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!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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 – Island County

Happy New Year from I Ate the State! I’m quite certain it’s going to be a good one – and chock full of Washington State adventure.

To start the year off in coastal style, I’d like to share my recent adventures to the beautiful shores of Island County. Comprised primarily of Whidbey and Camano Islands and located in the upper northwest part of the state, Island County is a wonderful escape from the mainland commotion any time of year. Full of history, sweeping prairies and shorelines, there’s something for everyone to enjoy on these lovely little islands. Holding court as the second smallest county in Washington (by area), one might think there wouldn’t be much to see and do, but they’d be entirely wrong.

True to its name, Island County is indeed a seafaring destination. That said, there are also routes which quite nicely accommodate the four-wheeled traveler. On my recent journey, I hit up the excellent Washington State Ferry system as well as the bridges connecting both Camano and Whidbey Islands to the mainland. One of these days I’d love to arrive via sailboat… #BucketList

Cama View
Looking out towards the Olympics from Cama Beach

To arrive in Camano Island, I drove north on I-5 and took Exit 212 leading to Stanwood. After following SR-532 through Stanwood, I crossed over moody Davis Slough and the Stillaguamish River via the Camano Gateway Bridge and officially entered Island County. For an excellent day trip from the Seattle area, consider a combo visit to both Camano Island and the Stanwood area. While adjacent to each other, they actually span both Snohomish County and Island County. Travel bonus! There are great restaurants, outdoor opportunities and lodging in both areas, making for a great day trip or weekend getaway. For this adventure, however, I was sticking to the gorgeous shores of Island County.

As one of the two largest islands making up Island County, it can be easy at times to forget you’re actually on an island. Filled with beautiful stretches of farmland and forest, Camano Island is an idyllic slice of Northwest living. Driving around the island is a wonderful way to spend the day and the glimpses you’ll catch of surrounding Possession Sound and Port Susan make for a perfectly picturesque road trip.

One of the first places I wanted to visit was the beautiful Kristoferson Farm. Perched on a hill overlooking scenic farmland, this sixth-generation farm (c. 1912 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places) features organic lavender, hay and fruit crops as well as the zip-line outfit, Canopy Tours NW. While I will admit to still mentally recovering from my jungle zip-line incident near Puerto Vallarta, I plan on returning to conquer my zip-line fears on Camano Island in the near future.

To highlight their bounty, they feature related products in their onsite farm store and gift shop. I picked up some delicious culinary lavender on my visit and have been adding it to various bakery and beverage experimentations ever since. Yum! They also host regular farm-to-table Dinner in the Barn events featuring northwest wineries and chefs as well as lavender craft classes. I do plan on making a triumphant return to zip-lining, but I’d be a liar if I said the barn dinners weren’t absolute tops on my list…

If you’re looking for a unique challenge, but zip-lining isn’t your thing, check out some AXE THROWING action just up the road at Arrowhead Ranch. They feature shared and private axe-throwing lanes as well as various workshops. In particular, their Live-Edge Charcuterie Board class is high on my list of things to check out. Wood-working shenanigans which include hors d’oeuvres and local wine? I’m IN! (I wonder if you drink wine while using power tools…)

While Arrowhead Ranch doesn’t offer onsite food or beverage, they do encourage the bring-your-own plan. Located nearby is the excellent Camano Commons, the local hub for restaurants, coffee, gifts and more. Some of the great options to check out:

There are many excellent spots from which to enjoy the shoreline views as well as Camano’s beautiful forested areas. Peoples of the Coast Salish Native American tribes have been visiting the island for thousands of years to harvest the bounty of seafood, berries and to benefit from the natural wonders. The area has been pivotal to the culture of native peoples as well as Euro-American settlers who began moving to the area in the mid-1800s. Driving, hiking, biking and boating around the island – whatever your mode of transportation – it’s easy to understand the appeal and importance of this beautiful locale.

During my own meandering around the island, I spent a bit of time exploring the lovely Cama Beach Historical State Park. Located on the western side of the island, overlooking the Saratoga Passage and onward towards the Olympic Mountains, the park is a true Camano Island gem. Long a destination for vacationing Northwesterners and included on the National Register of Historic Places, the park has been welcoming visitors to its beach-side cedar cabins since 1934. It felt a bit like stepping into a PNW version of the old-school resort in Dirty Dancing… (And remember: NOBODY puts baby in the corner!)

In addition to the Cama Beach Resort cabins, the charming park features a great picnic area, many miles of beautiful hiking trails, the seasonal Cama Beach Store and an events center. If boating is your thing, the Center for Wooden Boats offers boat-building classes and the park features a boat launch and rentals. (Row, sail and motor) And should cabin or outdoor cooking not be your thing, head to the Cama Beach Café for tasty dining options. (Open daily from June thru Labor Day and on weekends for breakfast/lunch, September thru May)

For further enjoyment of the Camano Island shoreline, stroll up the one-mile trail leading south to neighboring Camano Island State Park. (Or hit up nearby Lowell Point Road via West Camano Drive for a quick car ride) While this park also has a small handful of cabins, they feature a large camping area which accommodates both tent and RV camping. In addition to relaxing in the cozy campsites, check out the boating scene and perhaps do a bit of crabbing or saltwater fishing. And as is the case with all Washington State parks, a Discover Pass is recommended for park access. (Daily passes for $10 are also available onsite)

Since it was such a beautiful day on my visit, I opted for a little beach picnic to make the most of the sunshine. In addition to beach picnics, there are several other great dining options on the island. A few places to consider on your next Camano getaway:

  • Not too far from Camano Island State Park, Journey’s End Café (formerly Kara’s Kitchen) offers great burgers, pizza and more. Grab it to go and head back to the beach! They also host regular game nights and feature live music on weekends.
  • Located just across the way from the Kristoferson Farm, Rockaway Bar & Grill serves NW style fare featuring local ingredients. Fresh oysters, fish and produce make for some very delicious menu options.
  • If you happen to be visiting the island during the first weekend of the month and are feeling parched, check out Dusty Cellars Winery and Edward Lynne Cellars for a bit of wine-tasting enjoyment. (First weekend of each month – check websites for hours)
  • Should you like to extend your Camano stay and further enjoy the local scene, head north of Cama Beach State Park on West Camano Drive to the beautiful Camano Island Inn. They feature well-appointed rooms, stunning views and a great location from which to explore the island.

Pro tip: There are many great lodging options on the island – Hit up VRBO and Airbnb to peruse the many possibilities.

Camano Island is fairly large, but it’s still possible to cover the entire island on an afternoon drive. In pursuit of this goal, I was driving around the southern tip of the island, enjoying the views of Port Susan to the east, when I came upon the quaint Tyee Grocery and Farms. After picking up a coffee and quick snack, I continued down East Camano Drive, but was inspired to pull over not too far down the road. I spotted a few art installations and a very cool little lending library with a small, adjacent parking area. A beautiful drive, a little Art and some cool books – Nice! Definitely keep your eyes peeled while rambling around the island as there are great finds around so many of its corners.

Upon wrapping up my tour of Camano Island, it was time to head to neighboring Whidbey Island to continue my coastal adventures. Granted, I did end up making an additional trip to Whidbey Island on a later excursion, but it is absolutely possible to do a grand tour of both islands on a long day or weekend overnighter. That said, it’s hard to not to spend a little extra time in the Deception Pass area as it is positively stunning. And that’s exactly what happened on my first trip out…

Island County
Entering Island County! (As seen from Deception Pass Bridge)

If you happen to have a boat, (#LifeGoals) you can indeed head over the Saratoga Passage from Camano Island to get to Whidbey Island, the largest island in Washington State. The Saratoga Passage is a beautiful stretch of water and a popular section of the Puget Sound waterways. There are no ferries that go between Camano and Whidbey, but you can sometimes see private passenger boats like the Victoria Clipper cruising through both Saratoga Passage and Deception Pass when waters are rough in the nearby Strait of Juan de Fuca. There are also great whale-watching tours such as Deception Pass Tours which regularly travel through the area.

