Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The North Cascades

Washington’s Cascade Country is often compared to Switzerland. True enough if you are looking at spectacular, glacier-clad peaks. But the comparison also does the area a disservice. Because although the North Cascades can hold their own, if not out-dazzle, any mountain range in the world, what lies on each side of the range can’t be found anywhere but in the American Northwest.
The lowlands flanking the east side of Puget Sound from Everett to Bellingham are filled with immaculate farms and enchanting towns: Marysville, Mount Vernon, La Conner and Sedro-Woolley among them. Any of them are worth exploring for a day; strung together you could spend a week or more. Driving east, to and through any of the mountain passes you’ll see some of the most verdant forests in the world. Waterfalls spill down from sheer basalt walls that line the highways. Ferns and mosses cling to the rocks. Fine maples flaunt their sculptural forms and beautiful foliage, conifers tower, and up in the highest reaches, snow and ancient ice gleam in the sun. If you drop down in the town of Winthrop, you’ll blink your eyes and think you’ve awakened in a cowboy movie. If your descent from the Cascades takes you through the Bavarian town of Leavenworth, you really will think you’re in the Alps. Don’t be surprised if you hear someone in the distance yodeling.
Once over the summit, you’re in another country. Up north, the Okanogan stretches to the east. When the West was created, God must have used the Okanogan as the template. Colonies of pines fill pocket in the slopes where rain is caught. Great sweeps of grasses hug the dry sides. There are big rocks and deep canyons, brilliant blue skies, and air so clean and dry you’ll want to bottle it and take it home.
Further south in Chelan County, Lake Chelan glistens like a silver of lapis lazuli tucked in the folds of velvety green mountains. This long and deep lake is a treasure trove of recreational activities all year around.
And down in Kittitas County, Ellensburg touts the spunk and promise of the late 19th and early 20th century’s n brick and granite, all within the spirit of the old west. This is a ranch country, and if you doubt that, just goes into any roadside restaurant and order breakfast. Once you’ve polished off eggs, sausage, hash browns, and toast, you’ll either swear off food for a week or jump on a horse and ride for a hundred miles.
What this northwest corner of the state offers is, simply, “the real thing”. So round-up your family and head out. It’s one of those places where you could happily spend a week or a lifetime.


