I Ate the State – Okanogan County

Greetings!

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

North Cascades
The North Cascades are calling!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time – Happy trails!

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Wind through the backroads of Okanogan County with my SPOTIFY PLAYLIST

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

Check out more I Ate the State adventures!

I Ate the State: Whatcom County

Greetings!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More gratuitous shots of Finley…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lummi Beach
Beautiful shore finds of Lummi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bellingham has a quirky sort of charm. They’ve got their own thing going on and the downtown area celebrates this individuality with great restaurants, museums and more. To experience some of the unique flavors and flair of Bellingham, consider these options:

  • Laying claim to the title of “oldest continually operating café and cocktail lounge in Washington State,” the iconic Horseshoe Café (c. 1886) features local ingredients and a menu filled with comfort food classics. Tasty cocktails, a good tap list and open late.
  • If you’re craving Russian dumplings (they’re delicious!), head over to Pel’meni in the University district for a tasty experience. They offer a small menu, but who needs more when you have PEL’MENI to serve?! Open late!
  • For delicious breakfast, lunch or dinner in a funky, cozy downtown space, check out Cosmos Bistro. Inventive dishes, a great happy hour and locally sourced ingredients make this a fine stop on any downtown excursion.
  • The Old Town Cafe has a regular line out the door for their delicious breakfast and lunch fare. The current ownership has been serving tasty food to Bellingham residents for nearly 25 years and here’s to hoping the trend continues. (The space has actually been a restaurant since the early 1900s and known as the Old Town Café since 1967) They feature in-house baked goods, locally sourced ingredients and a great communal setting. They also host a free Thanksgiving dinner every year!
  • Old school cocktails and hot dogs, set in a historic downtown building with space-themed decor? What’s not to love?? Orion has a good happy hour, pool tables and they’re open late!

With all of Bellingham’s deep and eclectic history, it’s no wonder they have several excellent museums and antique stores to visit. Next time you’re in the area, bone up on your local knowledge at these great stops:

  • Guarding over the downtown skyline, the Whatcom Museum and its corresponding Lightcatcher building feature wonderful exhibits of Bellingham and surrounding area histories and more. The main museum is housed in Old City Hall and is itself an important piece of Washington State history. (First site in the state to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places)
  • The very unique and innovative Mindport features fine art and hand-built interactive exhibits. Located just around the corner from the Spark Museum, it’s a great way to spend an entertaining and interactive afternoon; especially as a combo pack!
  • Get a fully-charged, up-close look at all things electrical at the Spark – Museum of Electrical Invention in the heart of downtown. Check out the Mega Zapper with its 4 million volts (AKA: Nikola Tesla’s Lightning Machine) and listen in on local KMRE 102.3 FM, the independent radio station operated out of the museum. (Or online at org)
  • Head past the iconic rocket ship installation on Holly Street and hit up any of the great antique stores in the area. (Note: The rocket ship sits in front of the now-closed Rocket Donuts. A sad loss for donut lovers everywhere.) Penny Lane Antique Mall (10,000 square feet!), Vintage 360 and Bellingham Bay Collectibles are great shops to explore while in the area.

The Arts are alive in Bellingham and there are many options for expanding your artistic horizons during your visit. Just a few of the great places to help you enjoy the scene:

  • Owned by actor Ryan Stiles, the Upfront Theatre features regular improv comedy shows as well as improv classes. Put your comedic skills to the test!
  • On the National Register of Historic Places the Mount Baker Theatre (c. 1927) used to be a vaudeville theatre, but now features a variety of Arts and entertainment. Shows include the classic Phantom of the Opera (1925 silent film version) played with a live score on their in-house Mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ, Warren Miller’s Timeless (11/9) and the 20th Annual Mt. Baker Film & Arts Festival. (11/1)
  • The new Sylvia Center for the Arts features theatre, music and dance performances as well as rehearsal and teaching space for Bellingham’s thriving Arts community.
  • Head to the Bellingham Festival of Music for beautiful classical music including orchestral premiers, string quartets, chamber music, world-class soloists and more. (July 3-24, 2020)

Soapbox
Stand on a soapbox and speak your mind! (Located across from the Farmers Market in downtown Bellingham)

Just south of Bellingham lies the endlessly charming Fairhaven Historic District. Founded by “Dirty” Dan Harris in the late 1800s and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Fairhaven is a wonderful place to spend a long weekend – or longer. Great restaurants, shops and a gateway to scenic Chuckanut Drive make it a must-visit – and very walkable – destination any time of year.