The Coast Salish and Lower Skagit tribes (Now recognized within the Swinomish Nation in neighboring Skagit County) have been stewards of these waters and islands for thousands of years. It’s easy to see how this beautiful, bountiful area could hold such importance to coastal living. Camano Island has many treasures to share, but with Whidbey being the larger island, the bounty is even more plentiful. It is entirely possible to enjoy sweeping forests, coastlines and wide-open prairies on a visit to Whidbey; All of these environments providing a wealth of resources to the enduring island community.

Since I wanted to drive over Deception Pass (on the National Register of Historic Places) to arrive on Whidbey Island, I took Exit 230 off I-5 North (near Burlington in Skagit County) to access SR-20. (SR-20 is also known as the North Cascades Highway or the spectacular Cascade Loop) Once heading west on SR-20, I followed the road until it turned off to the left, just before Anacortes. If you prefer a more seafaring route, take the Mukilteo/Clinton Ferry or Port Townsend/Coupeville Ferry and avoid the crowds of the I-5 corridor. (For another travel bonus trip, link your Island County adventures with Port Townsend and beautiful Jefferson County)

Crossing over Deception Pass is quite a spectacular experience. Whether via car, bike, or foot, it is a beautiful sight to behold. If you happen to be leery of heights, walking over it might not be your bag, but it is well worth the consideration. On my Ragnar Northwest Passage adventure, one of our runners had the opportunity to run across the bridge around sunrise and I’m sure it was amazing. I was traveling over the bridge in the team van at the time and even that was an amazing scene. (The sunrise. Not a bunch of stinky runners piled in a van… not as amazing.) I must admit, however, as much as I love heights, I was completely content to merely walk across the bridge on my own adventure. (Details of my actual bridge visit are included in my Skagit County article)

In addition to the bridge itself, Deception Pass State Park is truly beautiful and should be a must-visit on any list of Northwest destinations. Spanning both Skagit and Island Counties via the bridge, the park has a plethora of camping, hiking, boating, fishing and beach opportunities to enjoy. After becoming a state park in 1922, the Civilian Conservation Corps built roads, buildings and trails and many of the park structures are now on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s easy to feel you’ve stepped back into a quieter, less hectic era when visiting the park. (Check out the in-park CCCs Interpretive Center to learn more about the history of the park.) Don’t miss a visit to this spectacular part of the state! (For even more exploration of the area, stop in a few miles down the road at Deception Pass State Park’s sister park, Dugualla State Park.)

After enjoying the striking scenery of the Deception Pass area, I traveled further south along SR-20 towards the largest city on the island, Oak Harbor. Home to the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, Oak Harbor is a bustling and vibrant island community. The area is a fun place to explore as well as a center for tasty dining and fun shopping opportunities – and keep an eye out for the naval planes regularly flying overhead.

Naval Base
Just an everyday scene on SR-20 into Oak Harbor…

As you’re coming through town on SR-20, there are quite a few great dining options. All of that adventuring at Deception Pass can make one hungry and there are several great establishments to check out along the main thoroughfare. Just a few of the delicious options:

  • Stop in at Flyers Restaurant & Brewery for great local beers, tasty burgers and more. Located directly off SR-20.
  • Stock up on delicious smoked salmon at Seabolt’s Smokehouse off of SR-20 or hang out and enjoy their lunch and dinner menu. Their clam chowder and Penn Cover oysters are very tasty!
  • The hours are short, but a visit to Kau Kau Corner is well worth the timing. Specializing in Hawaiian comfort food, they offer tempting dishes such as Kalua pork and Spam musubi. (Mon-Fri, 11am – 4pm – Located directly off SR-20)
  • Don’t let the name fool you. In addition to great, organic coffee, Rock Island Coffee has a full menu which includes beer and wine. Check out their skillet mac-n-cheese! (Open ‘til 5pm, M-Sat and 3pm on Sundays)
  • If you’re looking for a classic Oak Harbor joint, check out Island Café, located directly off SR-20. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner with a classic diner flair.
  • During the late spring and summer, stop in at the Oak Harbor Farmers Market and enjoy some great local produce and artisan goods. (Thursdays, 4-7pm, right off SR-20)

On any visit to Oak Harbor, it’s a great idea to visit the historic Main Street part of town. This waterfront area is filled with fun shops, great restaurants and regular events. It’s the heart of Oak Harbor and can easily accommodate a leisurely day on the town. The full-service Oak Harbor Marina is also located in this area if you happen to be arriving via boat. (#INeedABoat)

On your next visit to Oak Harbor, check out these great spots in the historic downtown waterfront area:

  • Not far before turning off SR-20 to head towards the waterfront, hit up Wicked Teuton Brewing Co. & Homebrew Supply for a tasty local brew or craft soda. This family and pet-friendly taproom is open daily at 11am – Check website for closing times.
  • There are several fun shopping stops to make in the downtown area. A couple of my favorites are the ridiculously cute Popsies with their excellent selection of treats and Purple Moon with their eclectic selection of gifts and more. And don’t forget to stop in at Whidbey Beer Works to peruse their large selection of specialty beers, ciders, wine and meads. (They also do occasional tasting events)

  • Grab a great cup of coffee for your stroll around the waterfront at Whidbey Coffee Co. In addition to their downtown location, they have 11 others in Western Washington. Fun fact: Contrary to their name, they are actually headquartered across the water in Mukilteo, whereas the excellent Mukilteo Coffee Roasters is based on Whidbey Island in nearby Langley. Shenanigans!
  • Closed for the holidays on my recent visit, Chris’ Bakery (since 1948) has been – and will hopefully continue – making delicious pastries, pies, cakes and more for many years to come. Their sweet treats are delicious, but don’t miss out trying their meat pies and amazing bread as well!

  • I enjoyed a tasty, diner-style breakfast on my last visit to Oak Harbor at the Riverside Café. Classic décor and a small, adjacent bar make this a cool spot to visit any time of day. (Breakfast, lunch and dinner)

  • On the finer dining side, head to Rustica Café & Wine Bar (Open at noon, 10am on Sundays for brunch), the Terrace Wine Bar and Bistro (3-10pm, closed Sun/Mon) and lovely Fraser’s Gourmet Hideaway (Tues – Sat, 4:30 – 9:30pm, closed Sun/Mon) for a tasty day or night on the town.
  • If you’re looking to celebrate all things Oak Harbor, be sure to hit up their annual Holland Happening International Festival every April. Pioneer Way and the waterfront is blocked off for craft and food vendors as well live music and beer gardens. (April 23-26, 2020)
  • If you’d like to work off some of that downtown decadence, head a little further towards the water and check out the Wildwood Farm B&B. This equestrian-friendly, 80-acre farm features horse boarding, instruction, training and indoor/outdoor arenas. Guests can also stay in a remodeled 1914 bunkhouse and enjoy beautiful walking trails during their stay. Dreamy!

Heading further south on SR-20 will bring you through some magnificent scenery. There are beautiful farms, pastures and sweeping vistas around every turn and one would be hard-pressed to get bored of the views. The drive itself is interesting, but there are several great stops along the way. One such destination is the awesome Blue Fox Drive-in Theater. Entertaining Whidbey Island since 1959, they feature movies, go-karts, concessions and arcade games. When was the last time you went to a drive-in movie?? Sigh…

In keeping with my, “Hmmm – maybe there’s something cool off in that direction – I should check” plan, I turned off SR-20 onto Hastie Lake Road. I had no idea where it would lead, but the landscapes were gorgeous and I thought maybe it would head towards the water. (But then, most paths on an island typically do at some point…) I’m very glad I did as the drive was stunning and beyond idyllic. Along the way, I passed lovely farmland and spots where I’m pretty sure time had stood still. Around one bend, I stumbled upon the charming Hennrich Tree Farm, busy in full-operation for the holiday season.