Bellingham’s spectacular location, coupled with its rich history and handsome architecture, makes it easy to see why the city is considered one of the jewels of the Pacific Northwest. The city looks out over the Sun Juan Islands, across the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and on to the Olympic Mountains. Behind it rise the jagged snowcapped Cascade Range and Mount Baker. For millennia, the Lummi Indians have called the area home. By the early 1850s the towns of Whatcom, Sehome, Bellingham and Fairhaven were settled, to be consolidated into the city of Bellingham in 1904.
With an abundance of natural resources and a spunky, can-do population, the town thrived. Here the first brick building north of San Francisco was built in 1958. It still stands. The majestic City Hall, built in 1892, still towers over downtown, now in its new life as the Whatcom Museum of History and Art. Meander down Holly Street to the waterfront or the historic Eldridge residential district. You’ll immediately sense the easy-going pace with its respect for tradition that has resulted in Bellingham’s well-earned reputation for being one of those idyllic places where people come to have a look and never leave.
Bellingham is just off Interstate 5, about 90 miles north of Seattle, 55 miles south of Vancouver, British Columbia. It’s an easy detour going between these two metropolises. But don’t cheat yourself. Bellingham is one of those wonderful stops where a traveler can land for a weekend or a week and never exhaust the options for enjoyable and edifying experience or high adventure. The area boasts over a dozen public golf courses, city, county and state parks, campgrounds, comfortable hotels and charming bed and breakfasts that sparkle with bright paint, rustle with starched linens, and smell of cinnamon and fresh baked bread. In short, Bellingham is a destination and, at least for now, it’s somewhat undiscovered by the outside world… and delightfully so.
Start your adventure by heading south from downtown to the historic Fairhaven District. Here at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal, the Alaska State Ferry docks, making regular runs up and down the Inside Passage. Fairhaven could easily be called Arthaven. It has an abundance of old masonry buildings filled with shops where skilled artists and craftspeople sell their works. Good restaurants, cozy coffee shops and bookstores all attest to the quality of life in this artsy, intellectual, and heart-warningly down-home enclave.
Up the hill from downtown Bellingham, visit the campus of Western Washington University. Stately buildings, grand landscaping and panoramic views down to the city and out to the water make for a pleasant half day, but what really sets it apart is the collection of monumental outdoor sculptures that embellish the campus.
Short road trips radiate out from Bellingham like spokes from the hub of a wheel. To the south, Chuckanut Drive is a 21 mile loop off I-5 that follows the bluff high above the Strait of Juan de Fuca through lush Northwest forest. Scenic turnouts, hiking and biking trails, restaurants and even oyster farms, where you can buy fresh oyster’s in-season, add-up to make this an all-day outing.
The enchanting town of Lynden, northeast of Bellingham, is home to over 9.000 residents many of whom are descendants of Dutch settlers. Downtown Lynden has a healthy handful of high-quality antique stores and it’s one of the few places this side of Amsterdam where you can enjoy Dutch pancakes for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. With old-world architecture anchored by a windmill at one end of town, and impeccable maintained homes and manicured grounds, Lynden lives up to its promise as a way to discover Holland without a passport.
Further east, the scenic Mount Baker Highway leads to the town of Glacier, past Nooksack Falls, and on to Mount Baker. Even if you don’t want to take advantage of the November through April ski and snowboarding season, the scenic wonders of this magnificent ice cap, nearby Mount Shuksan, and the surrounding Cascades will equal the thrill of speeding down a powdery slope.
Wrap up any day on Bellingham’s new waterfront. Savor the haunting call of seagulls, the smell of salt air, and the sight of boats clustered in the marina, their masts bobbing against an oyster shell sky. From here you can line-up whale watching tours, trips over to Victoria, British Columbia, and out to the San Juan Islands. Kayaking, small boat rentals and charters, scuba diving outings, and fishing expeditions can all be arranged. With a spacious park, elegant new hotels, restaurants, and interesting glimpses of the industrial harbor, this is the spot to watch a northwest afternoon ignite into a fiery sunset and disappear behind the Olympics. It’s all part of the magic of Bellingham.

Snohomish County

Snohomish County’s varied landscape, modern cities, historic settlements, and high-tech tours contribute to a broad-based selection of activities or day trips. Just a few minutes north of Seattle, it’s treasure chest of entertaining places to visit. Choose the technology corridor with its bustling malls, Boeing tour, shopping District, and quaint waterfront communities. Or, you may prefer scenic byways leading to pristine lakes, waterfalls, raging rivers and rugged Cascade Mountains. Whatever your preference, you’ll revel in the scenic beauty and hospitality of this county’s special communities.

North county communities

Maryville is a thriving community situated near the banks of the Snohomish River. Visit Jennings Park, the site of an 1884 hand-hewn cedar home, furnished in typical 1880s farmhouse style. The Tulalip tribe operates a very successful gaming casino here. Just north on I-5, the Smokey Point / Lakewood area, offers parks with a variety of recreational options for water sport enthusiast including fishing, boating and swimming.
A visit to nearby Stanwood is not complete unless you’ve allowed yourself to be enticed by the sights and smells of their popular Scandinavian bakery and lefse factory. This town, originally settled as a trading post, still draws travelers with its specialty shops and restaurants. Be sure to include a stop at tiny Silvana for antiquing and the bustling spring and summer Farmer’s Market.

Back road adventure on Mountain Loop

Arlington is the gateway to the Mountain Loop Highway and site of the widely attended Garlic Festival every August. A walking tour of the town’s vintage buildings and architecture provides a glimpse of the days when Arlington’s streets consisted of dirt and “modern” transportation was limited to river ferries and the railroad.
On Highway 530 is Darrington, once a night camp for the wagon route linking the Monte Cristo mines to the shores of Puget Sound. In Darrington today, you can enjoy the excitement of river rafting and rock climbing or the annual Bluegrass or Wildflower Festivals.
Ghost towns anyone? Visit the remnants of Monte Cristo and be sure to stop at the Ice Caves of Big Four Mountain. These ice formations are stunning to view and photograph from afar. But be careful! The Ice Caves are unstable and extremely unsafe to enter or explore! Return to I-5 through Granite Falls and Lake Stevens.