While strolling about this quaint area, keep an eye out for one of the many murals featured on town buildings. Along with Bellingham, the Fairhaven area sports wonderful murals by artists such as Northwest favorites, Lanny Little and Henry. (Check out the largest hand-painted mural in Washington State at the Bellingham Subaru dealer by artist, Henry) I particularly love how Lanny Little painted himself into one of the murals located in the lovely Village Green, located in the center of town. Nice to be able to recognize an artist for their talent…

Fairhaven has no shortage of great restaurants, pubs, bakeries and dessert spots to check out. On your next visit, add these establishments to your list of places to visit:

  • Grab a bite from one of the visiting food trucks or bring your own to enjoy with one of the tasty locals brews at Stones Throw Brewing Co. They’re family and dog friendly and regularly feature live music.
  • For the ultimate in dog-friendly watering holes, stop by Paws for a Beer and enjoy a pint. They even kindly allow humans who might not have their dogs with them. For more info on grabbing a beer with your furry buddy, check out their dog membership (21+)
  • If you’re up for a delicious burger, hit up the eclectic Filling Station in downtown Fairhaven. Using local ingredients, including custom-made buns from local bakery, Avenue Bread they know how to rock a good burger, not to mention a tasty cocktail. (Also in the Sunnyland neighborhood of Bellingham)
  • My new friends, James and Julie from nearby Pioneer Park in Ferndale, highly recommended Fairhaven Fish & Chips in downtown Fairhaven. Located in the center of downtown and run out of an authentic British double-decker bus, they serve some pretty tasty fish-n-chips, indeed.
  • Featuring breakfast, lunch and dinner, Skylark’s Hidden Café is a great Fairhaven stop. Throw in award-winning chowder, a great happy hour menu and Jazz on Monday nights and it’s hard to ignore this cozy scene.
  • There is never a time I’m not up for fresh crepes – never! Mount Bakery Fairhaven is the place to go if you, too, heed the call of the delicious crepe. Also serving a multitude of scratch-baked goods along with a full breakfast and lunch menu. Yum! (Additional locations can be found in downtown Bellingham and the Bellingham Farmers Market)
  • Named after Fairhaven’s founder, Dirty Dan Harris’ Steakhouse in downtown Fairhaven has been serving delicious steak and local seafood for the past 44 years. (Closed Mondays. Open at 5pm, Tues – Sun) And if you’d like to further celebrate Dirty Dan, check out the annual Dirty Dan Harris Festival at the end of April.
  • The iconic Colophon Café, with entrances on 11th Street and off the Fairhaven Village Green, offers hearty soups, sandwiches, burgers and great coffee and baked goods. The building (c. 1891), with its (haunted) upstairs ballroom and 1900s hand-operated elevator remnants in downstairs dining area is a gem in and of itself. There is said to have been a speakeasy in the building during the Prohibition era. Cool!
  • Directly next door to the Colophon Café and another icon of the neighborhood, Village Books & Paper Dreams offers a wonderful selection of books, gifts and more. (Also in nearby Lynden)
  • For a nice spot of tea and a British-inspired lunch or afternoon tea, stop by Abbey Garden Tea Room in downtown Fairhaven. Located in the same space is CreativiTea where you can paint your own pottery and enjoy a lovely cup of tea. (Also in Lynden)
  • I am indeed sad about Rocket Donut’s departure from the Bellingham/Fairhaven food scene. However, the fact that ACME Ice Cream has opened their new flagship store in the old Rocket Donut Fairhaven location definitely helps to soothe my soul – and beyond! To say I am addicted to ACME Ice Cream is an (embarrassing) understatement. It is the best ice cream EVER and I’d eat it every day if I could! (Well, I certainly could, but the adult side of me vigorously argues as to whether I should…) Made with local ingredients in the nearby town of Acme, it has a dense, taffy-like consistency that is unlike any other ice cream I’ve tried. It is DELICIOUS. (Great. Now I need/want some ACME Ice Cream… Shut up, adult side!)

To add to the delicious temptations lurking around every corner in downtown Fairhaven, there are an equal number of fun shops to explore and activities to check out. A few notables from my recent visit to the downtown area:

  • My wallet and I needed to get out of Current & Furbish fairly quickly as I could’ve easily taken home quite a few wonderful items. Home décor, gourmet foods, restored furniture and more make for a lovely bit of browsing and potential home redecorating projects.
  • The same goes for Three French Hens in that I could’ve easily gotten carried away with the credit cards. Fun clothing, home décor, gift ideas and more fill the shelves of this fun shop in the heart of downtown Fairhaven.