Not too far past the tree farm and much as expected, I reached the shoreline. Conveniently located at the intersection of Hastie Lake Road and West Beach Road was the tiny, but perfectly-positioned Hastie Lake County Park. Situated on the shoreline in between private beaches, it was a beautiful spot to pull over and enjoy the view and it brought back some wonderful, unexpected memories.

When I was very young, my family made a couple of visits to Whidbey Island to visit friends. (All the way from very non-coastal Eastern WA) I have vivid memories of their house overlooking the water and a cool rope ladder leading down the bluff to the private beach below. Standing on the shores of Hastie Lake County Park and looking down the beach at the homes overlooking the water brought me right back to my 5-year-old self. I remember being absolutely charmed by coastal living and can honestly say that nothing has since changed. Just dreamy…

Just as I’d hoped, it was both an easy and beautiful loop drive back to SR-20 beginning on West Beach Road. Once back on the highway, I continued south towards my next planned destination, Fort Ebey State Park and Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve. I’d been wanting to visit these areas for quite some time and since there was a fortuitous break in the rain, it seemed like the perfect opportunity.

Pro tip: As helpful as on-board and mobile GPS can be, it’s always good to have a map or printed directions of the area on hand. It’s common to lose satellite or mobile connections in the more remote and forested areas – be prepared! And in the least, have a full tank, water and SNACKS at the ready. Mmm… Snacks…

The first area I visited was Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve. On the National Register of Historic Places and the first National Historic Reserve in the US (established by Congress in 1978 and one of only three presently in the country), the entire area is a one of the most remarkable stretches of land in the state. (And beyond!) I’m sad I hadn’t visited sooner, but am completely grateful to have finally experienced this stunning, expansive beauty in person.

Driving up the access road, the view of gorgeous prairies began to stretch out in front of me as I gained elevation up the hillside. While the prairies expanded, so did the amazing view of the shoreline, making room for the glimmering skyline in the distance. The way the sun was lighting the horizon was exquisite and I can definitively say it was one of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen.

Ebey Landing
Looking out towards the water from Ebey Landing

The Lower Skagit Tribe has been gazing out over these vistas for thousands of years with western settlements beginning to populate the region in the 1850s. One of the first homesteads was plotted by Whidbey pioneers, Isaac Ebey and his wife, Rebecca Davis. After having established himself in the Olympia area, Isaac brought his family over from Missouri to cultivate the sprawling farmland which is now known as Ebey’s Landing. Their home still stands along with defense blockhouses and acres of presently farmed area.

A leisurely hike through the area via the Ebey’s Landing trails is a must for any Whidbey Island visit and nicely showcases a landscape that has scarcely changed over the last few hundred years. Even just a drive up to the Prairie Landing Overlook to enjoy the coastal and farmland views is well worth it. (Located just across the road from Sunnyside Cemetery (c. 1865) and the Davis Blockhouse. Isaac Ebey and Rebecca Davis as well as Coupeville’s namesake, Thomas Coupe are laid to rest in this cemetery.)

Not too far north up the coast and included within the National Historical Reserve lies Fort Ebey State Park. If you’re up for camping, this is a great location from which to explore the area. Not only is there ample camping, the area is popular with paragliders and surfers and the beaches serve as great seaweed gathering spots in the spring. If you’d like to do some smallmouth bass fishing, check out lovely Lake Pondilla, found in the park’s interior. (Note: Until a recent double-check on my research, I was convinced the name was actually Lake PondZILLA. And that’s what I’ll be personally referring to it as moving forward… But hey, score one for double-checking your research! I had a whole backstory worked out in my head and everything! A fisherman must’ve caught a GIANT fish at some point and told his buddies he caught a Godzilla fish in the pond… Come on, it makes sense! I can’t lie – I feel a little let down…)

While visiting the park, be sure to check out the WWII era battery and gun emplacements. Bring a flashlight and snake through the darkened corridors of the island’s military history. Continue your explorations along the stunning Kettles Trail System which connects the park to the reserve as well as the epic Pacific NW National Scenic Trail. The views and vistas found along these coastal trails are gorgeous and not to be missed. (Even minus the Godzilla Fish…)

Just over from Fort Ebey State Park and off SR-20, lies the historic center of Whidbey Island, the ever-charming Coupeville. While not incorporated until 1910, it is actually the second oldest town in the state. (Steilacoom is the oldest incorporated town in the state) Western settlement began in the 1850s and was led by the city’s namesake, Captain Thomas Coupe. Serving as the county seat and featuring a wonderful, historic waterfront and wharf area (c. 1905), Coupeville is a wonderful town to explore and an excellent look into the evolution of Washington State. Be sure to stop in at the Island County Historical Museum located near the waterfront for an in-depth look at the area’s fascinating history.

Nestled alongside beautiful Penn Cove, Coupeville is fairly compact, making it easy to explore. That said, there are many treasures packed into its tiny downtown and it’s advisable to plan on spending at least a day in the area. The Coupeville Wharf (on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve, along with Coupeville in general), is a great place to start your explorations. The views of Penn Cove, downtown Coupeville and Front Street are picture-perfect and the subject of many a northwest photo op.

Grab a cup of coffee at Coffee on the Cove, housed inside the wharf building and enjoy investigating the interpretive displays and exhibits courtesy of the Marine Education Center. Also housed in the historic building is the funky Harbor Gifts shop as well as newly reopened restaurant, The Cove. (Formerly the Cove Café. Note: As of this writing, Yelp and Trip Advisor say they’re closed, but the new owners have recently reopened the spot…) When you’ve finished your visit, head back down to the sailboat you’ve moored nearby and enjoy the beauty of Penn Cove. (#BoatDreams)

Coupeville’s downtown Front Street is an absolutely delightful place to spend an afternoon. Packed into a few blocks are charming shops, restaurants and galleries, all nestled along the shores of beautiful Penn Cove. Consider checking out the walking tour offered by the Coupeville Historic Waterfront Association or discover the area at your own leisure. Either approach will be filled with great finds and tasty treats. A few of the intriguing spots you’ll find along the way:

  • Located next to the wharf boardwalk, Collections Boutique features clothing, accessories and beach-themed gifts.
  • If you’re looking for a cool, local bookstore, check out Kingfisher Bookstore. The building, itself, constructed in 1874 is alone worth a visit and once housed the popular, Benson’s Confectionery. (c. 1915)
  • For all things quirky and hilarious, Far From Normal is the perfect stop. I picked up everything from vintage sheet music to soap and old school candies. Definitely my kind of place…
  • For a lovely selection of clothing, shoes, gift items, soaps and more, stop in at the very quaint Aqua Gifts.
  • Celebrate the NW Dutch influence at A Touch of Dutch. They feature Dutch foods and tasty treats, blue Delftware and more in their incredibly cozy shop.
  • Sporting an excellent view of Penn Cove, Front Street Grill offers tasty seafood and NW coastal dining in their lovely waterfront building. Try some of the famous Penn Cove mussels!
  • Take a break from exploring the shops and enjoy a nice glass of wine at the Vail Wine Shop & Tasting Room. A great glass of vino and an amazing view of Penn Cove – sign me up!
  • Oh, wow… the bread! Stop in at super cute and deliciously tasty Little Red Hen Bakery for fresh baked bread and bakery specialties. Community supported and island sustained!
  • Recently rescued and now under restoration, the Haller House provides a great look at Coupeville’s past. Built on the original land claim of Thomas Coupe, it is an important piece of Coupeville’s history and will be a fine re-addition to the Front Street scene.

