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Travel the Backroads of Washington State
Here is a question for you: which state has mountains towering over 14,000 feet, the Pacific Ocean, abundant rivers and lakes, an inland sea, a rain forest, and moderate temperatures year round? If you answered Washington State then you are a winner. So, too, is anyone who visits Washington this year.
To say that Washington is for everybody would be a false statement. Those who dream during the winter months of a tropical beach and little umbrella drinks would be well-advised to bypass Washington in favor of California or Florida. However, if you dream about an outdoor paradise with lush scenery and abundant and beautiful vistas, then Washington is the place for you.
Washington is the place for the majority of folks who do not like extremes. The temperatures are never too hot in the summer, and in the winter they are never too cold. When it rains it is not of the gully-washer variety common in much of the United States, and concerns about hurricanes and tornadoes do not exist.
In truth, Washington is two states, separated by the Cascade Mountains that dissect the state north to south. To the west of the mountains is the greenbelt, moderated by the Pacific Ocean and home to most of the state’s residents. To the east is the Inland Empire, land of apple orchards, wheat farms and the starkly beautiful Columbia Basin. It is a land of contrasts and yet, east or west, a most beautiful land.
This is the second installment in our series highlighting some of the must-see sights of Washington State. For those visiting, July and August are without a doubt the best weather months. However, the spring and fall are beautiful with moderate rainfall and comfortable temperatures, and far fewer tourists.
Washingtonians know to dress in layers for the weather is rarely predictable. It is a rare native who does not have a sweatshirt or rain jacket in their vehicle, even during the summer months. Better to be over-prepared than sorry is pretty much the credo of this state’s residents.
Having said all that, here, then, are five must see sights in Washington State.
North Cascades Highway
This is arguably the most beautiful drive in the state of Washington. Most certainly, during the fall months when the leaves are changing colors, this is without a doubt the most beautiful drive. The actual North Cascade Highway is 140 miles long and begins, or ends, in the city of Burlington in northwestern Washington. From there you travel east, slowly rising as you enter North Cascades National Park. Once you pass over Washington Pass (elevation 5,477 ft) you begin your descent and eventually terminate your trip in the town of Winthrop in the beautiful Methow Valley.
As you drive through the heart of North Cascades National Park, the mountains rise up above you to the north and south, and leave little doubt in your mind why this is called the prettiest mountain drive in the Pacific Northwest. You will also pass by Ross Lake National Recreation Area, and hikers will be elated with the hundreds of miles of maintained trails within the Park.
More to see in Washington
- Great Road Trips In Washington State: The Columbia River Gorge
It is rare to find a road trip that holds enjoyment and entertainment for every member of the family. This is one such road trip.
This is definitely a hiker’s paradise, and for those who like to do their exploring with a camera, you would be hard-pressed to find a prettier spot in Washington. Incredible views of the Olympic Mountains can be found at Hurricane Ridge, the most easily-accessible spot in the Olympic National Park. Located eighteen miles south of the city of Port Angeles, this beautiful spot is an easy car ride to the visitor’s center.
From there put on your hiking boots and enjoy great trails that are easy to follow and traverse. The road to Hurricane Ridge is open year round. During the winter months there is a privately-owned ski center and snowshoe tours can be taken, or simply grab your sled and act like a kid again. No matter what you do, count on enjoying the magnificent vistas that rise up all around you.
Columbia River Gorge
In 1986 Congress designated this area as a National Scenic Area and the name is quite accurate. Stretching 80 miles east and west, the Columbia River Gorge is a canyon formed by the Columbia River and is the only navigable route through the Cascade Mountains. It begins roughly at the confluence of the Columbia River and Deschutes River, continues westward to the outskirts of Portland, and is as deep as 4,000 feet in places.
You can drive the Columbia River Scenic Highway through the entire gorge, and along the way stop and visit Bonneville Dam and 629 foot tall Multnomah Falls. For the adventurous at heart, windsurfing is spectacular in the Hood River area, as changes in atmospheric pressure from east to west creates winds up to 35 mph.
The Columbia River originally caused this gorge through the process of erosion, but a major contributor in the process was the Great Missoula Flood which occurred during the last Ice Age. Several visitor centers commemorating Lewis and Clark can also be visited along the way.
300 days of sunshine….pristine blue-green, glacier fed lake….outdoor activities abound….welcome to Lake Chelan, which at 1,486 feet of depth is the 3rd deepest natural lake in the United States. This 55-mile long lake is the jewel of eastern Washington and the largest natural lake in the state.
On one end is the city of Chelan, a tourist favorite during the summer months; on the other end is the town of Stehekin, accessible only by foot, boat or plane, and is a popular starting point for many hikers interested in exploring the North Cascade Mountains.
Gaze up at the 9.000 foot peaks that surround you as you enjoy this breathtaking desert oasis. If it is outdoor recreation that you seek then look no further than Lake Chelan!
Stevens Pass Highway
No matter what time of year you choose, this is one of the loveliest drives in Washington. The Stevens Pass Highway is one of only two highways that cross the state that is open year-round. US 2, as it is designated, begins in the city of Monroe in western Washington, and follows the Skykomish River Valley. The river valley narrows as you begin to ascend into the Cascade Mountains and you will drive through some beautiful forests of evergreen and deciduous trees.
The summit of Stevens Pass sits at 4,061 feet and there is a world-class ski resort there for winter sports enthusiasts. Then you begin the descent into eastern Washington, eventually driving into the Bavarian town of Leavenworth. This is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the state so make sure you plan on spending some time walking around this quaint village. From there you can continue east for ten miles or so and you will enter the apple capitol of the Northwest, Wenatchee. If you choose you can continue on, crossing the Columbia River, and you will enter the Columbia Basin with its fascinating geological formations.
Have you ever visited Washington State?
So Much More
Washington State is a true gem for tourists and locals alike. The recreational opportunities are seemingly endless and the natural beauty will leave you breathless. As a life-long resident I can tell you that you never grow tired of the splendors that this state has to offer.
2012 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)