  • They make pretty awesome bikes, but I will admit to being more entertained by their company name and logo – And the limitless opportunity for puns, memes and overall humor. The Evil (Bikes) headquarters can be found in downtown Fairhaven, just across from the ferry terminal. I wish I could afford one of their Evil bikes, but for now I’ll just have to dream of owning something Evil… I’d also like to point out the rather evil looking trees directly across the street – as well as the wild apple trees. Coincidence? But don’t worry – it’s all located just past the peace marker. Where there’s evil, good is likely hot on its heels. Or down the sidewalk…

  • Something that’s been on my bucket list for quite some time is taking the ferry from Bellingham/Fairhaven to Ketchikan, Alaska. That’s right, you can take a ferry from Washington State all the way to Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Chain! It’s part of the quite extensive Alaska Marine Highway System. The trip to Ketchikan is 38-hours long and there are options to stay in one of the ship’s staterooms, “camp” on the deck or sleep in the solarium area. If this sounds as AMAZING to you as it does me, head to the Bellingham Cruise Terminal and hop aboard! (But best to first make a reservation.) Located across the street from Evil. (I’ll make an effort, but it’s probably going to be a while before I stop making Evil jokes…)

  • If you’d like to extend your exploration of downtown Fairhaven, check out the quaint scene at the Fairhaven Village Inn, located just across from the Village Green. During your stay, be sure to visit Galloway’s Cocktail Bar, the Art Deco cocktail bar located on the street level of the Inn.

Fairhaven Village Inn
Check out the lovely Fairhaven Village Inn and grab a classic cocktail at Galloway’s Cocktail Bar – and ice cream from Edaleen’s!

Fairhaven offers many excellent ways to celebrate and explore the area throughout the year. A few fun ways to experience what this quaint village has to offer:

  • Head to the Village Green during the summer months and enjoy the Fairhaven Outdoor Cinema. (Saturday evenings, June 20 – August 29, 2020)
  • Set in conjunction with the epic Ski to Sea relay race, the Historic Fairhaven Festival takes place in downtown Fairhaven and celebrates the town in grand fashion with an all-day street fair, live music, a beer/wine garden, local food vendors and more. (May 26th / Memorial Day weekend)
  • Stroll around the Village Green, take in the summer air, enjoy the view out to the water and savor a fine glass of wine at the annual Vino in the Village Wine Walk. Sounds like a pretty great way to spend a summer evening… (August 8th)
  • Celebrate all things holiday at the yearly Fairhaven Winterfest. Hop in one of the horse-drawn carriages and take in the lights and holiday displays. Be sure to check out the Holiday Market on November 30th in the Village Green. (Winterfest runs Nov 29th thru Dec 21st)
  • If you like learning all the hush-hush, behind-the-scenes details about a town, hit up the Good Time Girls tour company for any of their well-researched tours of Bellingham and Fairhaven. Their Sin & Gin and BellingHistory tours are quite popular and very entertaining. In October they offer a special Gore & Lore tour – don’t miss it!

Sure, I-5 is a relatively efficient way in and out of the Bellingham and Fairhaven areas. There’s even quite a bit of lovely scenery along the way. However, why take I-5 when you can cruise along one of the state’s most beautiful and scenic drives? Chuckanut Drive (AKA: SR-11, a designated Scenic Highway), running along the Whatcom County coast between Fairhaven and Skagit County is a spectacular drive and has been awing motorists since the turn of last century.

Even before it became an official (gravel) road in 1916, Chuckanut Drive has been an important fixture in the area. In conjunction with Highway 99 and later I-5, it was an integral link in joining together routes from British Columbia all the way down to San Francisco. (It was paved in 1921.) As it winds its way through the coastal Chuckanut Mountains and into the Skagit Valley, it continues to provide a beautiful and interesting route through the area. (The fall is a particularly lovely – and popular – time to take the drive!)

Chuckanut Drive
Great hiking through the Chuckanut Mountain trails near Larrabee State Park

Chuckanut Drive is brimming with amazing areas to explore and enjoy. A few beautiful spots to check out on your next Whatcom County adventure:

  • There are so many amazing hikes and strolls to be found around Chuckanut Drive and Chuckanut Mountain Park. The excellent Washington Trails Association also has a great, general guide for the area.
  • Perched on a bluff overlooking Chuckanut Bay and Teddy Bear Cove, the lovely Woodstock Farm (c. 1905) and its sprawling estate is a wonderful spot to stop and explore. Original owner of the farm, Cyrus Gates, one of the leads in creating Larrabee State Park as well as portions of Chuckanut Drive and the Mt. Baker Highway, definitely lent his scenic vision to the creation of the farm. After investigating the beautiful grounds, enjoy the great views of Lummi Island and the San Juans.