Snohomish County’s blend of rural and urban lifestyle is most evident in Lynnwood, the largest retail center in the county. Known far and near as a shopper’s haven, the city’s golf course, an ice skating arena, 250 acres of parks and open spaces strike the perfect balance between the joys of city life and the pleasures of the outdoors. The Interurban Trail, which extends from Lynnwood to Everett, offers 13 miles of paved trail perfect for biking, jogging, rollerblading or taking a casual stroll.
Situated at the I-405 interchange just 15 miles north of downtown Seattle, location is one of the city’s strong selling points. Many visitors with Seattle on their itinerary value the easy access to the city while taking advantage of Lynnwood’s competitive accommodation rates. The area’s free parking is also appreciated, allowing for leisurely and unfettered retail exploration.
After shopping, picnic at one of Lynnwood’s lovely city parks, hit the local 18-hole golf course or enjoy a great meal at one of their numerous area restaurants.

Explore waterfront communities

Snohomish County’s three primary waterfront communities are Everett, Edmonds, and Mukilteo. The latter are sites of Washington state ferry landings and known for their charm and hospitality.
Edmonds has been voted “The Friendliest Town in Puget Sound” nine years running. This charming community is reminiscent of small-town America, providing visitors with a sense of “coming home to a place they’ve never been”.
Edmonds is celebrated for its public art, award-winning flowers and quaint streets that speak, European-style, from a center fountain. This community has a lively arts tradition with a symphony, ballet, theatre, art center and museum. Diners find a menu for every taste and shoppers enjoy Old Milltown, a turn-of-the-century multi-shop complex in a downtown seasoned with edgy designer or romantic and classic travel-wear boutiques. After strolling through town, stop by the Edmonds Underwater ark and watch scuba divers as they emerge from Puget Sound’s underwater vistas.
Mukilteo’s 1906 lighthouse has been restored and is operative today – a picturesque memento of the town’s maritime past. At the Mukilteo Museum-Rosehill Community center you’ll find the 1855 Peace Treaty signed between Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens and Indian leaders representing 22 tribes. Both cities are worthy of an extended day trip, then hop on a ferry and venture into Puget Sound waters.

Downtown Everett

Everett is filled with perfect “day trip” activities, from a visit to a collection of Pilchuck Glass at the Everett Center for the Arts to a stroll along the waterfront. Everett is home to the world’s largest building, the Boeing 747assembly plant at Paine Field, with tours available. Kids of all ages are fascinated by the enormity of this process. Children’s Museum for a hands-on adventure in art, culture, history and science.
Everett has several venues for exploring its varied and expansive shoreline. The Spencer Island Wetlands, 1.900 acres of urban wetlands with native wildlife, is accessible via boat, kayak, canoe, or along the ride from the Everett waterfront to Jetty Island that runs from July 4 through Labor Day. Once there, enjoy beaches, a nature trail and glimpses of native wildlife. There are also charters available for viewing whales, seals, sea lions and aquatic birds.

The Cascade Loop

There may be more spectacular scenic drives elsewhere in the world, but in Washington, the 440-mile Cascade Loop is mile-for-mile, the hands-down winner. For scenery, for recreation, for diversion and adventure, this extraordinary drive captures all that is great about Washington and all that is grand in the natural world.
Whether you fish, hike, ski, stroll, or are merely an interested observer, the Loop provides. It encompasses the shores of Puget Sound, the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, the majestic peaks of the North Cascades National Park and the abundant Columbia River Valley.
You can drive the entire loop comfortably in two days, but to do it right, we recommend planning a 3-or 4-day getaway. Or, you may choose to break it up into bite size chunks – a couple days dedicated to each leg of the journey. Take a week, take a month, but be sure to take the Loop.