For more great shopping and dining options, check out the blocks just above Front Street and the Waterfront area. There is also a nice public parking area adjacent to the Coupeville Library, located just past the Bayleaf shop…

  • The Bayleaf shop features the stuff of foodie dreams. Wonderful artisan meats and cheeses, specialty foods and a great wine selection. Grab things to go or order one of their amazing sandwiches to enjoy in-house.
  • Stop in at Currents Bistro for delicious NW-inspired fare and island ambiance. Featuring locally sourced ingredients, their dishes are delectable.
  • I’m going to have to return to Coupeville soon so I can again try to visit The Oystercatcher. I’ve heard many great things and was excited to stop in, but the line was literally pressed up against the door when I peeked in. Next time!! Mmmm… Oysters… (Their bread has such a following it inspired the creation of the aforementioned Little Red Hen Bakery!)
  • While their local lavender farm doesn’t re-open for the season until June, the lovely Lavender Wind Farm shop is open in downtown Coupeville. (Just across from the Oystercatcher) Walking into the store is like walking into the French countryside. Sigh… Along with a wide variety of culinary and home-based lavender goods, they also feature a coffee bar and baked goods. I greatly enjoyed their lavender caramels and can’t wait to get my hands on some more!
  • Check out Ciao for deliciously crafted pizza, salads and fresh seafood as well as a great lounge area and regular live music. Located just up from downtown on North Main Street.
  • Located on South Main Street, a mile of so west of the downtown core, Penn Cove Brewing Company is an excellent place to take a break. They feature tasty brews, a small menu and various weekly specials. (Also in nearby communities, Oak Harbor and Freeland)

The Coupeville area has many wonderful lodging opportunities, including several traditional B&Bs. You can’t miss the stately Anchorage Inn B&B on North Main Street, just before you enter the Waterfront area and the lovely Blue Goose Inn B&B can be spotted just before. The Compass Rose B&B, with its charming, minty green exterior can be found on South Main Street and for something a little less traditional, consider the rustic, shoreline cabins and rooms at the wonderfully unique Captain Whidbey Inn. They also feature a restaurant and tavern as well as accessibility via boat and seaplane! (Additionally, the drive there via coastal Madrona Way is beautiful!) If camping is your thing, Rhododendron Park, located in Coupeville proper, offers tent and RV camping and great access to local hiking trails.

Shellfish tip: If you’d like to try your hand at gathering some of the famous, local shellfish, the area near Captain Whidbey is wonderful. Check out the West Penn Cove and Twin Lagoons areas, located at the base of Penn Cove. West Penn Cove has clams, mussels & oysters (Mid-July thru Mid-Sept only) and Twin Lagoons has clams, mussels and oysters year-round. Be sure to check the DOH website on day of harvest to ensure the beach is open for shellfish harvesting.

There are already countless things to do in the Coupeville area, but they up the ante with several annual festivals in addition to many surrounding farms to visit and enjoy. A few more reasons to spend some time in Coupeville:

  • Celebrate the jewels of the area at the yearly Penn Cove MusselFest (March 7-8, 2020)
  • Celebrate the waters that host the jewels of the area at the annual Penn Cove Water Festival (May 16, 2020)
  • Many artists and craftspeople call the island home and a great place to check out their wares is at the annual Coupeville Arts & Crafts Festival (August 8-9, 2020)
  • Since 1946, Bell’s Farm has been providing delicious strawberries, produce and more to the island. Head over to their Strawberry Daze celebration in late June and stop by their Honesty Stand to stock up on baked goods, produce, eggs, lamb and strawberries.
  • Stop in at the 3 Sisters Family Farm (c. 1910) for all-natural, ethically and sustainably raised beef, pork, lamb and chickens. The beef and lamb are 100% grass-fed, the pork is fed barley raised on the Island and the chickens are cage-free. Visit their market for all products, snacks, local goods and beverages
  • For a great selection of goods from local farmers and artisans, head to the Coupeville Farmers Market for all things delicious. (Saturdays, April – Oct, 10am – 2pm)

Mirroring its sister, Fort Worden, across the way in Jefferson County, the fascinating Fort Casey Historical State Park is a must-add to your Whidbey Island itinerary. Built in the late 1800’s, Fort Casey, in combination with Fort Worden and nearby Fort Flagler (on Marrowstone Island), formed a very important part of the western US coastal defense network. It is easy to spend hours combing through the catacomb of bunkers and darkened corridors. (Don’t forget to bring a flashlight!) It is also easy to check out both Fort Casey and Fort Worden on a long afternoon. Just hop aboard the nearby Port Townsend/Coupeville ferry and you’re on your way! (Reservations are recommended for this ferry crossing.)

In addition to the military aspect of the park, be sure to pay a visit to the Admiralty Head Lighthouse and learn about the area’s importance to seafaring traffic through the years. There is also great camping, boating and saltwater fishing accessible from within the park and several excellent picnic areas to enjoy. If you’re more interested in checking out historic lodging and grounds, the Fort Casey Inn, located just down the road from the park, is absolutely beautiful.

Heading south on SR-20 towards Fort Casey State Park, the road becomes SR-525 when you hit the turn-off for Fort Casey. (SR-20 continues to and ends at Fort Casey State Park) Continuing south on SR-525 will shortly bring you to the completely charming Greenbank area. The drive is beautiful, showcasing beautiful forested and coastal scenery; a fine area to hit up for a weekend drive. In addition to the wonderful drive, there are several excellent spots to hit up in the Greenbank area. A few of my favorites:

  • It would be entirely enjoyable and advisable to spend an afternoon at historic Greenbank Farm. Beautiful gardens, trails, sweeping farmland, two galleries and glorious picnic ops await you on your next visit. Throw in a stop at the onsite Greenbank Farm Wine Shop and delicious Whidbey Pies Café and you might be there longer than the afternoon. The farm was actually a major stop on the Ragnar race trail and I can’t tell you just how much I enjoyed that giant piece of loganberry pie… WOW! (Mon-Fri, 11am – 6pm, Sat/Sun at 10:30am)

  • The beautiful Meerkerk Rhododendron Gardens, located just south of Greenbank Farm on SR-525 is a lovely and colorful way to while away an afternoon. The Rhododendrons, Washington’s state flower, are glorious and plentiful when in bloom. (I keep looking at the name and seeing Meerkat Gardens, which would also be awesome. Just sayin’.)
  • Great wine, beautiful scenery and a relaxing atmosphere can be found at Holmes Harbor Cellars in the Honeymoon Bay area. (Check website for hours) They are also part of the Whidbey Island Wine & Spirits Trail and annual Red Wine & Chocolate Tour.
  • Don’t miss a stop into this tiny gem of a store. The Greenbank Pantry and Deli is chock full of delicious meats and cheeses as well as local specialty items, a deli counter, baked goods and more. Their Prosciutto Mozz sandwich was SO delicious! They also carry delicious bread from the Little Red Hen Bakery in Coupeville. (Closed Sunday)

A beautiful side-route in the Greenbank area can be found via South Smuggler’s Cove Road along the west side of the island. There’s a wonderful view over to Marrowstone Island in Jefferson County and glorious peeks into hidden coves and shoreline. We drove through this area as part of the Ragnar route and while I was glad to not have to run uphill through the area, I was more than happy to enjoy the scenery from my tired spot in the van. South Whidbey State Park is a nice place to stop along the way if you’d like to hike amongst some very large, old trees. There is sadly no camping due to tree disease, but that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying their beauty. One of the cedars is 500-years old!

