage. Park in the small area just after turning into the site and get ready to transport back in time.

The buildings of Old Molson are largely intact with interiors which have been lost to the sands of time as well as portions featuring a museum-like format. This struck an engaging balance between stumbling upon a long-lost secret and handily learning all about it with an informative exhibit. I very much enjoyed exploring this slice of NW history and look forward to spending more time learning about the area on future visits.

Since Molson is very close to what is now the American/Canadian border, the area has quite a bit of shared history with our Canadian neighbors. As you drive into Old Molson, both flags are flying and after exploring the town, it’s an appropriate statement. So much trade, commerce and shared resources were a regular part of Molson’s day to day life and the international lines were often very blurred.

After roaming around Old Molson, do not miss a stop at the Molson Museum, located just past the ghost town. Originally the area’s schoolhouse, it has been closed for that purpose since 1969 and is now a fascinating museum dedicated to local history. The displays are well put together, charming and paint a very vivid picture of Molson life and times. An added bonus was the incredibly helpful and informative volunteer museum staff. They were very happy to discuss the area as well as serve up 50-cent coffee and brownies. I want all of my museum trips to be just like that! (Open daily from 10am – 5pm – Memorial Day thru Labor Day)

If you’re making the trek in and around Molson, there are many other points of history and interest to find in the area. Get out your map and find your way to these great spots on your next visit:

  • If you happen to be visiting Molson over the last weekend in August, head to the Molson Grange Hall for the popular Highland Stitchers Show & Sale. Beautiful, handmade quilts are on display and for sale! (Last Saturday in August, 9am – 3pm)
  • Taking place in Chesaw, every July 4th since 1942, the Chesaw Rodeo is a time-honored tradition in the area. Classic rodeo events, a parade, food and more! Another fun summer event in Chesaw is Chesaw Hot August Nights, featuring a classic car show and more. (The event was cancelled in 2021, but typically takes place the last Saturday in August)
  • If you’re visiting during winter and want to get in some skiing, make the trek up to cozy Sitzmark Ski Area. Follow Chesaw Road off of US-97 in Oroville up to Havillah Road and enjoy one of Washington’s old-school ski hills. (Open Thursday – Sunday. Lifts open 10am – 4pm. Ski hut and lodge open at 9am.)
  • For a bit of cross-country skiing on a network of groomed trails complete with warming hut, head to the Highlands Nordic Sno-park, located off of US-97 in Tonasket and up the Tonasket-Havillah Road. (Or take US-97 to Chesaw Road and onto Tonasket-Havillah Road.) A non-motorized Sno-Park Permit is required.
  • If you haven’t fulfilled your ghost town quota, head to Nighthawk, home to the oldest mining claim in the state. (c. 1860) Located on the opposite side of Oroville as Molson, take the Loomis-Oroville Road, west out of Oroville.

Yowsa! Okanogan County is a very large area to cover… But we did it! For the sake of wrapping up this particular Washington State odyssey, I’m going to save the spectacular Grand Coulee Dam for my upcoming Grant County adventure. Located in both Okanogan and Grant Counties, Grand Coulee Dam is an adventure not to be missed, but we’ll spend some quality time there during my Grant County travels. I promise!

And with that, we’ve come to the end of the road for Okanogan County. Well, not really, as we just left off in the middle of nowhere near Molson. Still a few miles to go before we get back home… Just as there are many ways to get in and around Okanogan County, there are equal amounts of beautiful routes to get you home. For this outing, I traveled back south on US-97 towards Pateros and Brewster, over to Blewett Pass and back towards I-90 and Seattle. It was a great drive! Bottom line, any path you take in and out of Okanogan County will inevitably be filled with beauty and adventure. It’s just a Washington State fact!

Until next time – Happy trails!

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Wind through the backroads of Okanogan County with my SPOTIFY PLAYLIST

  • Medicine – Grace Potter & The Nocturnals (from Grace Potter & The Nocturnals)
  • The Long Way Home – Norah Jones (from Feels Like Home)
  • These Days – Jackson Browne (from For Everyman)
  • You Can Close Your Eyes – James Taylor (from Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon)
  • Right Down the Line – Gerry Rafferty (from City to City)
  • Wish the Wind Would Blow Me – Bob Schneider (from Burden of Proof)
  • I Gotta Get Drunk – The Little Willies (from The Little Willies)
  • Can’t Find My Way Home – Ellen McIlwaine (from Up From the Skies: The Polydor Years)
  • Fruits of My Labor – Lucina Williams (from World Without Tears)
  • A Little Too Soon to Say – Jackson Browne (from A Little Too Soon to Say)
  • Bigger Boat (feat. Randy Newman) – Brandy Clark (from Your Life Is A Record)
  • Mountain Greenery – Kat Edmonson, Vince Giordano & The Nighthawks (from Café Society)
  • Baker Street – Shawn Colvin, David Crosby (from Uncovered)
  • I Wish I Was the Moon – Neko Case (from Blacklisted)
  • Just Like Heaven – Katie Melua (from Piece by Piece)
  • I Make the Dough, You Get the Glory – Kathleen Edwards (from Asking for Flowers)
  • Wildflowers – The Wailin’ Jennys (from Fifteen)
  • September Fields – Frazey Ford (from Indian Ocean)
  • I Must Be in A Good Place Now – Fruit Bats, Vetiver (from In Real Life – Live at Spacebomb Studios)
  • Keep Me in Your Heart – Warren Zevon (from The Wind)
  • White Horses – Darlingside (from Birds Say)
  • Take the Long Way Home – Supertramp (from Breakfast in America)
Pine Cones
Happy trails to you!

Check out more I Ate the State adventures!

I Ate the State – Klickitat County

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Greetings!

Washington State packs a powerful punch when it comes to celebrating diversity. Whether it be via environment, culture or history, Washington fully represents and Klickitat County is no slouch. Within a single afternoon of exploring the area, I took in towering volcanoes (plural!), spacious forests, sweeping plains, grand rivers and ancient canyons. I enjoyed delicious bounty, learned of amazing history, hiked beautiful trails and even wandered around an abbey shared by Buddhists and Druids. All this in just one afternoon – and that was truly just the tip of the volcano! Join me while I discover what spectacular adventures Klickitat County has to offer. (And I’ll still only be scratching the surface!)

Named for the Klickitat Tribe, now part of the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, Klickitat County is located in the south-central area of the state. Falling near the middle in size, the population sits closer towards the bottom of the list. (29th out of 39 in population, to be exact) In a nutshell, it’s very easy to stretch out in Klickitat County – and to possibly not see anyone around for miles. And miles… It’s quite something to be able to stop in the middle of the road to take a picture and not be worried about someone driving up behind.

Bickleton Hwy
The Bickleton Highway after a spring rain. Not a car in sight…

Klickitat County is a very accessible county, from both Washington and Oregon. It neighbors Yakima, Skamania and Benton Counties and sits directly across the mighty Columbia River from Oregon. There are many routes in and out of the county within Washington as well as several bridges over the Columbia River to Oregon. This can make for many great quick-trips! It also has the benefit of being in the south-central part of the state, so it’s a relatively doable day trip from many parts of Washington. That said, as there are so many amazing things to see and do, I’d definitely recommend at least an overnight stay.

As I live in the western part of the state, I typically take I-90 to Yakima via I-82 and then Exit 37 onto US-97 towards Bend and Goldendale. I love heading over Satus Pass and enjoy the change of forest from the firs and spruce of the west side to the Ponderosa pines of the east. This route also allows me to stop at the very unique St. John’s Monastery & Bakery, located just off US-97 near the lovely Brooks Memorial State Park. The resident nuns and novices make the most delicious traditional Greek pastries, candies, soups, handcrafted candles and more. A must stop! (Open Monday – Saturday, 9am – 6pm)

For my most recent foray into Klickitat County, however, I was coming from nearby Sunnyside, so I headed towards Bickleton via WA-22 to Mabton and then onto the Mabton-Bickleton Road. Tiny Bickleton is reached via quiet, winding backroads and the drive is well worth the effort. Stunning vistas, rolling fields and high desert plains are de rigueur and it’s hard not to see beauty in every turn of the road. (And there are many turns!) If you happen to visit during the spring, there are the added glories of wildflowers, fresh sage brush and possibly spring rain. (Spring sage in the spring rain is one of the dreamiest smells ever!) If you take this route, be sure to pull over randomly and take in the scene. And the air. And the silence. Beautiful

Pro tip: Reception can be spotty along the roads to and from Bickleton – and the roads are often very, very quiet. (In many parts of Klickitat County in general.) Be sure to get that oil change and tire check before venturing off into the wilds and always bring along an old-school paper map. And snacks. Always bring snacks. And probably some water.

Known as theBluebird Capitol of the World, Bickleton is a tiny, but lovely jewel in the high desert of the county. (Population 90!) Thousands of bluebirds spend much of their year in the area, making their homes in the lovely birdhouses dotting area fence lines. If you are coming to the area via Mabton, Ponderosa pines begin to pop up just outside of town and wildflowers cheerfully dot the landscape. It truly is a gorgeous drive and ends with a step back in time once you’ve arrived in Bickleton proper.

