Best of the Northwest

The best the state of Washington has to offer.

By Suzie Osterloh
Photography by Suzie Osterloh

 

Flying into Seattle was just the beginning of a decompressing vacation. Looking for a little getaway from the demands of everyday life, I was about to find out what the state of Washington had to offer beyond the cosmopolitan city of Seattle and her fabulous wineries.

Once on the road, we headed to Goldbar, one of many gateways to the Cascade Mountains. Only a one-hour drive northeast of Seattle, our goal was to hike to Wallace Falls the first day of our trip. Smack in the middle of an alpine forest and an easy detour off the main route, Wallace Falls proved to be a formidable hike. Offering 6.5 miles of scenic hiking, the hiking trails, some more challenging than others, were well maintained and enjoyed by all ages of the two-legged and four-legged varieties. To make the experience even more beautiful, it was autumn.  Brilliant shades of gold, orange and shocking red leaves were at their peak!

After taking in all the beauty of Stevens Pass Greenway, a spectacular national byway, our course naturally flowed into the Leavenworth Valley, where the scenic options are abundant. Our particular Cascade destination was the Bavarian village of Leavenworth, nestled in the magnificent Cascade Mountain Range. Once a dying mill town, Leavenworth transformed itself in the ‘60s by incorporating beautiful Old World German architecture, culture and eating establishments touting authentic Bavarian dishes. My day in Leavenworth included sightseeing and hiking the surrounding area in the morning and shopping and feasting throughout the afternoon and evening. With over 800 miles of trail systems, Leavenworth has your exercising needs covered, including a breathtaking Enzian Falls 18-hole champion putting course!

The Enzian Inn was an absolutely delightful place to stay. Family owned with comfy beds and indoor/outdoor pools, the inn is only a half block from downtown. One evening we grabbed a bottle of wine, Washington State’s pinot noir being one of my favorites, and headed to the upper balcony of the Enzian Inn for a twilight picnic of cured prosciutto, triple-cream cheese, Washington’s delicious pears and a Danish pretzel. The view was breathtaking.

The Cascade Loop, as it is known, is Washington's ultimate road trip. National Geographic Traveler calls it "one of America's grandest, most spectacular drives." We were on the southern arm of the loop, then chose to double back the way we came, through the town of Everett and headed due north to the San Juan Islands.

Island time...there is nothing quite like it they tell us. What is island time? It's chill time. The only island activity dictated by time is the ferries. And the ferries dictate when you come and go! No worries...just chill. We took the fast route by auto on Highway 5 to Burlington, then jumped on Highway 20 to Anacortes where we caught the ferry to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island.

Friday Harbor is a perfect getaway destination, yet steps away from cafes, galleries and shops. Built on a hill, Friday Harbor is the epitome of a charming walkable seaport with serene natural beauty. Walk the harbor, grab a book, go fish, whale watch, bike, kayak, hike, visit wineries or take in art galleries and museums. Friday Harbor can keep you as busy or as chilled as you want to be. One rainy day, we drove the entire island in three hours, making stops along the way in spite of the constant drizzle. Our first stop was Lime Kiln Point State Park, home to the Lime Kiln lighthouse and three miles of hiking trails, including trails in two nearby preserves, the best on the island. Knowing that the state park was this country's first whale-watching park, we were hoping to see some orca whales swim by. We didn't see any whales, but we did see a lot of wildlife on our hike, including a large sea lion making his presence known by his loud breathing while swimming amongst smaller fish soon to be his dinner!

Sharing this scenic rural setting with the wildlife of San Juan Island is a herd of alpacas. Krystal Acres Alpaca Farm, just 10 minutes by auto from Friday Harbor, is a 70-acre working farm and country store not to be missed. Krystal Acres owners Kris and Albert Olson shared the many idiosyncrasies of the alpaca breed from their fur texture to personalities. They may look like pets, but for the most part alpacas are standoffish.

On our second day in Friday Harbor, we took to the skies in search of whales. We had heard most of the pods had moved on, but there were a few year-round resident whales around the island. We didn't spot a whale, but we got a bird’s-eye view of the entire archipelago.

Before we knew it, it was time to board the ferry and head back to the mainland. Well rested and raring to go, we felt we had experienced a small, gorgeous and diverse part of the Northwest.