Continuing south on SR-525 will bring you to the tiny town of Freeland. For as tiny a town as Freeland is, it is impressive how many cool antique and thrift stores they feature. The same could be said for cool spots to stop and grab a delicious beverage! Throw in a tasty meal and perhaps a stay at the local vegan B&B and you could have a most excellent adventure. A few places to check out on your next Freeland adventure:

  • If you’re up for a truly epic thrift store outing, don’t miss a stop at Senior Thrift, located just off SR-525. It’s remarkable what they’ve packed inside that building! Mutiny Bay Antiques and Red Rooster Antique Mall are both chock full of excellent finds and the Habitat for Humanity Store has amazing bargains to cover your home project needs and more. (Also in Oak Harbor)
  • For a tasty breakfast, lunch or dinner, head to the local staple, Freeland Café & Lounge. Big breakfasts (All day!), tasty burgers, delicious seafood and more have been gracing their tables since 1977.
  • Rocket Taco serves delicious traditional and “deluxe” tacos with all the accoutrements along with tasty margaritas in their cozy Freeland spot. They also have Mexican Chocolate Pots de Crème and Key Lime pie IN A JAR. YUM! (Closed Monday. Also located in Seattle on Capitol Hill!)
  • Take time to wet your whistle at one of Freeland’s fine beverage establishments. Blooms Winery & 5115 Bistro (Closed Tues/Wed, 11am – 8pm otherwise, Fri – 9pm) and Mutiny Bay Distillery (Mon, Thurs-Sat, 11am – 5pm, Sun – Noon – 5pm, Closed Tues/Wed) both offer wonderful wine and spirits – and the 5115 Bistro at Blooms is delicious. Nearby Dancing Fish Vineyards also has lodging should you want to have that extra glass of wine while enjoying a bit of live music. (Thurs, Sat, Sun, Mon – 11am – 6pm, Fri – 11am – 8pm, Tasting room closes at 5pm – Music in bar, 5:30-7:30)
  • Set on 70-acres of beautiful farmland, the Someday Farm Vegan B&B features lodging, walking trails and plenty of farm animals to commune amongst. (They ask you don’t bring animal products with you on your visit to the farm.)
  • Not too far from Freeland is the spectacular, 72-acre Earth Sanctuary. Designed by Chuck Pettis, the sanctuary features stone circles and sculptures, wetlands, a labyrinth, medicine wheels and more. They are presently working on an innovative 500-year Plan to restore the area to its original ecological and environmental best. (Open during daylight hours)
  • Just a little further south in the Mutiny Bay area off SR-525, the Double Bluff Beach & Off-leash Area features a lovely 4-mile round-trip walk along an extensive sandy beach for you and your pooch. There are few things more joyful than watching a dog experience the beach for the first time.

Country Roads
Country roads stretching out for miles…

Nearing the end of my trek across the island, I landed in the lovely town of Langley, known affectionately as The Village by the Sea. Long an important location for trade, resources and artistic endeavors on the island, it remains a mainstay of activity today. If you are heading to the island from the Seattle/Mukilteo area, it is also the first larger town you’ll come to after disembarking in nearby Clinton.

Forged largely of the will and determination of young immigrant, Jacob Anthes, Langley began development in the 1890s and became an incorporated town in 1913. The town continued to grow (including the rabbit population due to a 4-H fair display going amok) and has thoroughly established itself as a vital link from the mainland to Whidbey Island. To learn more about the history of Langley and its founding father, stop by the South Whidbey Historical Museum, housed in a logger’s bunkhouse constructed by Jacob Anthes in 1902. (Interesting note: Jacob Anthes was founder of the unique Whidbey Telecom, still in business and one of the only US telecom companies to have always been privately owned and operated. They were also the first telecom company west of the Rockies to offer Internet services via phone in 1994. All hail the Internets!)

Langley is an excellent and easily accessible get-away from the fast-paced mainland, just 40-minutes away. There are many wonderful things to see and do in the Langley area as well as many delicious restaurants to try. On my recent trip to Langley, I arrived in the evening, so dinner was tops on my to-do list. I happened upon the iconic Bayview Cash Store building (c. 1924) and was very drawn in by the scene. I’m SO glad I stopped as it’s a veritable treasure trove of shops, restaurants and art. A few of the places to check out on your visit:

  • On my recent visit, I was very in the mood for fresh seafood and good beer. The Taproom at Bayview Corner deftly filled both needs and beyond. The delicious crab cakes were accompanied by a very unique and tasty jicama slaw which I’ll fully admit to attempting to recreate at home. Delicious! It should also be noted their tap list is great. They even had my all-time favorite Belgian-style (By way of Quebec’s Unibroue) beer, Maudite on tap. Dreeeeaaaaamy…

  • The charming Farmer & the Vine features a large wine selection as well as small plates and live music.
  • Not only do they serve delicious doughnuts, Whidbey Doughnuts also offers all-day breakfast and tasty sandwiches – including a Monte Cristo. (Note: I’m ever-vigilant and always on the lookout for a good Monte Cristo. Because they are DELICIOUS.) (Sunday thru Wednesday, 6am – 3pm, Thursday thru Saturday, 6am – 8pm)
  • Every July through September, the Island Shakespeare Festival keeps the island entertained with the Bard’s prolific words. The festival headquarters are housed inside the Bayview Cash Store. Pop in and learn about the festival as well as enjoy the revolving art displays inside the main lobby and stairwell areas, hosted by onsite Front Room Gallery.

  • Sharing a parking lot with the Bayview Cash Store is the Bayview Farm & Garden and Flowerhouse Garden Café. The shop, gardens and café, along with the wonderful old farm buildings and community hall make for the quintessential island farm scene. (Café open 8am – 4pm, Garden Store open 9am – 6pm, Mon-Sat, 5pm on Sunday)

  • Situated just past Bayview Farm & Garden lies the excellent Orchard Kitchen. Not only do they serve locally-sourced, seasonal menus featuring their onsite farm, they also host regular cooking classes in their kitchen. Cool! (Open Thurs – Sat in fall/winter and Thurs – Sun in spring/summer)
  • In addition to being a general hub of awesomeness, the Bayview Cash Store also hosts regular street dances during the summer as well as the Bayview Farmers Market on Spring/Summer Saturdays. (April 25 – Oct 16, 10am – 2pm, 2020. Keep an eye out for special Holiday Market hours during the winter months.)

In addition to the great beverage options available at the Bayview Cash Store, there are many other places in the Langley area to enjoy a tasty libation or great cup of coffee. A few of the great spots to check out while you’re visiting the Village by the Sea:

  • If you’re a fan of berries, don’t miss a visit to the lovely Whidbey Island Distillery and its 9-acre estate located just off SR-525. Try their famous liqueurs, particularly the blackberry and be sure to sample their great Rye. (Open daily, 11am – 5pm)
  • In addition to a lovely glass of wine in their tasting room, Comforts of Whidbey Winery also features lodging in their 6-room Bed & Breakfast. Set atop the tasting room with views of the vineyards and Puget Sound, it’s completely justified to include “comforts” in the name. (Thurs/Fri – 1-6pm, Sat – 11am – 6pm, Sun – Noon – 6pm)
  • Stop in for wine and a cabaret show at Ott & Hunter Wines in the heart of downtown Langley with great views of the water. If they don’t already, I deeply hope they feature “Cabernet & Cabaret” evenings. It seems only fair… (Sun-Thurs – 1-8pm, Fri/Sat – 12-10pm, closed Wed)
  • If you’re visiting Langley on the weekend, stop in at Spoiled Dog Winery for a glass of delicious Pinot Noir in their tasting room and enjoy the idyllic surrounds of their estate. (Sat/Sun, Noon-5pm, outside food and non-alcoholic beverage welcome in the outdoor seating area.)
  • Located in the heart of downtown with a great view, Village Wine Shop & Tasting Room offers tastings, a well-stocked selection in their wine shop and regular events. (Wed – Sun, 11am – 6pm)
  • Also found in the lovely downtown area, Double Bluff Brewing features several of their tasty beers in their tap room and cozy outdoor seating area. Kid and dog friendly, outside food welcome. (Mon-Thurs, 3pm – 8pm, Fri/Sat, 2pm – 8pm, Sunday – 2pm – 7pm)
  • For the caffeine lovers in the bunch, Whidbey Island has no shortage of great options. Head to Useless Bay Coffee in the downtown area or Mukilteo Coffee Roasters located near Whidbey Airpark for a delicious cup o’ joe and tasty eats.