As mentioned, Bickleton is quite small, but there are definitely places to explore and several events throughout the year to check out. On your next high desert adventure, consider these great options:

  • Should you be interested in wetting your whistle in the oldest operating tavern in the state (c. 1887), be sure to sidle up at the Bluebird Inn. Grab a drink and great burger and relax in this nostalgia-filled gem. (Open Wednesday – 7am to 8pm, Thursday-Saturday – 10am to 8pm and Sunday – 8am to 6pm. Closed Mondays, Tuesdays and the entire month of December.) NOTE: Not to be confused with The Brick Saloon in Kittitas County, which lays claim to the oldest, continuously operating bar in the state. (c. 1889) DON’T MIX THEM UP! Fight, fight, FIGHT! Bar/Saloon/Tavern brawl anyone?
  • Grab food to go or take a seat in the café at the charming Bickleton Market Street Café & Grocery. Offering tasty burgers, hot and cold sandwiches and more, they’re a great stop in the area. (Open Monday – Friday, 7am to 6pm and Saturday, 7am to 11am. Closed Sunday.)
  • Be sure to make a stop at the Bickleton Carousel Museum and take in the festive scene. The museum features a lovely Herschell-Spillman Carousel (c. 1900) as well as area history. It is one of only three of its type still working, which is amazing when you consider 121 years of rowdy fair-goers. (Open Friday & Saturday, 10am – 3pm and Sunday, Noon – 4pm. Open spring through late fall.)
  • You can find the aforementioned carousel in full operation once a year at the… Alder Creek Pioneer Picnic & Rodeo (June 12-13, 2021, 10th – 12th for 2022) It is Washington’s oldest rodeo and this year marked its impressive 110th anniversary. (c. 1910) Located in nearby Cleveland Park, it’s a classic rodeo scene set amidst Ponderosa pines and a rustic park scene. I recently attended and had the pleasure of riding the carousel and eating a GIANT corndog and elephant ear. It was a great time, indeed. (Hot Tip: Cleveland Park is also known as Alder Creek Pioneer Rodeo and Picnic Area if you happen to be searching on Google. If you’re lucky enough to have reception, that is!)
  • If you have a penchant for classic cars and flea markets, be sure to hit up the Bickleton Classic Car Show – and flea market! Taking place at the Carousel Museum over Labor Day weekend, it’s a fun way to wrap up the summer. (My dad has attended and gives it his seal of approval. 😉 The event was cancelled for 2020, but hopefully 2021 will be a go.

One of my favorite stretches of road in the state lies between Bickleton and the nearby town of Goldendale. Traveling west out of town on the Bickleton-Goldendale Highway will take you through Ponderosa-filled forest and into high plains brimming with wildflowers and sage brush. (And the occasional, lonely tumbleweed blowing across the road.) I love pulling over along the way and just standing outside. The smell of the flowers and sage is amazing and on a recent trip, there was a bit of spring rain to bring it all out. No one on the road, the only sound the wind and a sense that this scene has remained exactly the same for a very long time… Sublime.

As the high plains begin to lose elevation, the road starts to wind and twist into an absolutely stunning area known as Badger Gulch. As the road descends into the deep valley, switchbacks and hairpin turns compete with impressive views for your attention. On my last drive through the area, the sun was shining, but at the same time it was raining. Amazing rainbows and god-rays sifting through the clouds accompanied me as I navigated my way through the switchbacks. Glorious! (Pro Tip: Keep your eyes on the road, or just occasionally pull over. I hate to admit that I’m prone to taking pictures out of my window as I drive, but not in this area. Nope. EYES ON THE ROAD, please.)

Once out of the dastardly, but beautiful, Badger Gulch the road calms down as you make your way towards Goldendale, the county seat of Klickitat County. Nestled in the foothills of the Simcoe Mountains, Goldendale is known for its wheat, cattle, alfalfa and hay. (Which means I get to bust out my classic “Hay!” joke whenever in the area. You’re welcome.) It is easy to breeze through the area if you’re traveling on US-97, but the town is well worth a stop. Interesting history, good barbeque and a night sky chock-full of stars are just a few of its draws. Throw in an amazing view of nearby Mount Adams and I’m never disappointed with my time in Goldendale.

Klickitat Valley
Hay!! And alfalfa, wheat, sheep and cattle!

If you find yourself in this lovely part of the state, there are many things to occupy your time and imagination. A few places to check out while in the area:

  • Goldendale is famous for its dark skies and up until recently carried the ‘Dark Sky’ designation. Sadly, this has since been removed, but hopefully Washington State will rally to have it re-established. Nevertheless, the area skies are indeed still very dark and magnificently showcase the night sky. One of the nation’s largest public observatories, Goldendale Observatory (and state park) offers an amazing look into the cosmos and a beautiful opportunity to explore the area surrounding the observatory. Newly renovated and state of the art, the observatory offers both day and night time viewings and is a must-stop if you’re visiting the area. They are currently requiring reservations until Covid restrictions are further lifted, so look online before you go. (Regular schedule resumes August 13th and drop-in visits will be allowed.) While in the area, be sure to take a quick hike through the nearby Observatory Hills Trails to enjoy the local flora and fauna. (Discover Pass required for observatory parking.) Author’s Note: The observatory was closed on my most recent visit to the area, but I’ll be returning in August and will update with pictures. I’ve visited the observatory in the past and am very excited to check out the updates! And that spectacular night sky…
  • Set back from the quaint downtown area, the Presby Museum – and Klickitat County Historical Society offers a well-curated look into the yesteryears of Goldendale and the surrounding area. Set inside the stately Presby Mansion, it’s a fine way to spend an afternoon. (May 1st – October 15th, 10am – 4pm daily)
  • There are several standard hotels in the area, but why not go big? Check out The Red House on Airbnb for a step back in time. Featured on both state and federal Historic Registers, you get the whole house to explore and imagine life in late 1800s Goldendale. (c. 1890. Originally the home of Charles Newell, the Horse King of the Northwest.) Author’s Note: I haven’t stayed there yet, but I’ll be taking care of that in August. Pictures coming soon!
  • If you’re looking for an opportunity to don those boots and polish that belt buckle, or the chance to eat A LOT of fair food, the Klickitat County Fair & Rodeo is the place to be. Given the opportunity, I’m pretty sure I could eat my weight in delicious corn dogs and elephant ears. Mmmm… (August 19-22, 2021)

What’s that? You didn’t fill up on corndogs and elephant ears at the fair?? Hmmm… Well, lucky for you, there are some great dining options in the area. Stop in at one of these fine spots the next time you’re in town:

  • If you’re a fan of BBQ (Yes, please!) head directly to The Dirty Cowgirl. Originally a food truck, Chef Kory Geddes has grown her operation into a full-service restaurant. On my recent visit, I was fortunate enough to get the very last order of brisket for the day. Moowahahahaha… SO GOOD! (Open daily, 11am – 9pm; 10pm on Friday/Saturday and 8pm on Sunday)
  • For a great breakfast, lunch or dinner, head to the Town House Café in the downtown area. This charming spot is very popular for its tasty, home-style cooking. (Wednesday to Sunday, 7am – 2pm with dinners to 7pm on Fridays. Closed Monday/Tuesday.)
  • Dwinell Country Ales offers an impressive line of craft beer and cider. The tasting room is currently closed, but private tastings are available by reservation on their tasting room patio. They are also open Saturday and Sunday from 1-4pm for beer-to-go.
  • Should you be in the mood for an old-school tavern and café experience, check out the Simcoe Café located in the heart of downtown. If those walls could talk… (Daily, 11am to 12pm, 2am on Friday/Saturday.)
  • The Goldendale has a bounty of produce and tasty treats to offer. If that sounds delicious, stop by the Goldendale Farmers Market and grab some goodies! (Saturdays at the Goldendale Chamber Grounds from May – September, 9am – 2pm)

After staying the night in one of the chain hotels off of US-97, I was very ready to head further south and do some wine-tasting and exploring along the Columbia River Gorge. And do some tasting of wine… (Did I mention doing some wine tasting?) As I headed south on US-97, the morning was brilliantly sunny and the windmills dotting the hills were in full swing. It’s amazing how large they are from a distance and this part of the drive allowed me to see just how large they actually are. Suffice to say, there’s quite a bit of energy being created by these behemoths. Klickitat County hosts several wind farms throughout the county, thoroughly utilizing the constant, sweeping winds of the area. Some may find them a challenge to the landscape and view, but I’ve always thought them strangely scenic. And hey, clean energy sources are always good!

Another sight along the way offers a prime opportunity to take in four founding members of the Pacific Northwest’s “Ring of Fire.” Should the day be sunny, which is often the case in this area, be sure to pull over at the Cascade Volcanoes Viewpoint, located shortly outside of Goldendale. Showcasing one of the state’s most splendid vistas, this humble pull-over spot on the side of US-97 allows you to see, in one fell swoop, Mount Saint Helens, Mount Hood, Mount Adams and Mount Rainier. Granted, Hood and Adams clearly dominate the scene, but Saint Helens and Rainier nicely tip their caps on either side of this family picture. Don’t miss the chance to stand in awe of these magnificent mountains.

While the western names of these noble guardians of the Northwest have been in place since early, western exploration of the area, their original Native American names have been known for thousands of years:

  • Mount Adams Native American name: Pahto or Klickitat
  • Mount Hood Native American name: Wy’east or Wyeast
  • Mount Rainier Native American name: Tahoma or Takhoma
  • Mount St. Helens Native American name: Louwala-Clough or Loowit to the Klickitat

Continuing south on US-97 brings you up and over a ridge and down into the just-plain-amazing Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. I truly can’t say enough good about this area. It has mesmerized me my entire life and with each visit, I love and appreciate it all the more. Even if you are just passing through on your way to Oregon or beyond, it’s hard not to thoroughly admire nature’s handiwork as you descend into the gorge.

Travel Tip: If you’re pining to do a bicycle trip through the area, the Mt. Adams Bus – Mt. Adams Transportation Services (MATS) goes from Goldendale and all through the gorge. (It also goes over bridges to The Dalles and Hood River.) Put that bike on the rack and take a break from the uphill! $1 for adults and kids five and under are free. Sweet!

Should you indeed only be passing through, you can continue heading south on US-97 towards the nearby Sam Hill Memorial Bridge and into Oregon. A large truck-stop area, Biggs Junction, lies just past the bridge and continuing south will bring you to beautiful Bend, Oregon. Further south and into California, it is possible to hook up with I-5 in the city of Weed near Mount Shasta. (Travel bonus: If you were to reverse course on US-97 and head through Okanogan County and into British Columbia, Canada (BC Highway 97), you could drive all the way to Alaska via the ALCAN Highway. (#LifeGoals) US-97 in a pretty epic highway!

For this trip, however, my travels remained firmly in Washington as I followed along the path of the Lewis and Clark Expedition via SR-14 west. This natural wonder of an area features amazing history and spectacular geology, not to mention breathtaking views. Ice age flood plains, millennia-old Native American history, towering basalt cliffs and the mighty Columbia River are just a few of the attractions. It’s not hard to understand why the area has been a major hub of activity for thousands and thousands of years. It can also be a bit difficult to take it all in while simply driving along the winding road. Keep those eyes on the road while driving, but be sure to pull over many times along the way to revel in the fantastic scenery.