  • On the topic of Larrabee State Park, it’s just down the road from Woodstock Farms – and very big! (The southern part of the park is the Whatcom/Skagit County border) It was the first designated state park in Washington and is an excellent place to spend the day. Camping, boating and great hiking are just a few of the reasons to visit. Discover Pass
  • If you’re heading south on Chuckanut drive with a destination of Skagit County, consider adding a bonus stop in the tiny, but delicious Bow-Edison It’s a foodie paradise!

Heading back up north, towards the Canadian border, will allow us to check out the Whatcom County scene to the east of I-5. The coastal, west side of Whatcom County has plenty to offer and countless activities to keep one busy. However, when you add in the picturesque towns, winding rivers and soaring mountain scenery of Whatcom County’s east side, the ante gets considerably upped. Epic vacation plans for the win!

A short drive northeast of Bellingham on SR-539 brings us to the wonderfully quaint town of Lynden. From its serene, tree-lined Front Street to its Dutch-inspired downtown, Lynden is an excellent town to explore. Windmills, Dutch bakeries and pastoral backroads and farms make it a dream for bicycle excursions and leisurely country drives. It’s also host to one of the three border crossings in Whatcom County, known as the Aldergrove Crossing. (SR-539 becomes BC Highway 13 in Canada) So many great areas to explore are packed into this quiet swath of northeast Whatcom County. (Interesting fact: Known as America’s Raspberry Capitol, Whatcom County is responsible for growing 65% of the nation’s red raspberries and 95% of the state’s red raspberry crop. YUM! Many raspberry farms can be viewed along the Lynden area backroads.)

A great place to begin your Lynden adventures is via the downtown area. It’s a relatively small part of town, but is brimming with great restaurants, shops and more. (Note: Many businesses in the downtown area are closed on Sundays) A few places to check out during your visit to Lynden:

The Waples Mercantile Building (On the National Register of Historic Places), located in the center of downtown, is home to several great businesses. I had a delicious breakfast and great cup of coffee at Avenue Bread. The ambiance is very cool and it was a nice place to relax on a Sunday morning. (Also in Bellingham) They are connected within the building to The Inn at Lynden, a cozy boutique hotel and the stellar Village Books and Paper Dreams. (I picked up some luxurious soap from Samish Bay Soaps and a rather cool Octopus glass) Connected on the other side of Village Books is the Cheeks clothing shop. (Closed Sundays) And on the side of the building, don’t miss grabbing a pint at Overflow Taps. (Also in Bellingham) They are part of the excellent Charity Pints Program which benefits clean water and building drinking wells in Africa. (Additional Whatcom County brewers participating include Aslan Brewing, Atwood Ales, Wander Brewing, North Fork Brewery and Boundary Bay Brewery)

Just across the way from the Waples Mercantile Building are several more wonderful food and shopping options. The famous Dutch Mothers Restaurant and gift shop has been wooing diners with their scrumptious Dutch pancakes and homemade pies for years. (Closed Sundays) Not to be outdone in the area of delicious Dutch baked goods, the nearby Lynden Dutch Bakery has been serving tasty Dutch baked goods to a dedicated crowd of patrons for the past 125 years! (Closed Sundays) And in a fully dedicated tribute to the town’s Dutch heritage, The Mill by Perfectly Paired serves bistro-style lunch and dinner along with sporting a full-size Dutch windmill as part of the building.

Lynden offers many ways to celebrate the history and bounty of the area. Some of the year-round opportunities to explore Lynden include:

  • To sample the best of area farms and local artisans, head to the Farmers Market every Saturday in the center of downtown at Centennial Park. (6/1 – 9/28, 10am – 2pm)
  • Celebrate Whatcom County and Lynden’s favorite berry at the annual Northwest Raspberry Festival in July. Be sure to take home some of the delicious jewels from one of the many U-pick farms such as Haugen’s Raspberry Farm (U-pick raspberries and blueberries), Koetjes Blueberries and Kamm Creek Farm. (U-pick organic raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and currants.)
  • Learn more about the area and its Dutch connections at the Lynden Pioneer Museum on Front Street in downtown Lynden. (Closed Sundays)
  • The Northwest Washington Fair features entertainment, rodeo, adjudicated exhibits, carnival rides and more. Fun for the whole family! (Aug 17-22, 2020)
  • Bundle up, grab some hot cocoa and head down to Front Street for the annual Northwest Lighted Christmas Parade in December. (12/7/19, 6-7pm)

While you’re ambling your way through the backroads and byways of the Lynden area, keep an eye out for hidden gems along the way. Great food, wine and adventure await! Some of the fun spots to seek out:

