Eastern Washington State offers countless world-class wineries, stunning canyons, lakes and dams in place of its western neighbour’s evergreen forests and rugged mountains. Twice the size of its western half, it has just a third of the population.
Eastern Washington life revolves around water. You will find most of the action amongst the region’s rivers and lakes. The Columbia River – scene of the latter stages of the epic Lewis and Clark Expedition – offers tourists a spectacular view of its deep river gorge from a 27,000 seat concert venue in the town of George. The river flows for more than 1,200 miles from its source in the southern Rocky Mountains in British Columbia, eventually forming the natural border between Washington State and Oregon.
Washington State’s ninth largest city – by its population – lies around 60 miles southeast of Mt. Rainier. Renowned for the quality of its wine – from award-winning wineries – the Yakima Valley is also well-known for apple and hop production. Getting outdoors is key in this friendly city, and whether you indulge in wine tasting, hiking or admiring the scenery, the area will never let you down. For more details, visit www.visityakima.com.
Between the Azwell and Chief Joseph dams, Brewster lies on the Columbia River in Okanogan County. Its showpiece is its waterfront park with boating docks, gazebos and playground. Fishing and outdoor enthusiasts are well catered for with miles of clear water between both dams, and plenty of opportunity for wind surfing, boating and just taking things easy.
The Grand Coulee Dam
Opening in 1942, and twice the height of Niagara Falls, the Grand Coulee Dam provides hydroelectric power and irrigation for the region. Its reservoir – the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Lake – was named after the U.S. President who oversaw the project. The lake is huge, covering around 125 square miles. With a shoreline stretching for 600 miles, Roosevelt Lake is the largest reservoir in Washington State.
The Visitor Centre – built in the late 1970s – is a major hub for tourists. With historical photographs, geological samples, theatre and models of the dam, the centre features a spectacular laser light show held on summer evenings.
Projected onto the dam’s massive wall, the light show includes environmental commentary, full size images of battle ships and the Statue of Liberty. Visitors can also descend in a glass elevator to view the dam’s huge generators: www.grandcouleedam.org has more information.
The climate in the eastern half of Washington State, with long daylight hours, makes it ideal for wine production. Vineyards grow 99 percent of the state’s wine grapes.
To that end, Walla Walla is well worth visiting. Its name – “land of many waters” – seems appropriate as it has many wineries. The largest city and county seat of Walla Walla county, it has rapidly become a popular destination for wine connoisseurs. Its southeast location makes it ideal for grape cultivation.
Popular events include the Balloon Stampede in May, and in December the holiday barrel tasting takes place where the newly produced wine is tasted for the first time. Don’t miss the farmers market, an ideal opportunity to select picnic ingredients to accompany the wine tasting. The Walla Walla Symphony and Children’s Museum are perfect if the weather turns wet. For more information about Walla Walla, visit www.wallawalla.org.
The city of Spokane stands out like an oasis in the region. A thriving community, the State’s second largest city is filled with historical architectural splendours. Some of its buildings date from the late nineteenth century.
At its heart lies the Riverfront Park through which the Spokane River flows. An enclosed gondola will take you across the Spokane Falls, an exhilirating ride – running year round – and well worth the $7. For the best views of its architecture, head for Jefferson Street. Nearby the vast Davenport Hotel, dating from 1914, and Patsy Clark Mansion on West Second Avenue are well worth seeing.
With a slower pace of life, and many welcoming hotels for longer trips, Spokane offers historic charm, warm hospitality and stunning sunsets: www.travelspokane.org has more.
West of Spokane, lies Ephrata. Its name is derived from the natural springs close to the town. It is the county seat of Grant County and set in rolling hills and desert. Its average temperatures range from 33 degrees F in January to 90 degrees F in July.
If you visit in June be sure to see the Sage-n-Sun Festival in the second weekend. Ephrata’s largest community event, it features a grand parade, live entertainment from the courthouse stage, food booths, carnival, arts and crafts, and plenty more.
In July, the Basin Summer Sounds Music Festival gives you a chance to dust off the dancing shoes and celebrate with a wide variety of music. With beer and wine garden, food vendors and kids activities, it’s a superb family event with free parking. For more details, visit www.basinsummersounds.com.
The city of Pullman, the largest in Whitman County, caters for the great outdoors and rock climbing in particular.
Located on its outskirts are the Pullman Rocks. These 30 feet high solid basalt outcrops are ideal for beginners and the more experienced alike. With a southerly exposure and forested areas for shade, they are a great location for early and late season climbing.
An annual attraction is the city’s National Lentil Festival held the weekend before classes resume at Washington State University. Live musical entertainment, kids’ carnival, free lentil chilli and arts and crafts vendors makes this a great day out.
Don’t miss the Lentil Cook-off, the Grand Parade, beer garden or the Tase-T lentil 5km fun run/walk. All in a major event for the whole family. For a full round-up of the festival, visit www.lentilfest.com.
North Cascades National Park
A great way to see the most remote, northernmost regions of Eastern Washington State, the North Cascades Highway takes you on a scenic tour from north Puget Sound to the Columbia River valley’s high desert.
As you cross the Cascades, you move from the wet, lush maritime climate to the drier open woodlands of the eastern slopes. One of the best areas for North Cascades hiking. The Pacific Crest Trail will lead you in to the North Cascades National Park, a stunningly beautiful region with wild flowers in the late summer.
The National Park Visitor Centre at Newhalem will provide details about hiking and camping areas and the permits you may need, as well as the best places for supplies. For more information, visit www.north.cascades.national-park.com.
The community of Winthrop is one quaint little town. Known for the “old west” design of all its buildings, wild west shoot-outs in the summer months are well worth seeing. Winthrop is a very popular vacation spot for the whole family.
With more than 120 miles of trails meandering towards the nearby town of Mazama, Winthrop caters for the great outdoors with hiking, rock climbing, river rafting, mountain biking, fishing, hunting and golf.
The town is host to the Winthrop Rhythm and Blues and Methow Valley Chamber Music Festivals and has the oldest legal saloon in Washington State. To its west is the border of the North Cascades National Forest, with pristine firs and stunning views.
Lake Chelan Resort
Lake Chelan is set in the North Cascades National Forest, virtually on the divide between the mountains and the eastern Washington desert. The lake is glacial and a beautiful deep blue. One and a half miles at its widest, it plunges over 1,500 feet in depth.
This is a remote and scenic area for a relaxing away from it all vacation. Some parts are so remote, they have no direct road access. The region offers hiking, fishing and camping. The Caravel Waterfront resort is one of the State’s most popular.
With 92 guest rooms, it offers single and family rooms as well as penthouse and whirlpool suites. The Lakeshore Legend on the southern shore has a private dock for boating and swimming, and with the town of Chelan a mere two-mile drive away, civilization is never far off: www.lakechelan.com has more details.
East of the Cascades, Washington State is quite a contrast to the western half, with large areas of semi-arid land and desert. Pack plenty of sun block if you visit in the Summer, and be prepared for high temperatures and some unforgettable scenery.