Columbia River Gorge
Yep. That’s a pretty amazing view.

Not too far into my journey on SR-14, I stopped for a visit at the lovely Maryhill State Park. A sprawling, scenic area along the Columbia, it’s a great spot for a picnic or camping adventure. Bring your boat and do some fishing or perhaps a little waterskiing. (I have the fondest memories of waterskiing on the Columbia. Major fuel for my I must have a boat plan…) On a windy day, it’s likely windsurfers will be also sailing the river and defying the laws of gravity. (Discover Pass required for parking and a Launch Permit is required for boating.)

Just up the road from the park sits one of the county’s, nay state’s, most interesting sites, the Stonehenge Memorial & Klickitat County Veterans Memorial. Designed by prolific highway builder, Sam Hill, it sits on a bluff overlooking the Columbia as a monument to soldiers killed in WWI. (Sam Hill was also a businessman, lawyer and railroad exec and quite influential to the area’s development in the early 1900s) While not quite Salisbury Plain, the view is stunning and the structure a truly unique tribute. Sam Hill’s crypt is located just a short walk below the monument on a bluff overlooking the river.

Additional unique and interesting spots to check out in the area:

  • In operation since 1936, the excellent Gunkel Orchards & Fruit Stand is just down the road from the Stonehenge memorial. Open seasonally, they offer delicious fresh fruit and more. Cherries, peaches, nectarines… Go get ‘em! (Monday – Thursday, 8am – 6pm and Friday – Sunday, 8am – 6pm)
  • Visit the Waving Tree Vineyard for a bit of wine tasting bliss. They’re located down from the memorial and east of the historic Maryhill Community Church (c.1888) on Maryhill Highway. They also have a tasting room at the entrance of Maryville State Park, but it is currently closed due to COVID. (Winery open daily from 10am – 5pm, but they do suggest making an appointment.)
  • The Maryhill Loops Road goes between US-97 (just past Goldendale) and connects with SR-14 near the Stonehenge Drive turn-off. Now only open to bikes and pedestrians, it is part of the original, ten-mile asphalt road Sam Hill personally financed in the early 1900s and is the first such road in the northwest. It was originally used it to experiment with paving techniques and also provided an invigorating drive for early motorists. (Pro Tip: They do open the road twice a year to motorists. Gotta check out those hairpin turns!)

Heading a little further west on SR-14 continues the celebration of Sam Hill and his significance to the region. Enter the fabulous Maryhill Museum, a crown jewel in the extraordinary beauty of the area. Built by Sam Hill, the name is a tribute to his wife, daughter and mother-in-law, all named “Mary” and the opening was dedicated by Queen Marie of Romania in 1926. Featuring an excellent art collection both in the galleries and throughout the grounds, it is a must-stop when visiting the area. It also offers a gorgeous, expansive view of the area’s amazing geology. (March 15th – November 15th, 10am – 5pm daily.)

Sam Hill’s Legacy: As he was an extensive international traveler, Sam Hill’s contributions extend beyond the area. He is also responsible for the Peace Arch monument in Blaine, between the US and Canadian border and built a golf course and restaurant at Semiahmoo, just north of Blaine. During Prohibition, the restaurant could serve alcohol as it was on the Canadian side. Well played, Sam. Well played. Additionally, if you’re in the Seattle area, take a drive through the neighborhood of the Sam Hill house, located on Capitol Hill.

After luxuriating in the artistic grandeur of Maryhill Museum, it was time to find a bit of lunch – and maybe do a little wine-tasting. (Art, food and wine… A perfect afternoon!) Located just west of the museum, off of SR-14, lives the wonderful Maryhill Winery. Featuring award-winning wine, a delicious menu and spectacular views, a visit to Maryhill Winery is always a good idea. Their famous amphitheater is unfortunately closed these days, but they do still feature live music on their lovely terrace. I’m pretty sure if I lived in the area, I’d be there all the time – for the charcuterie and Albariño alone! (Open daily, 11am – 6pm, 8pm on Saturdays. They also have tasting rooms in Spokane, Vancouver and Woodinville.)

One of the best sightseeing opportunities while traveling through Klickitat County is just that; seeing the sights. There are plenty of places to pull over and I highly recommend you take advantage and enjoy the many incredible vistas. The area is part of the greater Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail, which spans Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon and it is a marvel to take in. The entire “trail” spans 16,000 square miles!

Also found in the area is The Dalles Dam. (A great opportunity to do my classic Dam! joke. You are again welcome.) This area of the Columbia was forever altered by a different type of flooding in 1957 with the completion of the dam. Before this time, the massive Celilo Falls dominated the scene. These marvelous falls were a hugely important center of fishing, trade and gathering with neighboring tribes for thousands of years. They also proved to be a bit of an obstacle for the Lewis and Clark Expedition when it ventured through on its way to the Pacific. There is an excellent viewpoint located just before the turn-off to nearby Wishram which highlights the history of the area. It is well worth a stop.

Should you like to extend your area viewing with a nice glass of wine and tasty eats, the following Wishram establishments await your visit:

  • Set at the base of the Columbia Hills (elevation 2600-3200 feet) the Cascade Cliffs winery is a lovely place to enjoy a glass of wine. Bask in the sun, marvel at the nearby basalt cliffs and enjoy the view. Sigh…  The vineyard and tasting room is located just off of SR-14 and they also have tasting rooms in Hood River, Woodinville & Georgetown. (Wishram tasting room open daily, Noon – 7pm, Friday and Saturday to 8pm.)
  • In addition to a lovely wine offering, the Jacob Williams winery, located off SR-14 near the Avery Recreation Area, features charcuterie and other treats. Their tasting room is also dog friendly and features live music throughout the summer. (Open daily, 11am – 6pm. They also have a tasting room in McMinnville, OR.)

People have been inhabiting the Columbia River Gorge for millennia. There are many ways to explore and experience the history of the area, but among the most fascinating is the sprawling Columbia Hills Historical State Park along SR-14. (Discover Pass required for parking and launch permits required for boating) Comprised of four major areas with a wide variety of things to do and see. Whether your stay is short or long, it is impossible to walk away without being profoundly affected by the beauty and history of the area; So many stories, so many spectacular views, so many trails and natural wonders to savor.

One of the most amazing features of the area and easiest to check out are the ancient petroglyphs located along the Temani Pesh-wa Trail at Horsethief Lake. These amazing stories were left by the original stewards of the land and were relocated from their original locations along the Columbia with the creation of the Dalles Dam. Despite their move, it is still awe-inspiring to view them in their current dwelling and an enduring tribute to the indigenous peoples of the area.

There are so many wonderful opportunities for exploration in Columbia Hills Historical State Park. Just a few of the options:

  • For an easy-access look at the petroglyphs, drive to the riverside parking lot inside the Horsethief Lake entrance of the park. The Temani Pesh-wa Trail is located directly adjacent to the lot and features a boardwalk with a self-guided tour next to the petroglyphs. For something more in depth, the park offers ranger-guided tours which go deeper into the area and history. The featured She Who Watches tour tells the legend of a female chief of the native Wishram people from 3000 years ago. Check out local Native American artist, Lillian Pitt for wonderful artwork based on local legends and the Columbia River Gorge area.
  • Stay a while at Horsethief Lake and camp in the same areas that have been hosting travelers for millennia, including the Lewis and Clark Expedition. A couple of rustic cabins are also available for camping. The lake is usually open for fishing, from the end of April to October 31st and there is boating access to both the lake and Columbia River. (Permits required for fishing) If you don’t happen to have your own boat, check out the kayak and pedal boat rentals options.
  • For some stellar rock climbing, check out the Horsethief Butte area. Amazing views, beautiful trails and super cool rocks!
  • Off the north side of SR-14 lies the Crawford Oaks trailhead. In addition to hiking opportunities, bikes and horses have much to explore. If you’re looking for amazing mountain and gorge(ous) views, this is the trail to take.
  • Also off the north side of SR-14 and close to the Crawford Oaks trailhead, is the beautiful Dalles Mountain Ranch area. In addition to the 6,000 acres of remarkable landscapes, this historic ranch features much flora and fauna along with historic farm buildings and equipment.
  • Should you fancy a side trip into yonder Oregon, an amazing drive with incredible views can be found just over the nearby Dalles Bridge. Once across the bridge, take I-84 west and head for Mayer State Park. You’ll be looking for the Rowena Crest Viewpoint off the Historic Columbia River Highway. You won’t be sorry!

Important Public Service Announcement: The Columbia River Gorge is an extremely beautiful and fascinating area. It is one of many extremes, in fact; several of which being flora and fauna. Be on the lookout for rattlesnakes, ticks, poison oak and more! Spring is tick season and rattlesnakes generally love cool, concealed spots. Long pants, good boots and a hat are my go-to whenever hiking around these areas. Go prepared, be aware and you’ll be fine! And don’t go poking around in those interesting looking spots between the rocks… DON’T DO IT.

Nope.
And this is where my petroglyph party-train came to a halt…

After communing with the petroglyphs and successfully evading snakes, it was time to head further west. I was ultimately heading towards Trout Lake and Mount Adams, but there were many alluring spots to check out along the way. Beautiful trails, local history and delicious vino are just some of the options that came across my path in the Lyle area. Don’t miss exploring the beauty in and around this tiny community.

Keep an eye out for exits off of SR-14 for Old Highway 8. The area is a goldmine of outdoor opportunities and is not to be missed. Just a few of the amazing places to explore during your visit:

  • One of the most impressive features of the area (and that’s saying something!) can be found in the Coyote Wall Recreation Area. The Coyote Wall Trail is just one of the excellent ways to experience the mammoth formation of columnar basalt known as the Coyote Wall or “The Syncline.”
  • The Catherine Creek trailhead is lovely throughout the year; particularly during spring and early summer. The wildflowers are gorgeous and the views, sublime. Located off of Old Highway 8, west of the Syncline.
  • Located just off SR-14 at an intersection for Old Highway 8 sits Rowland Lake. (SR-14 actually cuts directly through the lake!) Known for its trout fishing, it’s a great spot to stop even if you’ve forgotten your poles.