  • As you head into Lynden on SR-539, be on the lookout for Bellewood Farms. Home of the largest apple orchard in western Washington, they feature a “farm-to-glass” distillery, a farm store and tasty breakfast and lunch in their café. During the harvest season, they feature u-pick apples, a pumpkin patch and corn maze.
  • Not far from Lynden in the Everson / Nooksack area, in between SR-9 and SR-544, are several spots worth checking out. For a delicious steak and all manner of German schnitzel, stop in at Herb Niemann’s Steak & Schnitzel House. (Since 1973) If you’re a fan of meat pies (Kristen, I’m lookin’ at YOU.), Good to Go Meat Pies is the place to go! (Also at Bellingham and Everett Farmers Markets) For a bit of wine tasting and relaxing in a beautiful locale, be sure to visit Samson Estates Winery in the Nooksack area. They feature award-winning fruit wine created from the abundance of local Nooksack berries.
  • Heading into nearby Sumas via SR-9 will bring you to the final Whatcom County border crossing into Canada. (Sumas/Huntington Crossing – SR-9 becomes Hwy 11 in Canada) While in the area, stop in at the famous Edaleen Dairy for a scoop or several of their delicious ice cream. (Also in Lynden, Ferndale, Blaine and Fairhaven/Bellingham) If you want to eat your meal before your dessert, head to nearby Bob’s Burgers & Brew for a juicy burger and a pint. (Also in Birch Bay) Work it all off by learning a little bit about the Sumas area at the Sumas Historical Society and Museum. (Monday, 10am – 1pm, Friday & Saturday, Noon – 4pm)

Traveling south on SR-9 will bring you to the junction of one of the most spectacular drives in the state, the Mount Baker Highway. (SR-542) As you head into the wilds of the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, the road winds through gorgeous farmland as the promise of towering mountain peaks rise in the distance. Mount Baker (10,781 ft), the second most active volcano in the Cascade Range behind Mount Saint Helens, dominates the area with the spectacular Mount Shuksan (9,131 ft) guarding its flank. Whatever manner you choose to experience the area, whether by car, foot or other, it is impossible to leave without being profoundly moved by this immense beauty.

Driving east on SR-542, there are a multitude of things to see and do. The ultimate destination is often the Mount Baker ski area, but as there are so many excellent distractions, it’s easy to make a few stops along the way. Deming and nearby Glacier are the tiny towns closest to Mount Baker and are surrounded by stunning scenery and filled with many camping, hiking and outdoor opportunities. Deming is also the tribal seat of the Nooksack Tribe, who have been living in the area for thousands of years. Spending time at Mount Shuksan and Mount Baker proper is never a bad idea, but definitely allow time to stop and smell the fresh mountain air on the way up. (Pro tip: As you’re driving along the Mount Baker Highway near the Kendall area, be sure to stay on SR-542 at the round-about intersection. If not, you just might find yourself on SR-547 and heading towards Sumas and the Canadian Border. Which can come up on you very quickly… Not to say I’ve ever done such a thing.)

A few of the great distractions to enjoy as you make your way up the Mount Baker Highway:

  • If you find yourself driving towards Mt. Baker on SR-542 out of Bellingham, make a stop at Rome Grocery. They’re a great place to stock up on supplies for your adventure as well as a great place to grab a quick bite.
  • If you’re in the market for Icelandic or Shetland sheep (And who isn’t?), consider Lydia’s Flock, a sheep farm located off SR-542 around the Deming area. They offer classes, shearing, volunteer events and more. I’m particularly interested in their Wool 101
  • The North Fork Brewery and Pizzeria, located directly off SR-542 is a must-stop for tasty pizza and a pint after a hard day of hiking, skiing, taking pictures, etc. Family friendly with outdoor seating, a wedding chapel and a beer shrine! In addition to their delicious beer, they make barleywine and root beer. I’m partial to their BRP Pilsner.
  • Graham’s Restaurant and adjacent store have been greeting Mount Baker travelers for many years. The store features a small selection of groceries, gifts, camping supplies, a coffee counter and baked goods. The restaurant has a tasty menu of comfort food favorites and servers breakfast on weekends. Always a great spot to visit!
  • Located directly off SR-542 in the Deming area, Rifugio’s Country Italian Cuisine serves rustic Italian food and regularly hosts “Feast” themed events. Open Thursday thru Sunday for dinner with brunch on Saturdays and Sundays.
  • Heading closer towards the mountains, Chair 9 – Woodstone Pizza & Bar in Glacier offers a great pub and pizza menu. If you’re in need of lodging, check out their adjacent Blue T Lodge and enjoy not having to drive home after a long day of skiing or hiking.
  • While there isn’t lodging at the Mt. Baker Ski Area, there are many Local accommodations available in the Deming and Glacier areas. Find a cabin, bring along a few friends and enjoy a sublime mountain getaway in one of the most peaceful areas in the state. (And beyond!)
  • Take a break from your hike and check out some summer music jams at the Baker Blues Festival (July 31 – August 2, 2020) and the Subdued Stringband Jamboree (August 6-8, 2020) Both events take place at the Deming Log Show Fairgrounds (SR-542) near Nugents Corner and the Nooksack River.