Mukilteo Coffee
Excellent coffee from Mukilteo Coffee Roasters!

It is very easy to find a delicious meal in Langley. The downtown area holds the key to many a tasty night (or day) out with a good variety of options from which to choose. Some of the excellent spots to hit up on your visit to the Village by the Sea:

  • Set in a quaint location in the downtown area, The Braeburn features locally sourced ingredients and delicious breakfast, lunch and dinner. Their Bloody Marys and Eggs Benedict (w/crab!) are fabulous and the atmosphere, welcoming and relaxed.
  • Featuring an outdoor kitchen in the back and a beautiful view, Portico Latin Bistro serves cuisine inspired by Mexico, South America and the Caribbean as well as delicious sangria and a great wine list. (Closed Mon/Tues)
  • A good friend and fellow foodie regularly visits Langley and highly recommends the French-inspired Prima Bistro. I haven’t been able to visit as of this writing, but it is high on my list for the next visit. The menu looks amazing and there’s the matter of an Absinthe service they offer… Yes, please!
  • Fresh oysters, clams, mussels, crabs and MORE can be enjoyed at the downtown Saltwater Oyster Bar. Add in delicious clam chowder, oyster po’ boys and hand-cut and battered fish and chips… Yowsa!! Oh, and their ‘Whale Tale Mary’ with its house Mary mix, jumbo shrimp, oyster and salmon jerky? I’M IN!!
  • If you’d like to meet the purveyors of the delicious local goods you’ve enjoyed during your Langley outings, stop by the seasonal Langley Farmers Market located in the downtown area on Frick Lane. (Thursdays, May – August, 2pm – 6pm) If you happen to be in town on a Sunday, pay a visit to the incredibly cool South Whidbey Tilth Market for all things organic. (May – October, 11am – 2pm)
  • I personally believe it is hard to dispute the deliciousness of ice cream and the importance it plays in happy living. Sprinklz, located in the downtown area, serves the key to said happy living as well scores major bonus points with their arcade area. (If you happen to be heading for the ferry, don’t miss their sister location in neighboring Clinton.)

Arcade hot tip: Continue your downtown arcade crawl at the amazing Machine Shop. Featuring vintage pinball and arcade machines as well as the new hotness, the Machine Shop is a step back into your gloriously misspent youth. (Translation: I spent way too many quarters on arcade machines in my glory days… But whatever.) They also feature live music, comedy and other entertaining events on weekends.

Langley has long been known for its eclectic and broad Arts scene. The stunning beauty of the area makes it completely understandable and the artistic inspiration, endless. Even if you’re simply taking photos with your phone, the Langley and greater Whidbey Island area is captivating. Here are just a few of the ways you can explore your artistic side on your next Langley visit:

  • Entertaining the cinema-goers of Whidbey Island since 1937, the Clyde Theatre is still going strong. Regularly showing first-run features as well as hosting special film and community events, the Clyde continues to be beacon of the island Arts scene.
  • Stop in at Museo when in downtown Langley and enjoy their beautiful displays. All manner of fine art from regionally and nationally known local artists can be found on display in this lovely gallery.
  • Enjoy beautifully crafted jewelry, rugs, textiles and more from around the world at the eclectically curated Music for the Eyes in downtown Langley. The owners regularly travel around the world to bring back unique treasures for their shop.
  • If you fancy yourself a prolific solver of crimes, head to the 36th annual Mystery Weekend in February. (Feb 22-23, 2020) On Saturday morning, a crime scene and murder are announced and it’s your job to discover clues in stores, around town and from costumed townsfolk. The “crime” is solved on Sunday afternoon and prizes are announced!
  • If you love Jazz, particularly the catchy jangle of Django Reinhardt, don’t miss the annual Djangofest Northwest every September at the Whidbey Island Fairgrounds. (Organized by the excellent Whidbey Island Center for the Arts) In addition to a celebration of Jazz, there are concerts and workshops of all variety. Fully immerse yourself in the scene and camp at the fairgrounds while enjoying great food and ongoing jam sessions. (Sept 23-27, 2020)
  • Everyone loves a great county fair and Whidbey Island certainly represents. Head to the Whidbey Island Fairgrounds in July for the annual Whidbey Island Fair. Food, farm animals, displays, rides and more greet you in this charming, island fairground. (July 16-19, 2020) Don’t miss the annual Country Christmas event every year around Thanksgiving!

To make the most of your Langley visit, there are several great lodging options and ways to enjoy the beautiful island setting. It is of course entirely possible to make an excellent day trip of Whidbey Island and I’ve done it many times. However, having the luxury of waking up on this very welcoming island is a truly wonderful thing. In addition to the scores of excellent Airbnb and VRBO listings for island lodging, consider adding these great spots to your list:

  • While I haven’t yet had the opportunity to visit, the Inn at Langley is high on my dream-stay bucket list. Upscale lodging, spa services and locally-sourced tasting menus which include table visits from the chef make this a pretty special place to experience. A reliable foodie friend told me it was “the best place he and his wife had ever stayed…” I completely trust him, but I’m looking forward to investigating the delicious scene myself…
  • Just a short stroll from the downtown core and located directly on the water, the Boatyard Inn is a wonderful escape from city life. Located next to the South Whidbey Harbor/Marina, it’s a great spot to drop in your kayak or moor up your boat. Enjoy a glass of wine and the stunning water views from your private deck. Sigh… For kayak rentals as well as info about guided tours and more, stop in at nearby Whidbey Island Kayaking for details. (Opens seasonally in March)
  • If you feel like pitching a tent or swankin’ out in your RV while in the Langley area, head to the nearby Whidbey Island Fairgrounds campground area. The fairgrounds are within walking distance of the downtown core and provide ample room and campsite amenities to make for a comfortable stay.

Ferry
The Clinton ferry arriving in Mukilteo

I hate to admit it, but I don’t often stop in the small town of Clinton. It’s not fair, but I’ve gotten too accustomed to breezing through Clinton on my way off or onto the ferry. (Granted, sometimes there isn’t much breezing, per se, if I happen to be stuck in a long ferry line.) However, even if it’s only because you’ll be spending a bit of extra time waiting for the ferry, Clinton has some great spots to check out and is well worth exploring. And you can’t beat that shoreline view! I’ve officially promised myself to spend more time getting to know the Clinton area…

Pro tip: Sunday afternoons and early evenings can be fairly busy for the ferry. Plan your travel schedule accordingly.