More great opportunities for exploration in the Lyle area:

  • For wonderful views, wildflower identifying and a glance into the cherry-growing history of the area, hit up the Lyle Cherry Orchard Trail and Loop. The trailhead is located just off SR-14 and the trail itself can be enjoyed in a 5 to 6.5 round-trip loop.
  • Set in the center of town, the Lyle Twin Bridges Museum is a lovely place to learn about the history of the town and greater Lyle area. (Open Saturdays, June thru September, Noon to 5pm)
Chamberlain Lake
Lovely wildflowers in the Lyle area

If all that exploring has left you parched and peckish, there are several ways to address the situation while in the Lyle area:

  • A well-established and respected winery in the Columbia River Gorge, Domaine Pouillon offers a fine catalog of wines. Check out their summer ‘2nd Weekend Sip’ events for a taste of their greatness. (Located along the Lyle-Snowden Road. Tasting room currently open by appointment only.)
  • Stop in at the family-run Klickitat Canyon & Columbia Gorge Winery and enjoy a bit of their hand-processed, certified-organic wine. (Located along the Lyle-Snowden Road. Open Friday – Sunday, Noon – 6pm, Mother’s Day through Thanksgiving weekend and by appointment.)
  • I really enjoy the AGO Sauvignon Blanc from COR Cellars, located off of Old Highway 8. Stop in and give it a try, along with their other lovely offerings. Currently, tastings are by reservation only, Wednesday thru Monday. They have limited indoor seating in addition to a cool courtyard and tasting tent. Spots are available 11am thru 3pm.
  • Also found off of Old Highway 8, the appropriately named Syncline Winery features lovely wines in a beautiful location. This charming boutique winery is open for tastings Friday thru Sunday, noon to 5pm. (Reservations recommended) They also feature various tasting packages and I have to say I’m quite intrigued by their Blue Door Experience… Adding it to my travel bucket list!
  • Just up the road from the Syncline Winery is The Hillbilly Farm. This family-run farm stand features fresh produce with their specialties being tomatoes, watermelon and cantaloupe. They also have plants for sale and fresh eggs available 24 hours a day. Open daily, 9am – 7pm.
  • The tagline at Tetrahedron Wines is “Where Art meets Science,” which I find very cool. Two great tastes that go great together! Stop in for a tasting on Saturdays from noon to 5pm and Sundays from noon to 4pm. (Reservations recommended. Located off of SR-14 in downtown Lyle)
  • Featuring classic pub fare and hand-tossed pizza, The Sandbar and Grill is the perfect addition to a day of local exploration. Located off of SR-14 in downtown Lyle. Open Wednesday thru Saturday, 4pm – 9pm. (Closed Sunday – Tuesday)
  • If you’re in the mood for a classic country breakfast before you begin your adventures, stop in at the Country Café in downtown Lyle. They also serve old-school burgers and sandwiches during lunch. Open daily, 7am – 2pm. (8am on Sunday)
  • If all this adventuring has left you tuckered out, consider a reservation at The Lyle Hotel and take a well-earned rest. This quaint hotel (c. 1905) was originally a railroad hotel and offers a charming glimpse into the history of the Lyle area. Located in downtown Lyle. (Note: Their restaurant is closed for the time being.)
Twin Bridges Museum
The Twin Bridges Museum in Lyle

Getting to Lyle is simple via SR-14 as the highway goes directly through town. There are, however, a couple of interesting and less direct ways to and from the area. If the beauty of a Douglas fir forest is calling your name, take a 30-minute drive north to the tiny town of Snowden via the Lyle-Snowden Road. (West of downtown Lyle on SR-14, take Old Highway 8 to Canyon Road)

If you’d like to take a back-route to Lyle from the Goldendale area, hit up the very scenic SR-142. Along the way, make sure to visit the town and county namesake, Klickitat. This route is filled with plenty of beautiful views and vantages to discover. A great route extending from SR-142 is the Goldendale-Glenwood Highway, which leads north towards the Conboy Lake National Wildlife Refuge and offers more beautiful views and vantages.

While exploring the backroads and byways of Klickitat County, keep these enjoyable options in mind for your itinerary:

  • Located in Klickitat proper, the Klickitat Historical Museum features interesting exhibits and artifacts from days gone by. Open Sundays, 10am – 3pm from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
  • The town of Klickitat is located at the base of Klickitat Canyon. Spilling from its mouth at the base of Mount Adams, the Klickitat River flows into the canyon offering many outdoor opportunities along the way. (It’s the state’s longest wild river!) Fishing, rafting, hiking and much more can easily fill a sunny weekend. This is also apparently the place to be for turkey hunting. Chalk that up in the ‘you learn something new every day’ category for me. I was unaware Washington had a turkey population much less one large enough for hunting. The more you know!
  • If you’d rather draw pictures of turkeys than hunt them, consider instead hitting up the Klickitat Trail for a bit of hiking. This 31-mile trail follows an old railroad grade through the canyon and serves up much beauty and adventure. Bikes and horses welcome.
Hand Turkey
I spent a lot of time on this. You’re welcome. (Yes, Dad, that is a real googly eye.)

Further west of Lyle, heading towards Bingen, make sure to take a stop at the Chamberlain Lake Rest Area. (Even if you don’t need to rest. I mean, if you have a chance to rest, it’s probably a good idea. As my mom always said, you never know when your next chance might be…) This little spot is a great place to take a quick break and a short stroll around the area. Have a snack! The views are spectacular and it’s just off the road…  

There is much environmental variety to be found in Klickitat County. The bulk of my journey thus far has focused on the drier, Columbia River Gorge portion of the county. Beautiful grasslands, rolling hills and the Columbia River dominate the scene, but not far away exists a temperate rainforest. Heading north from Bingen and past White Salmon will take you into this amazing area. (Don’t worry – we’ll visit White Salmon and Bingen on the way home!)

From SR-14 in Bingen, I headed north on SR-141 towards White Salmon. The road immediately began climbing and the trees and greenery began to expand their reach. Mount Hood was towering behind me on the Oregon side and Mount Adams, straight ahead to the north. This was the first time I’d traveled this road, but I knew in my soul it was taking me somewhere spectacular. I was not proven wrong…

Ponderosa Pines
My favorite – the magnificent Ponderosa pine!

As I traveled further north on SR-141, I came to the tiny town known as the ‘gateway to Mount Adams,’ Trout Lake. (Not an actual lake, but there is a namesakelake nearby.) Since the arid Columbia River Gorge is a mere 30-minute drive from the cooler, greener mountain vibe of Trout Lake, the transition is quite something to experience. Even if the outdoor life isn’t your thing, it’s well worth just making a drive around the area to take in the beautiful scenery and environment.

Backroads tip: It is also possible to reach the Trout Lake area from Goldendale and SR-142 to the Glenwood and Trout Lake Highways OR the Glenwood Highway to BZ-Glenwood Highway. So many excellent backroads options!

In addition to stellar hiking, camping, fishing, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, climbing and rafting, the Gifford-Pinchot National Forest – Mount Adams area is also renowned for its scrumptious huckleberry season. The season goes from mid-August to mid-September and is a delicious way to experience the mountain scene.

Huckleberry hot tips: You will need a permit for picking in the Gifford-Pinchot National Forest. You can get a printable Free-Use Permit online if picking under one gallon/up to three gallons a year. If you’re wanting to pick to use for products such as jam, ice cream, etc. you’ll need a Charge Use Permit, available at your local Ranger District or Monument Headquarters

Should you not fancy cooking over a camp stove or camping under the stars, there are several lodging and dining options in Trout Lake. It is popular to use this area as a sort of basecamp for area adventures. Some great places to check out on your next visit:

  • Along with tasty food, the historic Trout Lake Country Inn also offers yoga classes in their dance hall and live music. Open Friday – Sunday, 5pm – 8:30pm.
  • The Station Café & Espresso at Andy’s Valley Service (and Chevron Station) features delicious huckleberry shakes and pies along with coffee, burgers and more! (And you can get gas and have your car serviced!)
  • On my recent visit, there were two old guys hanging out on the porch, discussing the day’s events. A little girl was playing on the steps… Take a step back to quieter times at the historic Trout Lake Grocery and stock up on adventure goods. If huckleberries are in season, check out the fresh berries, jams and more! (Open daily, 7:30am – 7pm.)
  • For pub fare in a classic, mountain setting, stop in at The Logs Inn and enjoy the scene. Located directly off of SR-141 and in the area since the 1930s, they have recently renovated and reopened in August 2020. They also have four cabins for rent. Open Wednesday – Friday, 3pm – 11pm and Saturday/Sunday, 11:30am – 11pm. (8pm on Sunday)
  • The very inviting, family-operated Trout Lake Valley Inn offers modern comfort in a beautiful, rustic setting. Be sure to check out the hot tub as well as the free bicycle and charcoal BBQ loaners! Pet friendly.
  • It’s right there in the name – cozy! The charming, family-operated Trout Lake Cozy Cabins feature modern amenities including Wi-Fi, TVs and outdoor BBQ grills. Roughing it, while not roughing it! Pet friendly.
  • If you’re looking for something truly unique for your Trout Lake stay, head to the Cave Creek Farm. This small herb farm also has cool “glamping” options as well as a farmhouse for rent.
  • For a more modern take on the mountain cabin, check out Getaway Mount Adams. Part of a larger, very cool “getaway” concept, these cabins have everything you need to get away from the city and into the outdoors; while still living in comfort.
Mt Adams
The stunning Mount Adams as seen from the Trout Lake area

One of the most uniquely beautiful and peaceful spots I’ve ever visited in Washington or beyond is located in the Trout Lake area. Resulting from the friendship between a Zen Buddhist monk and a Druid priest, the Trout Lake Abbey is like nothing I’ve ever encountered. The day I visited, I was the only one walking around the grounds and it was one of the most peaceful experiences I’ve had in my life. Granted, COVID likely had something to do with the lack of visitors, but I can’t deny the absolute bliss I enjoyed that afternoon.