Pro Tip: As you venture further into the mountains, make sure you’ve included the 10 Essentials in your backpack. Whether summer or winter, it is imperative to be ready for any type of off-roading, be it on foot, ski, bike or other exciting means. Weather can change quickly, water sources might be far and few between and you never know when that loose rock on the trail might have other plans for your day. Be prepared!

Not too far past the Glacier area, look for a signpost directing you to the gorgeous Nooksack Falls area. It’s a short jog off the highway and well worth the stop. The beautiful Nooksack River flows through the area and drops, via a series of stunning waterfalls, 88 feet to the canyon floor below. Be sure to check out the information kiosks telling about the former Great Excelsior Mine and old town of Excelsior. Also pay heed to the warnings about NOT climbing over the fenced areas overlooking the falls. Seriously. (Interesting fact: The falls were featured in the hunting scene of The Deer Hunter. The nearby North Cascades Highway and spectacular Diablo Lake were also included in the film.) If you’re looking to get to know the Excelsior area even better, check out the hike to Excelsior Pass. It’s a moderate hike with great views of Mt. Baker and flower-filled meadows with access to the Damfino Lakes. For bonus points, hike up further to the former fire lookout at Excelsior Peak.

Past Nooksack Falls, the highway begins to gain elevation and the switchbacks come with more frequency. I love windy, mountain roads and the Mount Baker Highway is one of the greats. I will admit, however, to feeling my heart in my stomach on a few of those switchbacks closer towards the top; especially if it’s raining or snowing. Yowsa! That said, the WSDOT does keep the road well-maintained and it’s open year-round up to the ski area.

As you get almost to the end of the road, look for the entrance to the parking area for Picture Lake. One of the most photographed locales in the state, it is an absolute must-stop. Mt. Shuksan towers alongside the area, gloriously reflected in the lake. The path next to the lake is fully accessible and great for an easy-going stroll and with little effort and the simplest of cameras, your pictures are guaranteed to be amazing. I could honestly just sit on the shore and watch the mountain all day long…

If you happen to be in the area during the summer, make a point to go all way to the end of highway at Artist Point. The mountain views are spectacular and on a clear day, it’s easy to see Canada to the north and Mount Rainier to the south. Head to the easy-going Artist Ridge Trail for breath-taking scenery and be sure to stick around for the dazzling sunsets. The portion of the highway leading to Artist Point closes for the winter, but it’s still possible to head up to the area for beautiful snowshoeing opportunities.

Just short of Artist Point, lies the consummate ski hill, Mount Baker Ski Area. They get an average annual snowfall of 701 inches and due to their somewhat remote location, the crowds are never huge. It’s possible to get fresh tracks throughout the day! If you’re not up for tackling the crazy mountain drive in the winter, the day lodge is open in summer and is a great addition to area hiking adventures. (Interesting fact: Call of the Wild (1935) with Clark Gable and Loretta Young was filmed near Mt. Baker Ski Resort and helped expand the popularity of the area.)

There are countless hiking, climbing and adventuring opportunities in the Mount Baker / Mount Shuksan area. A few to consider on your next visit:

IMPORTANT NOTE: Never hike or climb on any glaciers or permanent snow fields without the appropriate alpine climbing gear and know-how.

  • If you’re up for a challenge, check out the Heliotrope Ridge Trail off of FS Road 39. The hike offers pretty amazing views overlooking the crevassed, glacial moraine of Mount Baker. (Not good for early summer hiking) A Recreation Pass is required at the trailhead.
  • Another strenuous, but rewarding hike is the Lake Ann Trail with its great view of Mount Shuksan, Mount Baker, sub-alpine meadows and marmots! A Recreation Pass is required at the trailhead.
  • As is to be expected, there are a lot of climbing opportunities for Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan. Hit up local climbing outfits such as RMI, Alpine Ascents or the American Alpine Institute for excellent guide services, information and gear. American Alpine Institute offers snowshoeing tours as well. (Note: You will need a permit to make a summit climb.)
  • For an epic challenge, grab a few friends and enter the annual Ski to Sea relay race over Memorial Day Weekend. It’s an ambitious trek from the Mount Baker Ski Area to Bellingham Bay consisting of teams of three to eight racers, competing in seven different sports. (Cross Country Ski, Downhill Ski/Snowboard, Running, Road Bike, Canoe (2 paddlers), Cyclocross Bike, and Sea Kayak.) This is an absolute bucket-list goal of mine. Care to join me?