Snohomish County

The Snohomish County community of Everett, featuring Boeing 747 assembly plant tour, a thriving performing arts community and wonderful waterfront access, is a perfect jumping off point for the famous North Cascade Loop where Interstate 5 connects with U.S. Highway 2. Departing Everett on Highway 2 on the way to Stevens Pass is sure to leave plenty of time for the town of Snohomish, regarded by those who know as the antique lover’s supreme destination. Listed on both the state and national registers of historic places, this delightful town has more than 450 antique dealers, restaurants and shops packed into an appealing, six block section of the town. There’s a self-guided walking tour available and the Blackman Historic Museum, located in an 1878 home, features vintage furniture and local memorabilia.

Mighty Cascades

On the ascent to Stevens Pass you’ll discover a lively collection of towns that offer Multi-class River rafting, hiking and fishing along with their own unique charms. Gold Bar features the Serpentarium, with all kinds of reptiles, snakes, spiders and turtles. Nearby, venture on the seven-mile loop hike to the 265-foot Wallace Falls for a worthwhile detour. Sultan is home to the Summer Shindig logging celebration and Osprey Park – a one mile interpretive river walk where visitors learn about wetlands, eco-systems and salmon spawning. The neighboring town of Index is the site of Mount Index, a favorite of rock climbers and home to an historic inn and country store.
From Stevens Pass there are views of the lush forests that cover the popular winter ski facility. Pause at By-Gone By-Ways, an old railroad trail and Lake Wenatchee, near Coles Corner at Highway 207, located in the Wenatchee forest area, with camping, boating, swimming and excellent trout fishing. When you’ve arrived in the eastern Cascade foothills, prepare yourself for a traveler’s delight, the town of Leavenworth.

A touch of Bavaria

Leavenworth is a testament to vision and commitment. A magical Bavarian community awaits you, with year-long festivals and activities, extraordinary recreational opportunities, and one of the most romantic, yet family oriented venues around.

The Columbia River Valley

Continuing along the Loop on Highway 2, your next stop is Cashmere, home to the nationally renowned Applets and Cotlets Candy kitchen. The city has an outstanding collection of Indian Artifacts at the Cashmere Museum, with a Pioneer Village ripe for exploring. Come summer, bring your raft and launch on the nearby Wenatchee River. Wenatchee, the “Apple Capital of the World”, lays on the confluence of the Columbia and Wenatchee Rivers. If you value the irresistible luxury of biting into a freshly picked apple or peach, you’ve hit the jackpot in Wenatchee. From fruit stands, tours of fruit packing warehouses, orchards planted in riveting rows under golden-hazed hills blessed with large measures of sunshine, this produce paradise is a pure delight. From Wenatchee, head north along the west bank of the Columbia River on Highway 97 Alt toward beautiful Lake Chelan. And, just south on Highway 97 is the charming waterside community of Entiat. The Entiat Valley is regarded as a “gateway” to recreation, with snowmobile and cross-country access and hiking trails.

Pristine Lake Chelan

A significant draw to the area is Lake Chelan, which is 55-miles long and ranked as the third deepest lake in the United States. It is a popular destination for year-round recreation and lodging where generations of families have packed up their flip-flops and tank tops and come to the lake. Located behind the “rain shadow” of the towering Cascades, Lake Chelan promises 300 days of sunshine, romantic sunsets and warm, friendly beaches. Waterslides, golf and a championship putting course, mile after mile of mountain bike trails, and watercraft rentals ensure that everyone in the family will have fun in the sun.
The town of Chelan is open and friendly, sporting every kind of recreation one would imagine in a prime mountain and lake area. Lake Chelan also boasts a year-round fishery including salmon, trout and bass. The clear, arid skies provide the perfect backdrop for an activity packed day or a lazy afternoon on a quiet deck gazing across at the surprisingly calming hillsides. The Chelan Valley boasts premier destination resorts, quality motels, campgrounds and B&B’s. Excellent restaurants abound. And Chelan is not only a summer destination – for an unforgettable day in the snow, escape to Echo Valley Ski Area. Just a few miles north of Chelan, it has three rope tows, a surface Poma Lift, and a popular new tubing hill. Adjacent Echo Ridge offers 22 miles of groomed trails for Nordic skiing, and the beginning of miles of snowmobile trails.
A visit to Stehekin at the far reaches of Lake Chelan’s crystal waters is not to be missed. Only accessible by boat or float plane, this village serves as the trailhead for the North Cascades National Park. There are no phones or televisions here, just calm and quiet. Whether you take a day trip or stay overnight, you won’t forget this exquisite passage to a northwest treasure.