Set on a large farm near the base of Mount Adams, the abbey features a Zen Buddhist temple and meditation garden, a Druid sanctuary, organic farm, lavender labyrinth and lodging. (Five private B&B style rooms and a hostel.) They host several retreats throughout the year including yoga, qigong, Chinese medicine, music and dance. Due to COVID, they are currently closed for overnight stays, but will hopefully be resuming lodging soon.

Whatever your ideology, go to this place. Walk around the grounds. Marvel in the peaceful feeling and sense that whoever you are, you are welcome. In these challenging times, it did my heart much good to feel such genuine goodwill – and in such a spectacular setting. I can’t wait for my next visit to the Abbey and hope I’ll be able to stay for longer than an afternoon.

The Gifford Pinchot National Forest is quite large and spans Skamania, Lewis, Yakima, Cowlitz and Klickitat counties. With such a large swath of forest as well as Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens located within its borders, the outdoor endeavors are near limitless. Camping and hiking are two of the most popular activities to add to any adventure and there are so many excellent options when visiting the Trout Lake area. A few ideas for you:

  • Part of a 2000-foot lava cave, the Guler Ice Caves feature a 650 ft long cavern for exploration. Leading down into total darkness, a 20-foot staircase leads you to a treasure trove of icy stalactites and stalagmites. Don’t forget your flashlight and jacket! Check out the Peterson Prairie Campground (summer to September 15th) if you’re interested in camping in the area. (Also great access to huckleberry picking!)
  • If you’re into lovely waterfalls, head to the trailhead for Langfield Falls. Enjoy the 60-foot falls and easy-going hike to get there. The trailhead is located about 25 miles northwest of Trout Lake.
  • If you’re looking for a spot for a nice, lakeside picnic, take the hike to lovely Lemei Lake, west of Trout Lake. (Five miles round-trip from the Cultus Creek Campground)
  • As a former fire lookout location, it makes sense that Sleeping Beauty Peak would offer stunning views and vistas. There is a small bit of elevation gain involved (1400 ft.), but the entire hike is only 2.6 miles round-trip. Not too bad for such amazing scenery! The nearby Trout Lake Creek Campground is a great campsite near the hike. (Trailers and RVs not recommended)
  • More great campsites in the area are the Goose Lake Campground (mid-June thru mid-September – RVs not recommended) and the Oklahoma Campground. (mid-May thru mid-September)

If you’re not afraid of a little snow (or a lot!), the cross-country skiing, snowmobiling and snow-shoeing trails in Gifford-Pinchot are quite impressive and abundant. Beautiful Douglas fir trees covered in snow and the quiet padding of snowshoes are two of my very favorite things. I highly recommend taking a trek into the Gifford-Pinchot forests during the winter season. (A Washington State Sno-Park Permit is required for sno-parks. Get the non-motorized permit for ski and snowshoe and the motorized for snowmobiling. The nearby Mt. Adams Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center in White Salmon sells non-motorized sno-park permits.)

If you love snowy adventures as much as I do, check out these spots in the Gifford-Pinchot area:

  • The Pineside Sno-Park is located north of Trout Lake and features 20-miles of groomed ski and snowshoe trails. (No snowmobiles allowed on the groomed trails.)
  • The SnowKing Sno-Park can be found a couple of miles beyond the Pineside Sno-Park. It offers both non-motorized and motorized access and features 20-miles of groomed cross-country trails and quite a bit of backcountry ski and snowmobile possibilities. (No groomed snowmobile trails.)
  • Found west of Trout Lake, the Atkisson Sno-Park is big with snowmobilers and offers 154-miles of marked snowmobile trails. There is also a large area of cross-country ski and snowshoe trails. (Marked, not groomed) The area is close to the Guler Ice Caves and Natural Bridges area and has a nice warming hut with wood stove.
  • If you didn’t bring your own gear, Doug’s Hood River and Pure Stoke Sports are great places to gear up. Offering both summer and winter rentals, they are located across the Columbia in lovely Hood River.

If you’d like to fine tune your snow skills, Mount Adams boasts an excellent climbing scene. It is the second highest peak in Washington (12,276 ft) behind Mount Rainier (14, 410 ft) and presents some excellent alpine climbing opportunities. While less technical than Rainier, it still requires an ice axe, crampons and a decent knowledge of mountaineering. If you are not an experienced climber, hire a guide or guide service. (Alpine Ascents or American Alpine Institute are great options) As the weather can change swiftly and dramatically, the Ten Essentials are incredibly important. Always be prepared.

If you’re just starting out in your alpine climbing career, the South Climb route is the “easiest.” It takes off from the South Climb Trailhead (also known as Cold Springs Camp) and can be achieved in a long day if prepared and in shape. That said, camping along the route is generally recommended. (Climbing permits for travel above elevation of 7000 ft. are required from May 1st to September 30th and can be purchased online. Late spring into early October is the typical climbing season.)

Snowshoeing
Snowshoeing is fun!

After cruising around the Trout Lake and Mount Adams area, it was time to head back towards White Salmon. I’d arranged to stay in town for the evening and was looking forward to investigating the downtown area and restaurant scene. A quick drive south on SR-141 brought me into town where I found parking directly in front of the Inn of the White Salmon, the hotel where I was staying. Score!

Once I’d checked in and briefly relaxed in my very comfortable and modern room, it was time to find some dinner. The inn was conveniently located on W. Jewett Boulevard, the main route through town and hot spot for restaurants, shops and more. Just a short walk down this very quaint road landed me directly in the center of town. The evening was coming on, but it was still warm and bright and the sky was just beginning to turn pink and orange with the sunset. Double score!

As White Salmon is a major hub of outdoor pursuits, the vibe around town is very casual and mountain-friendly. Don’t let that low-key vibe fool you, however, as there is a vibrant and delicious restaurant scene to be savored. From casual to fine dining, there are many excellent options, making it the perfect area to complete a day of mountain adventuring. Check out these tasty spots the next time you’re in town:

  • I had one of the best meals in a long time at the delicious Pixan Taqueria & Cantina. To say it was fantastic would be an understatement. I began with a tasty craft margarita paired with hand-cut chips served with house-made cheese, nasturtium leaves, honeycomb, cactus and house-made salsas and sauces. Just that was enough, but I wisely followed it up with a selection of tacos and additional chips, salsa and beer. It’s a good thing my hotel was a block away as I was moving pretty slowly… (Open Monday/Tuesday from 4-9pm, Friday from 4-10pm, Saturday from noon – 10pm and Sunday, noon – 9pm. Closed Wednesday/Thursday.)
  • Sporting an excellent ski theme, Le Doubblé Troubblé Wine Co. is a cool little tasting room in the heart of downtown. Monday and Thursday, Noon – 8pm, Friday – Sunday, Noon – 8pm. (Closed Tuesday/Wednesday)
  • In the mood for fried pickles and beer cheese soup? I know I always am! Everybody’s Brewing in the downtown area is a fun brewery and pub serving tasty beer and great food. Open Sunday/Monday, 11:30am – 9:30pm, Tuesday, 3:30pm – 9:30pm and 10pm on Friday/Saturday. (Closed Wednesday)
  • Serving freshly made bread and pastries along with breakfast and lunch sandwiches, the White Salmon Baking Co. can be found just off Jewett Boulevard. (Open Monday, 5pm – 8pm for pizza night, Wed – Sun, 8am – 3pm. Closed Tuesday.)
  • Henni’s Kitchen & Bar covers the refined dinner and cocktail scene in downtown White Salmon. Using locally-sourced ingredients, their menu pairs very well with a glass or two of local vino. (Open Thursday – Sunday, 5pm – 9pm)
  • Just next door to Henni’s, their sister restaurant Pizza Leona serves up delicious full pies and slices along with refreshing soft-serve ice cream. (Open daily, 4pm – 9pm)
  • The very hip Feast Market & Delicatessen is located in the center of down town and features prepared lunch and dinner options along with fresh meat and seafood, dairy and specialty items. (Open Tuesday – Saturday, 11am – 8pm)
  • Locally-sourced ingredients make up the very tasty menu at the North Shore Café, located in the center of downtown. Serving breakfast, lunch, coffee, tea and more! (Open Friday – Wednesday, 8am – 2pm. Closed Thursdays.)
  • Located off SR-141, heading north towards Trout Lake, the Ruby June Inn & Icehouse Bar offers lodging along with a seasonal Chef’s Collective Dinner Series. Getting a ticket to one of these dinners is high on my bucket list for future visits to the White Salmon area.

In addition to the mighty Columbia, there are several other amazing rivers and creeks flowing through Klickitat County. There is also a lot of crazy wind to add to the adventure. Kayaking, rafting, windsurfing and simply relaxing on the water are just some of the ways to enjoy all the wet stuff. In addition to all the opportunity on the Columbia, there is quite a bit of action happening off of SR-141 in the White Salmon and Trout Lake areas. Considerations for your next water-loving adventure:

  • If whitewater isn’t your thing, keep it mellow with some hiking along the tree-lined creeks of the Jewett Creek Watershed Recreation Area. In addition to hiking, they also feature a BMX bike park and mountain biking trails.
  • The beautiful White Salmon River flows into the Columbia at this point. If you’re a little brave and maybe a little crazy, consider rafting over Husum Falls near BZ Corner. Husum Falls is the tallest commercially rafted waterfall route in the country. Should this sound like the trip for you, hit up local guide services Zoller’s Outdoor Odysseys or Wet Planet Rafting & Kayaking for their excellent guided river trips. (Absolutely on my bucket list for future visits! Maybe not those falls, though…)
  • In need of gear for your crazy, water-filled adventure? Stop in at Immersion Research in White Salmon for some outfitting assistance. (Open daily, 9am – 5pm)
  • Perhaps you’d like to sail over the water rather than through it. Should this be the case, head to Pacific Boardsports / Naish USA for all your windsurfing needs. (Open Monday – Friday, 9am – 5pm)

After I begrudgingly wrapped up my visit to White Salmon, it was time to head home. And back to ye ol’ day job… (I’ll be back soon, White Salmon. I’ll be back!) But since I wasn’t fully committed to making it back in time for my afternoon meeting, I thought I’d check out nearby Bingen and maybe grab a little coffee and breakfast on the way home. A girl’s gotta eat, after all! It was also a gorgeous, sunny morning and I knew from my phone’s weather app it was raining at home… Let’s go get some coffee!