In order to get to the North Cascades National Park and Diablo Lake in the eastern part of Whatcom County, it is necessary to first travel through Skagit County. The mountains are beautiful, but they do occasionally add a bit of travel time and obstacle to the adventure. (It’s also possible to reach these areas from the eastern side of the state via beautiful Okanogan County. Look for the I Ate the State article coming soon!) For my most recent adventure to the area, I opted to approach via Skagit County.

For the most direct route from western Washington to the North Cascades Highway – North Cascades Loop (SR-20 – a designated Scenic Byway) hit up I-5 Exit 230 in the Burlington area. If you’re looking for a more leisurely approach, take SR-9 to get to SR-20. Any route you take to get to SR-20 will be worth it as the North Cascades Highway is truly one of the most spectacular drives in the county. (Note: The North Cascades highway is closed past Lake Diablo and west of Mazama during the winter. Check the WSDOT website for opening/closing details.)

If you happen to be coming down SR-9 (the Valley Highway) from the north, be sure to explore the areas around Acme and Wickersham. Bring your swimsuit and take a dip – or a float – in the South Fork of the Nooksack River. (River floating is a popular summer pastime in the area. Many cars were parked on the side of SR-9 near Acme and the Mosquito Lake Exit to access the river.) SR-9 and adjoining backroads are fairly quiet around the Acme and Wickersham areas and there is beautiful scenery everywhere you look. Prairie Road is particularly lovely and will eventually lead you back out to I-5 and the Bow Hill Road Exit. (Exit 236) It’s an absolute beauty of a weekend drive or ride.

It’s a fairly quiet part of the county, but there are indeed great places to visit. Some of the spots to check out on your next trip through the area:

  • The Blue Mountain Grill features a pretty spectacular view and is a popular stop for travelers through the area. They serve lunch and dinner and feature burgers, seafood and fried chicken with all the fixins’.
  • A favorite along the Valley Highway (SR-9) in Acme is the ACME Diner. Stop in and enjoy their classic diner fare and all-day breakfasts. (Closed Mondays)
  • Hop aboard the Lake Whatcom Railway and experience the past while riding in their Pullman Company cars. They’ve been in continuous operation for over 100 years! They make sightseeing stops along the way, so don’t forget your camera. They also host various events throughout the year. Located in the Wickersham area off SR-9.

A drive up the North Cascades Highway is an adventure in and of itself. The highway winds through beautiful farmland and fertile valleys, all nurtured by the mighty Skagit River. The Skagit River is the state’s second largest river (after the Columbia River) and generally follows along the highway corridor. Starting in the Canadian Cascades at Allison Pass, it flows down to the Ross Lake area, into Diablo Lake and heads out to the Puget Sound close to the La Conner area. (For spots to check out along the way in Skagit County, check out my recent I Ate the State article.)

As you make your way east on the North Cascades Highway, there are scores of places to camp, hike, fish and generally enjoy the area. Many are accessible year-round and are the perfect escape from the noise and grind of the city. An excellent, general area for all things outdoors can be found off the North Cascades Highway on the Baker Lake Road (FS Road 11) in the Baker Lake / Middle Fork Nooksack area. The region is known for good Sockeye fishing, spectacular hiking trails and winter recreation including snowmobiling, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

There are many campgrounds in the Baker Lake area along with excellent hiking and backpacking opportunities. Just a few of the many options to explore on your next trip:

  • Located on the west side of the lake, the Bayview South and North Campgrounds are a good jumping off point for hikes in the area. (You’ll need to bring drinking water.) Also on the west side of the lake, the Horseshoe Cove Campground features sites close to the lake as well as a swimming beach and boat launch.
  • Heading North on the west side of lake will bring you to the Boulder Creek Campground. (You’ll need to bring drinking water.) Panorama Point Campground is close by and features a paved boat launch.
  • Just past Panorama Point is the Swift Creek Campground. It’s a larger campground with spots for tents and RVs and features a large, paved boat launch and 20-slip dock. Just over from Swift Creek lies the Park Creek Campground. It’s smaller, but situated close to the creek as it flows out to the lake.
  • Continuing towards the north part of the lake will bring you to the Shannon Creek Campground. It has a small boat launch and is a stop along the way to the Shannon Ridge Trailhead which is a little further north, up the Shannon Creek and forest service roads. The trailhead a popular starting point for Mt. Shuksan climbs and backcountry camping. Backcountry permits are required for overnight stays in North Cascades National Park. (No pets allowed in park) A valid Recreation Pass is required within National Forests. (At trailhead)
  • At the end of the Baker Lake Road, park and hike in to the remote Sulphide Creek Campground via the Baker River Trail, along the Baker River. (In Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest) Old-growth forest and a huge amount of solitude await the weary hiker. A valid Recreation Pass is required within National Forests. (At trailhead)
  • On the east side of the lake, hit up the Baker Lake Trail #610 to hike to lakeside campsites such as Anderson Point and Maple Grove. This trail eventually hooks up with the Baker River Trail #606 which will take you deeper into the wilderness. A valid Recreation Pass is required within National Forests. (At trailhead) (The Baker River Trail is also accessible via the end of the Baker Lake Road)

