Where can you get your small-town fix, your history and Wild West fix and your fun-on-the-water fix, all in one place?
Winthrop, of course. If you're willing to drive to the other side of the state, you'll find it's worth it for a weekend. Better yet, make it a long weekend — or even more than that. (I know people who go for 10 days every summer and wouldn't have it any other way!)
And here's another thing: The journey can be a lot of fun, too — so, if possible, plan to make it a leisurely one.
There are two main ways to get there from the Seattle area: the North Cascades Highway (there are a few different ways to catch it) or Interstate 90 (across Snoqualmie Pass), then catching Highway 97 Chelan and continuing up to Twisp and Winthrop. In the interest of research, my family tried both.
Our North Cascades Highway journey took us through beautiful scenery, memorials to those lost in the 2014 Oso landslide and a quick stop at the national park visitor center that left us wanting to spend more time there.
On the other route, Cashmere is a very cute town (Aplets & Cotlets, anyone? The factory is there.), Chelan is a fun stop, and both Wells Dam and Rocky Reach Dam have great visitor facilities including parks, lots of interpretive information and perfect picnic spots.
But there's the dilemma: Spend more time on the journey, or save more time for Winthrop, because there is tons of fun to be had there as well.
What to do once you get there? That's easy. Once you hit town, you'll want to park and wander. And conveniently, the folks at winthropwashington.com have created a list of "10 Extraordinary Things to Do (Grab your cowboy hat and don't miss these attractions!) in Winthrop" and it's a great place to start:
- Spring Creek bridge: pedestrian walkway over the Methow River
- Sateekhwa Bridge: on the other end of town, across the other river: the Chewuch
- Shafer Museum: remember we mentioned getting your Wild West fix?
- National Fish Hatchery: just a half-mile out of town, it's also home to a beaver relocation project
- Smokejumper Base: Key in the fight against Northwest wildfires, it's 4 miles south of town and offers daily tours from June through October.
- Falls Creek Waterfall: 12 miles outside of town but worth the drive
- Pearrygin Lake State Park: fishing, swimming and hiking. Just plain fun. This could also be your home base if you're tent camping or RV'ing. There's also one cabin available as a potentially more comfortable vacation rental.
- Horseback riding: Going to the Wild West? You should saddle up! There are multiple options.
- Farmers markets: Saturday in Twisp, Sunday in Winthrop.
- Sheri's Sweet Shoppe: It seems that every Winthrop visitor seems to hit this downtown ice-cream and candy shop, which also has miniature golf.
There are all sorts of restaurants, plus grocery stores and takeout options. One of those restaurants, the Old Schoolhouse, is also a well-respected brewery and has a gorgeous riverside patio. If adult beverages are on your vacation to-do list, Winthrop also is home to Lost River Winery, Methow Valley Ciderhouse and Sixknot Taphouse (wine and cider).
Now, humor me if you will, while I detour back to No. 7, Pearrygin Lake, a longtime beloved destination for my husband's family. It felt like a step into Americana to see all of the families with elaborate campsites and mountains of water toys. Kids played in the sand and dipped in the water, while teenagers tossed footballs on knocked around volleyballs on the expansive lawn. Buoys keep swimmers and floaters from drifting too far out, while beyond the boundary, paddleboarders kept their distance from Jet Skis and power boats.
Summer vacation? You've found it.
Playing on and around Pearrygin Lake is one of the highlights of visiting Winthrop. (Photo: Stacey Donion)