Located on SR-14 and along the Columbia, Bingen holds the keys to much enjoyment and adventure. Beautiful forests are just to the north and one of the country’s most prolific rivers, directly adjacent. It is also very close to the Hood River Bridge and provides easy access to the town of Hood River and Oregon at large. Bingen is a great center of activity and there are many pastimes to pursue while visiting the area; water sports, wine-tasting and sightseeing to name a few.

The Columbia Gorge is a natural wind tunnel and epicenter of windsurfing and all things wind-sporty. If you’d like to try your hand at mastering the winds, these establishments can help you on your way:

  • Just across the bridge in Hood River, both Cascade Kiteboarding (daily 9-5) and Big Winds (daily 10-5) offer rentals, gear for purchase and various wind-worshipping lessons. Kiteboarding, windsurfing, and wing-foiling are a few of their daredevil options.
  • Perhaps you have your own boat or maybe a couple of jet skis, in which case, can I join you on your next trip? We’ll hit up Bingen Harbor and put in at the Bingen Marina. An afternoon of cruising around the Columbia, busting out some waterskiing and windsurfing? (The windsurfing is on you. I’m sticking with water skis.) This is a doable and excellent plan, right??
Mt Hood
Heading out of White Salmon and towards the windy Columbia and Mt. Hood

Unfortunately, I didn’t get much opportunity to investigate the Bingen restaurant scene on my recent visit. (Or go waterskiing!) I will, however, be back very soon and have a few establishments front-loaded on my list:

  • Who doesn’t love a good cup of Joe and a hand pie for breakfast? (or any meal, really) Located in the downtown area, directly on SR-14, Mugs Coffee, serves tasty beverages, pastries, sandwiches and more in a cozy atmosphere. I particularly enjoyed the sausage and egg hand pie. Mmmm!! (Open Monday – Thursday, 6:30am – 4pm, Friday to 3pm and Saturday from 7am – 2pm. Closed Sunday.)
  • Featuring gluten-free baked goods, including hand pies, cakes and pizza crusts, the Columbia Gorge Bakery is very popular throughout the area. They also offer frozen and take-n-bake options. (Open daily at 8am, Sunday at 10am.)
  • If you’re in the mood for Italian, Beneventi’s, located in the heart of downtown is the place to be. Serving pizza, sandwiches, pasta, calzones and more, they are open Monday thru Saturday from 10:30am – 8pm. (Closed Sunday.)
  • Located directly on SR-14 in the downtown area, the appropriately named EAT 14 can help you with that teriyaki and sushi craving. They also have burgers and fries! Open daily, 10:30am – 9pm. (Closed Sunday.)
  • Looking for pub food and BBQ in an old-school tavern scene? Head to Chips Bar & Grill on SR-14 in the downtown area for a drink and tasty food. (Currently undergoing new management and staffing – they hope to reopen soon.)
  • Operating in the area since 1867, the Dickey Farms Produce Market features all things local and fresh. (Including beer and ice cream!) They’re open Monday – Friday, 6am – 7pm (Saturday at 7am, Sunday at 10am)

In addition to river activities, Bingen has many options that don’t require a life vest. If you’re not looking to spend the day on your boat, consider these options: (Also, can I borrow your boat?)

  • Learn all about the greater Bingen area at the Gorge Heritage Museum, located in downtown Bingen. They are open from June 4th – August 31st on Fridays and Saturdays from noon to 4pm.
  • Located in the center of downtown, directly on SR-14, Antiques & Oddities is chock full of odds and ends from days gone by. I was in the area fairly early on my last visit and they weren’t open yet, but I’ll be back! Open daily from 10am – 4pm.
  • A performing arts center featuring live performances and theatre events, the Bingen Theater in downtown is a mainstay of local entertainment. They weren’t operating during COVID, but keep an eye on their website for upcoming events.
  • The Society Hotel looks very cool and I plan to stay there sometime soon. A converted schoolhouse featuring lodging in rooms, bunks and cabins, they also have a spa and bathhouse along with a cozy café and bar. (They also have a pretty cool looking location in downtown Portland.)
  • If you’re looking for local history and charm, check out the historic Joslyn House B&B in downtown Bingen. The oldest house in the Columbia Gorge, (c. 1860) the Joslyn House features multiple rooms with en suite bathrooms.
  • Bonus trip: The historic Columbia Gorge Hotel, located just across the bridge in Hood River is an absolutely beautiful hotel and spa – and it’s haunted! (So they say, but I didn’t see any ghostly visages during my Halloween stay.) Delicious dining, well-appointed rooms, beautiful grounds and a spectacular view of the Gorge – you can’t go wrong!

Since that afternoon meeting of mine was still looming in the distance, it was time to make my way back to the Seattle area. Goodbye enduring sunshine, gorgeous gorge views and towering mountains. Granted, I enjoy most of those things in greater Seattle (minus that whole enduring sunshine bit), but there’s just something so magical and unique about the way Klickitat County does it.

Since I was pressed for time and didn’t want to chance getting stuck in Portland area traffic, I decided to head back towards Goldendale on SR-14 and back out to US-97. Heading west on I-90 towards Seattle just felt like a better option overI-5 on a busy weekday morning. I ended up being very glad of that choice, even considering the never-ending construction on I-90.  

If you have a little more time on your hands, there are a few more ways to return to western Washington (should that be your destination) and some nice side-trips to enjoy along the way:

  • From Bingen and SR-14 take the Hood River Bridge (toll bridge) to I-84 West to Hood River and Portland. Get onI-5 in Portland and head back to the Seattle area. (Toll note: If you aren’t signed up with the BreezeBy toll-pay system, you can pay cash – or online within 7 days if you don’t have cash.)
  • From Bingen, head towards Skamania County on SR-14 and then I-205 towards Five Corners. (a suburb of Vancouver) Take I-5 towards Seattle and beyond. (Bonus trip: Located along SR-14, Beacon Rock State Park is a wonderful area to explore. Overlooking the Columbia River Gorge, this extinct volcano and surrounding area features great hiking, camping, boating and more. The switchback-filled hike to the top of Beacon Rock is an absolute must. (848-ft) Lewis and Clark camped here on their journey – both ways! (I will be covering this area further in my upcoming Skamania County article.)
  • Another great bonus trip while in the Skamania County area takes you to Oregon via I-84 and the Bridge of the Gods toll bridge. Once in Oregon, head for glorious Multnomah Falls and enjoy one of the Northwest’s most photographed and recognizable falls. To get back to the Seattle area from Multnomah Falls, go west on I-84 to I-205 or I-5 in Portland.
STOP
STOP. Stop and look at Mt. Hood before you go.

Well, I guess that wraps up my journey to Klickitat County. This version, anyway… There is so much to see and do in the area and so many opportunities for adventure packed into this relatively small county. I’ve visited several times in the past and I will definitely return many more times in the future. I can’t quit you, Klickitat County! I hope you will join me in appreciating this amazing part of Washington on one of your next adventures.

Until next time – happy trails!

California Poppy
Beautiful California Poppy on the Temani Pesh-wa Petroglyph Trail at Horsethief Butte

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Enjoy the scenery with my Klickitat County SPOTIFY PLAYLIST!

  • Feels Like Lightning – Josh Ritter (from Gathering)
  • Moon in the Water – Dawes (from Nothing is Wrong)
  • A Horse with No Name – America (from America)
  • Miles Away – Josh Ritter (from See Here, I have Built You A Mansion)
  • Wide Open Spaces – The Chicks (from Wide Open Spaces)
  • Only Prettier – Miranda Lambert (from Revolution)
  • Getting Ready to Get Down – Josh Ritter (from Sermon on the Rocks)
  • Newton’s Cradle – Sean Rowe (from New Lore)
  • Lonely Alone – Sheryl Crow, Willie Nelson (from Threads)
  • Ticks – Brad Paisley (from 5th Gear)
  • Sin Wagon – The Chicks (from Fly)
  • Lonesome Town – Ricky Nelson (from Ricky Sings Again)
  • Life Is Beautiful – Keb’ Mo’ (from Just Like You/Suitcase)
  • Horse’s Mouth – Edie Brickell & New Bohemians (from Hunter and the Dog Star)
  • Beautiful World – Colin Hay (from Going Somewhere)
  • Dear Someone – Gillian Welch (from Time (The Revelator))
  • I Only Want to Be with You – Shelby Lynne (from Just A Little Lovin’)
  • World Spins Madly On – The Weepies, Deb Talan, Steven Tannen (from Say I Am You)
  • Wildflowers (Home Recording) – Tom Petty (from Wildflowers & All the Rest)
  • Travelers Paradise – The Cactus Blossoms (from You’re Dreaming)
  • Back in Your Own Backyard – William Galison & Madeline Peyroux (from Got You on My Mind)
  • The Life You Choose – Jason Isbell (from Something More Than Free)
  • Got a Lotta Love – The Cactus Blossoms (from Easy Way)
  • Bluebird – Jamestown Revival (from A Field Guide to Loneliness)
  • No Hard Feelings – The Avett Brothers (from True Sadness)
  • Mr. Policeman – Brad Paisley (from 5th Gear)
  • Baby Snakes  – Frank Zappa (from Sheik Yerbouti)
Free Range
Full-on free range!

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Check out more I Ate the State Adventures:

I Ate the State: Whatcom County

Greetings!

Whatcom County corners the market on gateways. Not only does it provide stunning, waterway access to the Puget Sound, it grants passage to some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in North America. Throw in the actual Peace Arch gateway to Canada and you’ve got the triple crown of sightseeing. This, in addition to an interior filled with vibrant history, city life and beautiful countryside makes it an excellent place to visit any time of year.