The lush Methow Valley

From Lake Chelan, you will continue north on SR 97, then head west on Highway 153 near the community of Pateros. The Loop then directs you to the Methow Valley. Leading to the North Cascades National Park, this valley is like a divine time warp. There’s more than an “old west” feeling to the area – even the fields and farmlands of the Methow have a sense of precious timelessness. The Western theme reigns true in the delightful town of Twisp, with a large selection of Western art and regional northwest artist’s wares. Spend an evening at the theatre at the historic MERC building or visit the U.S. Forest Service Smokejumper Base and observe the crews from June through October.

North Cascades Highway

The North Cascades Highway was purposely surveyed to take full advantage of the area’s dynamic viewpoints. Washington Pass from the east has stunning outlooks and Liberty Bell Mountain, which come fall, is gilded with a palate of autumnal colors that would shame a Hallmark rendering. Rainy Day Pass is a great spot to take a quick one-mile hike to Rainy Lake for a picnic repast before heading toward Ross and Diablo lakes.
The extraordinary colors of these lakes (Ross is teal, Diablo is jade) is due to finely-ground rock dust captured in the water and simultaneously reflecting the green of the forest and the blue of the sky. Take a tour of Ross Dam or a boat cruise on the Diablo or a short summertime ride on an incline railway from Seattle City Light’s visitor center in Diablo.
Eagles are a common sight here from December through February. The largest population of the majestic bird in the lower U.S. comes to feed on spawning salmon. They join other fishermen and women in scouting the Skagit River, also a favorite for white-water rafting in June and July.

From the mountains to the Valley – Skagit County

As you travel west on Highway 20, you’re gracefully transported into the Skagit Valley. This is where legions of visitors come to view lush tulip fields and the fertile fields produce a wide variety of crops. The road will lead through several small communities like Marblemount and Rockport. Be sure to stop by the Cascadian Home Farm stand for some organically grown berries and handmade ice cream.
You may want to take a mini-detour through the main street of Concrete. Concrete reflects its cement production history. The “Sockeye Express”, a 45 minute open-air trolley, is a fun way to learn about the town’s interesting past. The Robert DeNiro movie, “This Boys Life” is based on events that took place in Concrete and much of the movie was filmed on location here.
Sedro-Woolley celebrates their logging heritage on the state’s oldest ongoing 4th of July celebration with “Loggerodeo”. From chainsaw carving to a bluegrass jubilee, Loggerodeo is a full-fledged northwest experience.
Mount Vernon has a picturesque historic downtown and pleasing riverfront, and Burlington gathers regional shoppers with one of the largest discount malls in the northwest. Both towns are great spots to visit during the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, a true celebration of the glory of spring that takes place each April. Folks travel across international borders and several state lines to view the extraordinary sight of field after field of brilliant color, viewing what looks like a velvet patchwork quilt covering hundreds of acres.
The town of La Conner, resting alongside the Swinomish Channel, is treasured for its charming outlook and boutique shopping. This waterside hamlet is a popular day trip. Perched along side the Swinomish Slough, with a hearty collection of boutiques, specialty stores and fine restaurants, La Conner is the perfect spot for browsing, stopping for a cup of tea, browsing again, and then ending the day watching the boats glide by as you enjoy a fine repast at sunset. La Conner is bursting with art, both private and public. The Museum of Northwest Art has a fine collection of regional art featuring the area’s predominant artist and nearby Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve houses an outstanding interpretive museum and lovely pedestrian trails for viewing wildlife and birds.