There are many wonderful places to grab a bite and enjoy the view. On your next stop in Clinton, be sure to consider these great locations:

  • Bringing the tradition of the Scottish Isles and Highlands to Whidbey Island, Cadee Distillery & Tasting Room produces several delicious whiskies out of its Clinton distillery. They recommend calling ahead to visit the tasting room. I very much enjoy their Cascadia Rye Whiskey – very tasty! Located very close to the ferry terminal and just off SR-525.
  • Visit the Cultus Bay Distillery on the southern tip of Whidbey Island, just south of the ferry terminal. The tasting room is open daily from 11am – 4pm, but it’s recommended to call ahead to tour/taste. If you happen to miss them, they also set up at the seasonal Bayview Farmers Market on Saturdays. They offer several varieties of spirits, but their Irish Poitin whiskey is particularly interesting.
  • Located just a little north of Cultus Bay Distillery, is Ogres Brewing. (Taproom – Thurs – Sat, 3-7pm – Also featuring gaming and music events) Stop in and enjoy some Ogress Blonde on tap or head over to the very unique, island institution Bailey’s Corner Store and enjoy a pint at the onsite beer garden.
  • Specializing in an international mix of noodle dishes such as Pad See Ew (my favorite!), Mac-n-Cheese and German Späetzle, Island Nosh is a great spot to grab a meal and tasty beverage. Located close to the ferry terminal and just off SR-525. (Winter hours: Mon-Tues, 3:30 – 8pm, Wed-Fri, Noon – 8pm)
  • Set in a building constructed in 1900 and operating as Cozy’s Roadhouse since 1932, this classic Whidbey Island restaurant offers great pub-style food featuring local and NW ingredients. Open daily at 11am and located just off SR-525 near the ferry terminal.
  • If you’re thinking of making Clinton a jumping-off spot for your Whidbey Island adventures, consider a stay at The Quintessa. This large estate overlooking the water features rooms in the main house as well as a lovely cabin. It is also possible to rent the entire estate for larger gatherings.

As I drive onto the welcoming decks of the ferry to Mukilteo, I bring this chapter of my ongoing Island County adventures to a close. There is a special feeling experienced only in the island communities of Washington State that will always bring me back. The amazing combination of history, people, forest, ocean and the Arts is intoxicating and I can’t imagine ever tiring of it. Regardless of wherever I am in the state – or in the world – Island County will always be a place to which I will continue to return and enjoy. And one of these days, I’ll return to its shores… on my boat! (#FutureBoatOwner)

Happy New Year – and GO EAT THE STATE!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Check out my Island County playlist on SPOTIFY

  • Here and Whole – Joan Shelly (from Cost of the Cold b/w Here and Whole)
  • This Sky – The Derek Trucks Band (from Songlines)
  • The Last Drive – Michel Bisceglia (from Bluebird)
  • The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress – Radka Toneff (from Some Time Ago (A Collection of Her Finest Moments))
  • Around and Around – Mountain Man (from Sings John Denver)
  • Sham-A-Ling-Dong-Ding – Jesse Winchester (from Love Filling Station)
  • The Carnival of the Animals, R.125: The Swan – Camille Saint-Saëns, Lucille Clifton, Bill Murray, Jan Vogler (from New Worlds)
  • On A Marché Sur la Lune – Anthony Strong (from Me and My Radio)
  • The Fear – Los Lobos (from The Fear)
  • I Forgive It All – Mudcrutch (from 2)
  • Short Trip Home – Edgar Meyer, Mike Marshall, Sam Bush, Joshua Bell (from The Essential Joshua Bell)
  • Putty Boy Strut – Anat Cohen, Jason Lindner, Joe Martin, Daniel Freedman (from Luminosa)
  • Unconditional Waltz – Calexico (from The Thread that Keeps Us – Deluxe Edition)
  • The Fox – Laura Veirs (from Hello I Must Be Going)
  • Can’t Find My Way Home – Blind Faith (from Blind Faith)
  • Everyone Knows – Mipso (from Old Time Reverie)
  • It’s Hard to Be Humble – Willie Nelson w/Lukas Nelson & Micah Nelson (from Ride Me Back Home)
  • As – Becca Stevens (from Regina)
  • Roll On – The Little Willies (from The Little Willies)
  • Sailing – Christopher Cross (from Christopher Cross)
  • Beautiful That Way – Noa (from Beautiful That Way)
  • I Don’t Worry About A Thing – Most Allison (from I Don’t Worry About A Thing)
  • All Some Kind of A Dream – Josh Ritter (from All Some Kind of A Dream)
  • Tempelhof – Yann Tiersen (from All)
  • Jeannine, I Dream of Lilac Time – Gene Austin (from The Best of Gene Austin)
  • An Old Guitar and An Old Refrain – Roger Wolfe Kahn (from Collection: 1925 – 1932)
  • Sweet Little Mystery – John Martyn (from Grace & Danger)
  • Buckets of Rain – Bob Dylan (from Blood on the Tracks)

West Beach
A beautiful coastal view from West Beach at Deception Pass State Park

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Check out more I Ate the State adventures:

I Ate the State: Wahkiakum County

Greetings!

For such a tiny area, Wahkiakum County packs quite a punch. Located in the bottom southwest corner of the state, this small swatch of Washington has been key to pivotal moments in not only the history of the state, but of the country. For its part in the iconic journey of Lewis and Clark, Wahkiakum County provided the first views of the Pacific Ocean to the weary explorers. Also indispensable to their expedition was the mighty Columbia River, which flows all the along the county’s border with Oregon. Most importantly, had the area and its native peoples not been helpful and accommodating to the Lewis and Clark expedition, the United States might not have the same layout as it does today.

Named for Chief Wakaiyakam of the Chinook Tribe, Wahkiakum County is the second least populated county in the state and the third smallest by land area. With its lush, fertile farmland and foothills fed by the Columbia River, the area has long supported local residents with its bounty. The first salmon cannery along the Columbia River sprang up around 1865 and inspired many similar operations. Life on the river has always been vibrant and the area’s close proximity to the Pacific Ocean has provided a strategic location for trade and exploration through the ages.

Altoona View
The gorgeous Columbia River as viewed from Altoona-Pillar Rock Road

There are many scenic routes in and out of the Wahkiakum area. Since I was traveling from the Seattle area, I took Interstate-5 southbound and got off on Exit 39, near Kelso and Longview. From there, I hooked up with the beautiful Ocean Beach Highway. (AKA: SR-4, a designated State Scenic Byway and part of the Lewis & Clark Trail Scenic Byway and Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail) Once on SR-4, I drove along the Columbia River, through Cowlitz County until I crossed into Wahkiakum County around the Eagle Cliff area.

Just across the county border lies the appropriately named County Line Park. Situated directly along the Columbia River, it provides a nice rest stop and picnic location for a day visit as well as overnight RV camping. On a clear day, Mount St. Helens can be seen in the distance and the views of the river are outstanding. Having grown up mere blocks from the Columbia River as it flows through the Tri-Cities, I have a special place in my heart for its waters. I was incredibly happy to make my first stop in Wahkiakum County along its beautiful shores.

Traveling further west along SR-4, the road continues to wind along the river, but slowly gains a small bit of elevation. Perched along the resulting bluffs and overlooking the river, beautiful homes with private driveways peak through the trees. Not much further, the lovely river town of Cathlamet awaits visitors to both Wahkiakum County and nearby Oregon alike.

While it might not seem very big, Cathlamet is the largest town in Wahkiakum County and serves as the county seat. It is a hub to the area and host to the Wahkiakum County Courthouse and K-12 school district for the entire county as well as a WSU Extension campus. The area has long been home to the Kathlamet and Chinook Peoples and what was once a large village, was visited by Lewis and Clark during their travels. Chief Wakaiyakam, the county’s namesake, is buried in the Cathlamet Cemetery.

Not only is Cathlamet the heart of the county, it is also an inspiration to many artists and artistic endeavors. Films such as Snow Falling on Cedars (1999 – starring Ethan Hawke) and Men of Honor (2000 – starring Robert De Niro and Cuba Gooding Jr.) have taken advantage of the beautiful surroundings. Local Tsuga Gallery features beautiful work from local artists and musicians and well-known Jazz musician Hadley Caliman called Cathlamet home for many years. He loved the area so much, in fact, he was willing to commute to his faculty position at Seattle’s Cornish College of the Arts during his long tenure at the school. (I had the pleasure of studying with him during my own time at Cornish!)