Creek
Lovely little scenes around every corner in the North Cascades

Not far past the small area of Marblemount in Skagit County, you’ll officially enter Whatcom County and just after, the glorious North Cascades National Park. Keep your eyes peeled for the exit to the North Cascades National Park Wilderness Visitor & Information Center. There is much to be gained from even a brief stop to the area. The park celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2018, but the history and majesty of the area far surpasses the last fifty years.

It’s easy to glance out the window of your car or take in the scene as you hike along a trail, but the sheer size and content of the park would be near impossible to absorb in a lifetime – or be accessible. There are 312 glaciers in the park – more than Glacier National Park! (Sadly, the glaciers have decreased by 50% in the last 100 years.) The park is comprised of 98% wilderness and has the most bio-diversity of any other national park with the exception of Great Smokey Mountains National Park – and only by a few varieties of grass! Since there are few roads within the park, many trails and campsites are only accessible by hiking or driving on Forest Service roads outside of the park to get close to trailheads and campsites. You have to really want to explore the inner reaches of the park, but it certainly is a worthwhile and rewarding endeavor.

While at the visitor center, take the short Sterling Munro Trail from behind the building and marvel at the beautiful Picket Range in the distance. Take in the uniquely formed Chopping Block and the highest (and most awesomely named) peak in the range, MOUNT TERROR. (What could possibly go wrong?) For a great list of hikes and campsites to help you get closer to these amazing peaks, check out the NPS site.

Heading further northeast on SR-20 brings you to the tiny town of Newhalem. To this day it is a “company” town in that it is owned by Seattle City Light and populated entirely by employees of the nearby hydroelectric projects. It is, however, open to visitors and makes a great last-stop for gas and snacks before heading over the passes to eastern Washington. Be sure to stop in at the Skagit General Store, the Skagit Information Center and take a stroll around the town to visit the “Old No. 6” steam engine and the interesting art installations around the park areas.

It is also possible to tour the Gorge Powerhouse with the Skagit Tours outfit. Beginning in the 1920s, Seattle City Light originally gave tours around the area, including Diablo Lake and Ross Dams which included their famous Dam Good Chicken Dinner and tour of Ladder Creek Falls at night. (Offered to this day!) The tours were meant to drum up interest in the hydroelectric projects and were a popular tourist and investor attraction – and the guests got to take home the leftover pies! Stop in Newhalem and learn about the history of the area and the history of the Seattle City Light’s tenure in the North Cascades in a very unique way.

In recent decades, the Newhalem area has attracted more than hydroelectric dreams and has served as the backdrop in a few notable artistic endeavors. For you 80s film nerds (me), part of War Games was filmed in an old Newhalem gravel quarry. (Specifically, the Cheyenne Mountain Complex scene.) Additionally, Tobias Wolff, author of This Boy’s Life (The film version starred Robert De Niro, Ellen Barkin and Leonardo DiCaprio) lived in Newhalem and nearby Concrete and based the book off of his life there. (Check out my I Ate the State Skagit County article for more info about Concrete and surrounding areas)

There are many great locales about which to hike, camp and explore in the areas surrounding Newhalem. For great access to the Skagit River and cool interpretive trails, check out the nearby Newhalem Creek Campground. If you’re up for fishing and hiking in a glorious location, check into the Gorge Lake Campground and enjoy. (Boat launch, no potable water) While in the area, hit up the nearby Stetattle Creek or Sourdough Mountain trails for a beautiful – and challenging – hike. An absolute must for any North Cascades visit is a stop at Gorge Lake Overlook/Gorge Creek and interpretive trail. The waterfalls truly cannot be represented by photo. You need to stand on the bridge overlooking the falls and experience the thrill of gorge and the thundering water. I love heights and they rarely get me, but WOW – that’s quite a drop!