If you really want to immerse yourself in wild frontier times, don’t miss Winthrop. Once a trade center for miners and trappers, the town has had a retro-face lift with a comprehensive restoration of the town’s Wild West ambiance with rows of false-fronted buildings and wooden boardwalks. Indians lived here for 9.000 years, sustained by local roots, berries, fishing and hunting. In 1883, the lure of gold brought the first permanent white settlers. Today, remnants of that time are the cornerstones of the town. The town was rebuilt after a horrendous fire in 1893; the original Duck Brand Saloon survived and is now the Town Hall. Another enduring edifice is the Shafer Museum, once the home of Guy Waring, one of the original founding fathers. The museum now displays a primitive print shop, stagecoach, assay office, original settler’s cabins and a large display of mining equipment.
Waring’s Harvard College roommate wrote The Virginian after honeymooning in Winthrop, and the area’s new persona was created when a generous benefactor, Mrs. Kathryn Wagner, joined local merchants in significantly bank rolling the town’s reconstruction.
After you hitch your car to the nearest post, walk the main street, examine the wares of the local shops and galleries and take refreshment at one of the many local eateries. Children are happily entertained with free gold panning, miniature golf, and the chance to ride one of the local horses. Grab some of Winthrop’s famous treats and use the town as home base. Then, go outdoors. This is an area that can be fully enjoyed on land, on water, and from high above. Mountain biking tours are available along the foothills of the Methow, hearty rock and glacier climbing in the nearby Cascades and, with the national ranking of second best in the nation, cross-country skiing is a popular choice of those wishing to glide through this peaceful valley. A singular method of exploring the valley is on a horse-packing trip into the Pasayten Wilderness Area within the boundaries of Okanogan National Forest.

Okanogan Country

The trademark refrain of the Okanogan is “Open for Adventure” and this spectacular region takes tag line seriously. Extending from the North Cascade Mountain Range to Grand Coulee Dam and bordered by Canada and Lake Chelan, Okanogan Country offers thrills, spills, and an exceptional taste of Washington’s outdoors.
The area’s geography is as diverse as its recreational offerings. The rugged Cascades, populated by dense forests and crystal clear waterfalls and rivers, give way to old-west country; soft plains bordered by gentle evergreens. Here, the dazzling power of the Grand Coulee Dam contrasts with peaceful lakes and silent streams scattered throughout the region.
Okanogan Country includes the northeastern Highway 20 leg of the famed Cascade Loop. You’ll travel through the beautiful Methow Valley into tiny Mazama with its 4-star destination resort and on to the old-west settlement. Nine miles southwest of Winthrop you’ll find world-class mountain biking, horseback riding, and cross-country skiing high atop Sun Mountain, a very popular recreation and resort destination. There’s an active arts community in nearby Twisp, reflected in their popular theater and Methow Arts Festival held each year.
As SR20 connects with Highway 97 at the Columbia River, head north to the city of Okanogan. Located on the Okanogan River, this county seat provides historical perspective with the Okanogan County Historical Museum and Fire Hall Museum. Nearby, the town of Omak welcomes travelers with distinct personality attractions, including the world famous Omak Stampede and Suicide race, usually held the second weekend of August.
In 1900, the town of Riverside became a prominent trading center. Today this friendly community still houses a saloon along with a historic school bell reminding visitors of the significance of this site beside the Okanogan River. Following the river north, Tonasket echoes the region’s pioneer roots. Rustic log cabins and the serene presence of the river enhance the natural beauty that continues to attract same venturesome spirit.
Oroville, at the northern tip of Highway 97, experienced a gold strike near the mouth of the Similkameen River in 1861. Today’s riches are the town’s crisp apple crop.
Some very interesting and scenic loop tour options – with some international flair – occur in this part of the state. To travel the International Discovery Loop, take Highway 20 east from Tonasket toward Republic. You’ll encounter the Stonerose Fossil Center where you can actually go on a fossil dig. From Republic, you can choose to head north on SR21 through the Colville National Forest past beautiful Curlew Lake. When you pass through Curlew, be sure to visit the historic Ansorge Hotel, which has been restored to its 1903 elegance. To complete the loop, cross the Canadian border at Ferry, take Highway 3 west to Osoyoos then head south on Highway 97 toward Oroville.
A shorter journey, the Okanogan Highlands Historical Loop, is a nice way to discover the back roads that can add adventure to any road trip. This 150-mile loop links the tiny communities of Oroville, Molson, Chesaw, Curlew, Republic and connects back to Highway 97 at Tonasket. Chesaw got its start during the 1896 mining rush and is home to the Chesaw Fourth of July Rodeo. A short detour between Oroville and Chesaw will lead to the Ghost Town of Old Molson – the site of a museum operated by the Okanogan County Historical Society. This museum features a complex of early 20th century buildings, including a bank, an assay office, two homestead cabins and its open from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Okanogan Country is one of those places that feeds the imagination and nourishes body and soul. It’s a land that time has honored with abundant resources, beauty, and a sense of mystery. Once you begin to uncover its secrets, you’ll find yourself returning again and again to discover more.