There are many ways to arrive in Whatcom County. The main thoroughfare of Interstate-5 is typically a fairly efficient route, but don’t discount the many smaller highways and scenic byways which lead to and around the county. This applies to travel into Canada as well. The Peace Arch entrance, located on the 49th Parallel (north), off of I-5 is a great place to cross the border, but don’t forget about the smaller Sumas and Lynden crossing points. (Interesting fact: While there are only a few official points of entry between Canada and Washington State, Whatcom County shares its entire northern border with Canada.)

Peach Arch Park
One of the Whatcom County gateways between the US and Canada – Peach Arch Park in Blaine

I’ll be covering many of the highways and byways of Whatcom County throughout the article, but let’s first focus on the northernmost part of the county; the tiny, but nationally important town of Blaine.

Set directly on the US/Canada border, it’s fairly safe to say that most Washingtonians are familiar with Blaine for this very reason. Relatedly, I must sadly admit to never having spent much time in the area. If I’ve found myself in Blaine, it’s because I’m lingering in the long line of cars waiting to cross into Canada. (I-5 becomes BC Highway 99 in Canada.) Aside from participating in last year’s Ragnar – NW Passage race, which starts at the Peace Arch Historical Park, I haven’t stopped in to visit Blaine proper. I hereby swear to include Blaine in my future visits to the northern wilds of Washington and Canada.

Downtown Blaine is a lovely destination and a great place for strolling along a historic waterfront area. Quaint shops, tasty restaurant fare and great views of historic Drayton Harbor can easily fill an afternoon. Should you be visiting during the first weekend of August, check out the Drayton Harbor Maritime Festival & Tall Ships for music, food and all things seafaring.

If you’d like to extend your stay in the area, hop aboard the historic Plover Passenger Ferry, operating out of scenic Blaine Harbor Marina during the summer months. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the oldest foot passenger ferry in the state, the Plover can accommodate 20 passengers (including bikes and dogs) on its 25-minute crossing to Semiahmoo Spit. (Named for the Semiahmoo First Nation, the original inhabitants of the area.) It departs on the hour from the Blaine Visitor’s Dock at Blaine Harbor (Gate 2) and on the half-hour from the Plover Dock at the Semiahmoo Resort. Check out the world-class resort for its golf course, spa services and great dining at the Great Blue Heron Grill and Packers Kitchen & Bar. When in the area, be sure to also visit Semiahmoo Park for beautiful views of Semiahmoo Bay and great beach strolls. (Note: Semiahmoo Resort is accessible by boat, car or seaplane)

PeachArchPark
Looking out to Semiahmoo Bay from the Peace Arch Historical Park

Back on mainland Blaine, there are several interesting dining and shopping options to explore. Antiques, boutiques and more can be found in the waterfront area and nearby Blaine Marine Park offers great water views with nice areas for picnicking and beach-combing.

A few of the cool spots to check out while visiting downtown Blaine:

  • Check out the Drayton Harbor Oyster Company for incredibly fresh oysters, to stay or take out. Additionally, they have oyster stew, local beer and wine and a great view of the water. (Closed Tuesdays – check website for hours)
  • For homey breakfast and lunch fare, stop in at downtown Peace Arch City Café & Bar for a relaxing respite from your exploring. (Tues-Sun, 7:30am – 3pm)
  • Take in the extensive wine list at The Vault Wine Bar in downtown Blaine. Along with being an events space, they also feature a great restaurant. (Wed-Sun, 3pm – 9pm & 10pm on Fri/Sat)
  • Located in downtown Blaine, Café Rawganique is a tasty vegan café and bakery with a lifestyle store on the side. Grab an organic vegan sandwich and a cool pair hemp jeans – all in one spot!
  • NW favorite, Woods Coffee can be found in several locations around Whatcom County. The spot I recently visited while refueling for Ragnar was located at Birch Bay Square. I didn’t realize just how much I needed an Americano that morning…
  • Located on a farm just outside of Blaine, Atwood Ales brews French and Belgian style saison and farmhouse ales. They grow their own hops and fruit on their farm and produce some very tasty beverages. While they aren’t open to the public, they do occasionally have events such as chef’s nights and tours. Check out their website for upcoming events. Locally, they can be found on Saturdays at the nearby Bellingham Farmers Market.

Just south of Blaine, off of SR-548 lies the little beach town of Birch Bay. It can be somewhat sleepy during the off-season, but that also makes for some pretty peaceful beach strolling. I’ve visited both during the summer and off-season and have always had a lovely time. Birch Bay is a great location all on its own, but as it’s fairly close to Bellingham, it’s also a great jumping-off point for Whatcom County adventures.

Birch Bay
Great memories from a family vacation a few years back!

If you’re looking for lodging in the Birch Bay area, I’d recommend finding something close to Beachcomber Way. It’s the main road along the beach and is at the heart of coastal activities. (Including the Ragnar course!) A few options for your stay:

  • The area has several vacation club condos and on a recent stay with my brother and company, we hit up World Mark Birch Bay. It was located on Beachcomber Way and was incredibly convenient for maximum beach visitation. In addition, there are quite a few great Airbnb’s in the area as well as lodging in nearby towns such as Bellingham and Blaine.
  • Should you prefer the comfort of camper or tent, check out beautiful Birch Bay State Park on the bluff overlooking the beach. It’s a very large park with camping, boating, beach access, clamming, crabbing and more. On my last visit I saw several groups clamming and it looked like they were bringing in quite the haul. And don’t miss taking a stroll along the beach areas of the park – beautiful!
  • If you’re in the area during the first weekend of August, head to the Birch Bay Music Festival for music, food, craft vendors and beer/wine gardens. (7/31 – 8/2, 2020)
  • Head to the yearly Birch Bay Discovery Days for music, family events, food vendors and something called EXTREME CHAINSAW! Bring your biggest chainsaws. (8/29-30, 2019)
  • Traveling with kids? Hit up the Birch Bay Waterslides for summer fun in the sun. Waterslides, pools, concessions and more. (Open summers – Early June thru Labor Day)

There are several places to eat and shop along Beachcomber Way. The area is particularly alive during the warmer months, but several places are open year-round. Next time you’re in Birch Bay, consider these spots:

  • While only open during the summer, The C Shop makes the most of the warm weather. Offering delicious homemade candy and treats, along with pizza, sandwiches on house-baked bread, coffee drinks and ice cream, they’ve got everything you need for a sunny day. Their Turkish Delight is particularly delicious!
  • Located directly next door to The C Shop, The Beach Shack is tiny, but packs a punch with a quirky assortment of gifts, souvenirs, antiques and more.
  • Stop in at The Boardwalk Restaurant for breakfast specialties, fish-n-chips, burgers and outdoor seating with a view at this popular Birch Bay spot. (Check website for hours)
  • Found just across the street from The C Shop, the kitschy Birch Bay Café serves breakfast and lunch as well as baked goods and coffee. In addition to their menu, they have a gift shop and also rent bikes, kayaks and paddle boards. (Closed Mondays – check website for hours)
  • For waterside dining with outdoor seating and a great view, check out the newly reopened and remodeled Bay Breeze. Seafood, burgers and more! (They were forced to close in December after a strong storm brought waves crashing through their windows!)

A little further south off of I-5, we come to the small town of Ferndale. There are many lovely things going on in the Ferndale area, but I immediately think of two things: The crazy beagle I live with, Finley from Ferndale, and running my first leg of the Ragnar race. Since neither of these items are likely on your list, let’s explore a few of the other cool things about Ferndale. (But come on – who couldn’t love such a deviously smart beagle like Finley?? A deviously smart beagle who began her life on a small farm in Ferndale…)

In addition to goofy beagles and running out of breath during Ragnar, Ferndale offers many excellent adventures and distractions. Just a few of the cool things you can check out while in the area:

  • I had such a fun time hanging out at Pioneer Park, managed by the Ferndale Heritage Society. It’s a unique, educational and entertaining way to spend an afternoon. During my visit, I had the pleasure of learning more about the area from the very charming tour guides, James and Julie. Dressed in period garb, they gave me a very detailed description of the various structures as well as a great insight into local Ferndale history. (Check out the tiny museum upstairs in the Parker House/General Store.) Make time to visit the well-maintained and restored village and enjoy your step back in time. I’ve been told their annual Olde Fashioned Christmas – Christmas in the Woods (Dec 6-8) is a great bit of winter fun and I’m looking forward to checking it out!

  • Just south of downtown Ferndale lies the spacious Hovander Homestead Park. Packed into 350 beautiful acres are the historic Hovander House (Tours available), the Hovander River trail (1.9 miles), a boat launch, a FRAGRANCE GARDEN and barn and farmyard displays. Pack a picnic and plan on spending a glorious day exploring the area. Don’t forget to include a visit to adjacent Tennant Lake Park for excellent bird-watching and a lovely boardwalk trail.
  • Don’t miss the annual Bellingham Scottish Gathering, put on by the Scottish Dance Society at the beginning of June. It takes place at Hovander Homestead Park and is a great day of Scottish games, piping, haggis and more. Och aye!
  • The annual Ferndale Street Festival hosts a great weekend of downtown fun. Live music, food and craft vendors, a car show and a PIE EATING CONTEST are just a few of the features. (Aug 23-24, 2019)
  • Stock up on local produce and artisan wares every Friday afternoon at the Ferndale Farmers Market in downtown Ferndale. (Fridays – 2-6pm, June 14th – Oct 11th)

More gratuitous shots of Finley…

Adventures and distractions can make one hungry. To fuel up after your Ferndale explorations, check out these great eateries:

  • I am always on the hunt for a good tamale. New Mexico Tamale Company in downtown Ferndale definitely fills the bill with their tasty selections. Be sure to try the traditional pork tamales made with Hatch chile! (Closed Sundays and Mondays)
  • Check out the great wine selection and tasty made-from-scratch Italian fare at Leader Block Wine Co. & Eatery on Main Street. They also feature great cocktails, regular live music and special event dinners.
  • While not necessarily common these days, I maintain it IS possible to make an entire meal of cheese. And maybe a good bottle of wine… If you concur, head to Twin Sisters Creamery and indulge in their delicious cheese selection. They also host tastings, tours and events. Check out their October Cheese & Brews for a tasty sampling of their cheese along with local beer. (Oct 30th)
  • If you can’t get enough delicious cheese, stop by Appel Farms and do a tasting in their cheese shop – or try a grilled cheese sandwich at their café. Come on – a creamery-to-table grilled cheese sandwich? It doesn’t get much better than that. (Tues-Sat, 11am – 6pm)
  • Check out Ferndale’s first commercial brewery, the newly minted FrinGe Brewing. They feature regular food trucks at their taphouse and are family and dog friendly. (Closed Mondays)

Heading further south from Ferndale (Exit 260 – Slater Road, off I-5), will bring you to the lands of the Lummi Nation and nearby Lummi Island. On my way to check out Lummi Island, I noted the Silver Reef Casino Resort, directly off of Slater Road. Not only that, I discovered there was a Skippers restaurant located inside the Lummi Bay Market in the same parking lot as the casino. Who am I to ignore both a casino and a Skippers? While I wouldn’t consider Skipper’s to be fine seafood dining, it does remind me of Tuesday nights in the ol’ Tri-Cities and “all-you-can-eat” at the local Skippers. Nostalgia… And come on – you get Jell-O AND coleslaw with your fish basket. Score! But should you not be up for a quick Skippers stop, check out The Steak House in the casino for a more leisurely affair.