The history and beauty of the Cathlamet area runs deep and there are many ways in which to experience it. Simply walking around the quaint downtown area is a great way to start and can provide a great afternoon of exploration. If you happen to be in town on the weekend between May and October, stop by the Wahkiakum Historical Society Museum to investigate the county’s rich heritage. Admire the river view from the steps of the beautiful Pioneer Church (c. 1895 – On the National Register of Historic Places) and walk down to the waterfront area to enjoy the river up close. The area is particularly beautiful in the spring and summer, but Cathlamet is a charming place to explore any time of year.

For shopping opportunities stop in at Daisy Chain Floral for lovely flower arrangements and unique gifts. If you’re in the area around the holidays, head to the Lighted Christmas Parade & Holiday Market at Mile 38 Brewery and stock up on goods from the talented local artisans. (Dec 14, 3-9pm)

Since I’d left early in the morning to make a good day of it down in Wahkiakum, I’d skipped breakfast in my rush. (I did stop for coffee, however. I’m not a monster.) By the time I made it to Cathlamet, I was feeling pretty challenged and a good breakfast sounded fabulous. I was in great luck when I walked into Patty Cakes Café & Roasting, located on Main Street. I enjoyed a couple cups of their great coffee as well as a delicious scramble with bacon, Italian-blend cheese and mushrooms. To top it off, I splurged and tried one of their Patty-cakes. I’m not normally a pancake fan (unless they’re Swedish with lingonberries and butter), but the menu mentioned a 100-year old sourdough starter in their pancakes and I was intrigued. For the record, I’m very glad I tried them as they were delicious!

Cathlamet is a fairly small area, but they do have a few tasty food options. Some of the possibilities for your next Cathlamet visit:

  • Maria’s Place, located on Main Street offers scratch-made Mexican cuisine as well as a full bar and early morning breakfast every day. (Open daily at 7am)
  • Not just for pizza, The Pizza Mill serves great pizza along with burgers, sandwiches, salads and more. (Closed Sundays)
  • Stop in at the Mile 38 Brewery if you’re in the market for a great pint or two. (They also have house-made root beer!) If you happen to be moored at the nearby marina or staying at the campsite, they’re perfectly located for a relaxing break. Bring your own food or arrange for delivery from a local restaurant. (Wednesday – Saturday, 4-9pm and Sundays, 2-6pm – Family and dog friendly)

If you’re thinking of staying in the Cathlamet area or perhaps stopping in during your next river expedition, check out these great options:

  • The downtown Hotel Cathlamet (c. 1926) features comfortable rooms and a lovely lobby and tavern in this historic building. They also offer a continental breakfast, a large patio and a freezer to store all of those fish you just caught!
  • If you’d prefer to stay on your boat with all those fish you just caught, cruise into the charming Elochoman Marina and enjoy an idyllic riverside stay. They also have great cabins, yurts, tent sites and restrooms/showers. I have the fondest memories of boating along the Columbia River with my Uncle Ron when I was young. We pulled into similar marinas along the river and I always dreamed of owning my own boat someday. It’s STILL ON MY LIST. Soon…

After my lovely breakfast and jaunt around downtown Cathlamet, it was time to check out the wilds of nearby Puget Island. Actually a series of islands, including the fittingly named Little Island, the area can be reached from the Julia Butler Hansen Bridge via SR-409. The islands are a goldmine of gorgeous country roads and farmland. I had a mission to check out the entire county that day, but I could’ve happily spent all day on the tiny island, aimlessly driving around and taking in the scenery.

There are indeed many farms in the area and it’s an important part of the Wahkiakum County agricultural scene, but the island also fulfills another important purpose. Traveling south on SR-409 will quickly bring you to the Wahkiakum County Ferry, located on the south side of the island. The last ferry operating on the lower Columbia, this tiny gem ferries passengers and vehicles across the river to nearby Westport, Oregon 365 days a year, all day long. Should you arrive early to the Cathlamet side, grab a spot in adjacent Buffington Park and Heritage Area for a picnic and information about the area’s history and contributions. (Note: No debit or credit cards accepted for ferry – cash/check only)

Heading back towards Cathlamet, I randomly took a few of the backroads around the island. Amazing views, sweeping farmland, hidden sloughs and beautiful scenery greeted me around every turn in the road. I initially took a right on East Little Island Road off of SR-409 and drove around the eastern tip of the island until it brought be back around to SR-409. Lovely! Puget Island is one of the most peaceful, tranquil areas I’ve visited and I fully intend on returning for further exploration.

More places to explore on Puget Island for my – and your – next journey:

  • Located off the lovely East Little Island Road, Little Island Creamery produces delicious artisan cheese and butter out of their beautifully restored dairy farm. (10am to 4pm, daily – Self-serve fridge available)
  • If you’re looking for a cozy place to stay while exploring Puget Island, check out Stockhouse’s Farm & Rog’s Retreat Guest Cottage. As part of their farm operation, they also host a weekly farm market on Fridays from 3pm – 6pm. (May – October)
  • Should you feel like pitching a tent or lying out on the deck of your boat and stargazing, head to South Welcome Slough Campground & Moorage for a peaceful stay on a beautiful river slough. They also have a cozy lodge available should you want to take your adventure indoors.

Heading west on SR-4, the road winds and meanders inland of the river as it flows towards the Pacific Ocean. The drive is gorgeous and there are more than a few photo ops to be enjoyed. Along the way, the Lewis and Clark National Wildlife Refuge can be found off of SR-4 and Steamboat Slough Road. (Note: The refuge extends across the river into Oregon.) There isn’t a lot of hiking due to marshes, but you can boat around the islands. An amazing ecosystem awaits your exploration along with the opportunity to travel in the “steps” of Lewis and Clark. A few words of caution from the website: If your boat gets stuck in the mud, you’ll have to wait for the tides to return to loosen it. (Eeesh!)

Just a little further west on SR-4 will bring you to the sprawling Julia Butler Hansen National Wildlife Refuge (It also extends across the river into Oregon) It is a huge ecosystem of birds, fish, deer, marshlands, river sloughs and more and is absolutely worth a visit. Any of the viewing areas are great for a quick visit, but check out the White Tail Trail and connecting Steamboat Slough Road for a beautiful and serene afternoon.

After taking in the lovely scene at the wildlife refuge, I continued on SR-4 towards the bucolic, riverside town of Skamokawa. (Pronounced SKA-MA-KA-WAY and means ‘Smoke on the water’ in Chinook.) Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Skamokawa has long been an important outpost in the area. Until 1917, there were no roads to the area and travel was made primarily by boat using the river and connecting sloughs. The majority of homes were built on or facing the water and had docks and boardwalks connecting them to other parts of the village. Steamboats and tugboats were common in the area and greatly contributed to the local salmon fishing and logging commerce. It was quite a bustling area in its heyday.

For a great overview of the town and its history, don’t miss a stop at the Riverlife Interpretive Center and museum. (c. 1894 – Originally known as the Central School) The displays are well-curated and showcase many examples of life in early Skamokawa as well as spectacular views of the town and river. On my recent visit, I had the pleasure of meeting Pam Emery, the president of the Friends of Skamokawa historical society. She graciously shared with me much about the town’s history along with giving me great dining and tourist recommendations for the surrounding areas. The center also features local artisan wares and I was happy to pick up a jar of delicious caramel apple butter from Island’s End Farm and a lovely bar of soap from Elochoman Valley Soapworks. Check out the center’s upcoming Deck the Hall Christmas and Holiday Open House for even more local goodies. (Nov 29 – Dec 15, check website for hours)