Ellensburg / Cle Elum

Approaching eastern Washington along Interstate 90 over the Cascades at Snoqualmie Pass, you are almost immediately aware that something special is beginning to happen. The dense fir, cedar and pine forests that accompanied your journey over the pass become silhouetted echoes, gradually replaced by rolling hills covered with sage brush and dotted with grazing cattle and horses. Overcast skies give way to white fluffy clouds against azure blue skies. The air is now fresh and dry. And, for the next 50 miles or so, cowboys urging their herds forward are much more likely to be spotted than a coffee chain espresso stand. The transition is somewhat intoxicating.
Soon after you cross the summit heading east, the charming communities of Cle Elum and Roslyn are well worth a slight detour off Interstate 90. Located where the alpine forest is just beginning to wane, this area is rich in outdoor recreation possibilities. Lakes, raging rivers, camping, off-road vehicle and snowmobile trails, combined with great access to the Snoqualmie Pass ski slopes, make this a very popular year-round destination.
Cle Elum has an attractive downtown shopping district and two museums of note; the Carpenter House, a 1914 historic mansion, and the Cle Elum Historical Telephone Museum. Just north on Highway 903 is Roslyn, where the popular television series Northern Exposure was filmed. Die-hard fans will want to get a photo taken in front of the famous Brick Tavern. The local museum features items from the series, a collection, “Roslyn Cemeteries”, highlighting the unique local ethnic cemeteries, and an extensive collection of photos and mining memorabilia from the town’s colorful past.

Historic downtown Ellensburg beckons

Twenty-five miles to the east, Ellensburg epitomizes the physical bounty of central Washington. A backdrop of gorgeous snowcapped mountains gives way to desert terrain, fertile Valleys and two rambling rivers. This historic city, with plenty of old-west flair, greets visitors with a charming downtown and a bevy of sights and events to enjoy. Downtown Ellensburg’s historic brick buildings and early 20th century Victorian architecture create an appealing and inviting locality primed for exploration. After a meal at one of the many delicious eateries and a serious peek at the stores and antique shops, be sure you make time to tour Central Washington University. Call ahead to make an appointment to visit the fascinating Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute, and then spend some quiet time at the Japanese garden on campus.
Museum hopping is great sport here. There’s a Children’s Activity Museum, the Clymer Museum of Art featuring native John Ford Clymer’s nationally acclaimed work, the Kittitas County Historical Museum housed in the 1889 built Cadwell Building, and the Olmstead Place State Heritage Area, open April – September featuring antique farm equipment.
Ellensburg’s country roots are wildly celebrated, so join an enthusiastic crowd and lasso the popular Ellensburg Rodeo on Labor Day weekend. But, don’t neglect the fine cultural offering here. There are many performing arts companies and organizations in the city with quality entertainment; Central Washington’s Music and Theatre Arts Department, the Children’s Musical Theatre, Choir, Youth Ballet and the regionally lauded Valley Musical Theatre.
The Ellensburg area also offers four distinct seasons, something of a rarity in Washington State. Consequently, recreational activities – from golf, hiking, river rafting, and horseback riding in spring, summer and fall, to ice skating and snowmobiling in winter – can all be enjoyed here. And if you wish, you must claim a spot along the Yakima River, one of the premier catch-and-release fly-fishing rivers in the United States. A road trip to Ellensburg is a great reason to op on Interstate 90 for a day or an extended stay, so pack up the car and prepare for a delightful getaway.

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