Just across the water from the Lummi mainland sits lovely Lummi Island. Take a quick, 20-minute ride on the Lummi Island Ferry and enjoy the solitude of this most peaceful and relaxing locale. (The passenger/Car ferry – leaves every 20 minutes from Gooseberry Point.) This tiny community features a thriving Arts scene, beautiful shorelines and a whole lot of blissful quiet.

There are quite a few Airbnb opportunities on the island, but The Willows Inn is a great place to check out for more traditional lodging. They also feature upscale dining, spa services and additional off-site lodging opportunities. Just across the way from the inn is beautiful Sunset Beach. Overlooking Rosario Strait and nearby islands, it provides an enjoyable and serene way to while away the hours.

As Lummi Island is relatively small, there aren’t a lot of dining options available. That said, the Beach Store Café offers lunch and dinner along with regular live music, a great happy hour and various events. (Their hours and days open vary with the season, so be sure to check their website for details.) If you’re more in need of wine tasting, hit up the Artisan Wine Gallery for a sample of their wares. (Fridays and Saturdays)

Also happening on Saturdays – and a great way to pick up local specialties – is the Lummi Saturday Market. (Marketplace Field 10am – 1pm) Stock up for a picnic and hike up Lummi Mountain via the Baker Preserve Trail to take in the beautiful views of the neighboring San Juan Islands. And if you’re like me and love peonies, don’t pass up a stop at Full Bloom Farm to enjoy their many varieties as well as seasonal organic produce. They can also be found at their Farm stand which is open year ‘round. (You can even stay on the farm!)

Lummi Beach
Beautiful shore finds of Lummi

Nestled against Bellingham Bay and the Salish Sea, the eclectic city of Bellingham is at the core of Whatcom County commerce and culture. Serving as both the county seat and largest city in Whatcom County, Bellingham is a busy and vibrant hub of activity. (Also the largest, northernmost city in the contiguous US.) Often included on many “best of” lists such as places to visit, live and retire, Bellingham is brimming with things to do and areas to explore. EatLocalFirst is a great resource for things to do, sample and experience in the area and features events such as the Whatcom County Farm Tour (9/7 – 9/8), Culinary Adventures and the Fall Fruit Festival (10/5 – 10/6) to help show off the area’s bounty.

In complement to being nestled between beautiful coastal and mountainous regions, Bellingham prides itself on environmental stewardship and a large variety of outdoor pursuits. Filled with parks, trails and all things lush and green, the area is a nature lover’s fantasy land. A few of the beautiful outdoor areas to visit in and around Bellingham:

  • Visible from I-5 while driving south of Bellingham, Lake Samish is surrounded by tree-filled hillsides, with a community of homes dotting its shores. (Hillary Swank grew up in the area and Ryan Stiles presently lives on the lake.) Adjacent Samish Park has a nice day lodge for events, small public docks and a couple of nice trails alongside and above the lake. I took the Lakeshore Loop Trail and very much enjoyed the lakeside view, including the beautiful lily pads and cute picnic areas tucked into the trees. I’d always wondered about the big lake you could see from I-5… Now I know!

  • Iconic Whatcom Falls Park is a great place to enjoy deep, forested valley scenery, all within a few minutes of the downtown area. Don’t miss a photo-op next to the historic bridge and be sure to breathe in the fresh air while strolling on the Whatcom Creek Trail. (Pop Culture Note: I was very entertained to rock down to turn onto Electric Avenue to get to one of the park’s entrances. Additionally, someone in the area has It’s A Trap as their Wi-Fi name. HAA!)

  • Located just SE of Bellingham, the 10-mile long Lake Whatcom serves as both a great recreation area as well as the county reservoir. Lake Whatcom Park is an excellent escape from the daily grind, especially as experienced from one of its spectacular trails. Hertz Trail (Parking areas 1 or 2) and the newly updated Chanterelle Trail (Parking area 2) are two of the favorites in the area. Additionally, nearby Stimpson Family Nature Reserve and Lookout Mountain Forest Preserve (Just south of Whatcom Falls State Park) offer many trail options and much beautiful scenery.
  • While not your traditional nature trail, walking around the beautiful campus of Western Washington University could easily be considered a day hike. Surrounded by forest and beautifully landscaped grounds, it’s a great place to commune with nature, not to mention pursue a stellar education.

Speaking of trails, Bellingham has many types to offer. For instance, the Tap Trail and corresponding Tap Trail Passport are fine ways to explore the local brewery culture. Whatcom County overall hosts an excellent brewery scene and it would be a shame not to visit a few on your next adventure. Some of the great spots to beat a trail to in the Bellingham area:

  • Great food, great beer (all organic!) and a very cool space make Aslan Brewing Co. an excellent destination for lunch or dinner. They also have a nice happy hour! I particularly enjoy their seasonal Das Boot. (They also have a great taproom in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood)
  • Located just around the corner from Aslan Brewing Co., Schweinhaus Biergarten features a great outdoor beer garden, long happy hours and tasty German pretzels and brats from their outdoor, wood-fired oven. (Family friendly – dog friendly)
  • Should you want to branch out from beer, head to Chuckanut Bay Distillery, located in the heart of downtown. Housed in a great old building that used to be JC Penney, they feature several award-winning spirits. Check out their bourbon and seasonal 110 proof Krampus (Closed Tues/Wed)
  • Situated directly across from the Farmers Market, the popular Boundary Bay Brewery & Bistro features a great menu which includes deviled eggs, classic meatloaf, bangers and mash and more. And two very important words about their taproom Hoppy Hour: TABLE BACON ($1/slice – Hoppy Hour in the taproom only). They are family friendly and the beer garden is dog-friendly.
  • Close to the Whatcom Co. Museum and tucked just off Prospect Street, family-friendly Bellingham Cider Co. is an excellent place to stop in for cider, food and a great view of the Waterfront area. Their menu features an outdoor pizza oven, chicken & waffles, spaghetti w/browned butter and crab and more. I particularly enjoy their Dry Cider and the Blackberry Ginger Cider. (Closed Mondays)
  • Not too far from Bellingham Cider Co., the tasty Chuckanut Brewery and Kitchen (North Nut location) features a great beer selection and a full menu with tasty sandwiches, burgers, seafood and more. If you enjoy lighter beers, I love their Kolsch and Vienna Lager. Family friendly. (Check out their South Nut location in nearby Burlington, mentioned in my recent Skagit County article)
  • With two Bellingham locations, Kulshan Brewing has much to offer the area. The beer hall, found north of downtown on James Street is family (and dog!) friendly and hosts regular food trucks and live music. The main taproom/brewhouse is located across I-5 in the Roosevelt neighborhood and features great outdoor seating, food trucks and live music. (This location is 21+) Check out their tasty Premium Lager and Pilsner brews.
  • Closely located to the Kulshan beer hall on James Street, Twin Sisters Brewing offers a tasty beer selection along with Saturday/Sunday brunch and a menu featuring sandwiches, burgers, small plates, tacos and cocktails. Check out their delicious Dufel-Sach Belgian-Style Golden Strong. (Tasting room closed Monday, but the restaurant is open. Family friendly.)
  • When wandering through the downtown area, head to Wander Brewing and sample their tasty beer selection. The large brew hall, set in a historic downtown building, features local food trucks and is family friendly. They’re also located just a few blocks up from an excellent sandwich shop, Sandwich Odyssey. (Across from Bellingham High School)
  • As an alternative to the beer scene, check out downtown Honey Moon Alley Bar & Ciderhouse for mead, cider and cocktails. They also feature a light food menu and regular live music in their intimate space, located off State Street alley, behind Pepper Sisters. (Great New Mexican restaurant – Closed Mondays, dinner only. They have mashed potato rellenos!)

Bellingham is a very walkable – and bikeable – city. It’s possible to explore much of the downtown and Waterfront areas all within a comfortable afternoon’s worth of walking or biking. (Including important stops at breweries and eateries along the way.) For an interesting trip around the historic buildings, murals, art installations and more, check out the Self-guided Story Maps courtesy of the City of Bellingham. (Also available for Bellingham’s predecessor city, Sehome, nearby Fairhaven and Highway 99)

Even without a map, it’s easy to have a very interesting, informative and delicious walk just by parking downtown and heading off in any direction. The Bellingham Farmers Market (Saturdays, 10am – 3pm, Apr – Dec) is a great place to start. They have an excellent selection of local goods and a covered hall for those rainy northwest days. Just a few blocks away, heading towards the water and Port of Bellingham are several more blocks of great trails to walk and sights to check out. The city of Bellingham has a long term plan to expand and revitalize the waterfront area and they are making visible strides towards their goal.

A few of the cool areas in the waterfront part of town: