Sunny Days are Here Again in the Methow Valley
Average summer high 84˚
By Lisa Wogan
For a Methow Valley–loving subset of Seattleites, the first sign of sunnier days is a spring e-mail from the state Department of Transportation detailing the efforts to clear the deep blanket of snow from the North Cascades Highway (37 miles of which is closed during winter). These updates track the progress of the plows, including mechanical failure and snow slides, and are accompanied by photos of snow piled high against skies so blue they look Photoshopped, reminding us of why we want to be over there.
When the pass reopens to cars, usually sometime in May, nonagenarian Tootsie Clark parks near the closure gate at milepost 134, east of the turquoise Diablo Lake, and serves first-comers coffee and cinnamon rolls out of the back of her giant Cadillac. It’s a celebratory tradition started by her father when the pass opened for the first time in 1972.
And There’s Reason to Celebrate
The opening of the highway shaves an hour and a half off the drive from Seattle (to about three and a half hours) and megaboosts the scenic quotient of the trip. The sense of getting away begins as soon as you exit I-5 at Arlington to wend your way through lovely Skagit Valley farmland—gray clouds dissipating with each milepost.
On the drive over, don’t miss two key snack stops: homemade fudge at the Skagit General Store (Newhalem, State Route 20, milepost 120; 360.854.2589; seattle.gov/light/tours/skagit/store), which was originally the employee commissary for the Skagit River Hydroelectric Project, and fresh fruit (especially blueberries) at Cascadian Farm’s roadside stand (Rockport, 55749 State Route 20; cascadianfarm.com).
Linger at the top of the North Cascades Pass; the 4.4-mile round-trip hike to Blue Lake (milepost 161) is pure Heidi, complete with wildflowers, craggy peaks and mountain goats. Early in the season, snow often packs the trail; an easy alternative is to stop at the Washington Pass overlook (milepost 162) to snap selfies with the dramatic Early Winter Spires in the background.
The valley, which runs from the narrower, more lush western end in Mazama east through Winthrop to the rolling, arid, desert-like Twisp and beyond, is a launching pad for outdoor adventure. There’s unlimited hiking, pack trips and mountain biking—trails spider out in all directions from the valley floor (pick up maps and guides at Winthrop Mountain Sports, 257 Riverside Ave.; 509.996.2886; winthropmountainsports.com). Learn fly-fishing casting at Sun Mountain Lodge (see “Wind Down”), or sign up for a trail ride or multiday pack trip at one of the valley’s many outfitters (Early Winters Outfitting, 509.996.2659, earlywintersoutfitting.com; Cascade Wilderness Outfitters, 509.997.0155, cascadewildernessoutfitters.com). Or simply toss your Therm-a-Rest pad along the Methow River’s edge, doze under a grove of sun-dappled aspens and wake with a bracing cold plunge into what is essentially freshly melted snow.
The small-town culture is lively—and you can get a healthy dose during the annual ’49er Days (Winthrop, May 10–12), which features a wagon-train ride, cowboy poetry, dancing and a parade. Check out local artists’ work at the co-op-style Confluence Gallery in Twisp (104 Glover St.; 509.997.ARTS; confluencegallery.com) and local and touring musicians at the Twisp River Pub (201 N Methow Valley Hwy.; 888.220.3360; methowbrewing.com). Don’t miss the sweet Mazama Farmers Market (Wednesday evenings, July–Sept.; mazama.org) and the more bustling Twisp Farmers Market (Saturday mornings, April–Oct.; methowvalleyfarmersmarket.com).
- Grab freshly baked pastries and toothsome sandwiches for the trail at The Mazama Store (50 Lost River Road; 509.996.2855; themazamastore.com) or pizza by the slice at the Rocking Horse Bakery in Winthrop (265 Riverside Ave.; 509.996.4241; rockinghorsebakery.com); treat yourself to an elegant seasonal, local dinner at the Arrowleaf Bistro (253 Riverside Ave.; 509.996.3919; arrowleafbistro.com); or wash down Spanish tapas with Polish beer served by the Irish owner of Kelly’s between Mazama and Winthrop (18381 State Route 20; 509.996.9804; kellys-wesolapolana.com), served al fresco with an epic view of Lucky Jim Bluff.
On everyone’s list for a short stay are the rustic-modern Tom Kundig–designed Rolling Huts—now joined by a band of safari-style tents (18381 State Route 20; 509.996.4442; rollinghuts.com), between Mazama and Winthrop, and the deluxe digs at Sun Mountain Lodge outside Winthrop (Patterson Lake Road; 509.996.2211; sunmountainlodge.com). But consider renting a cabin through CentralReservations.com, so you can prepare meals of grass-fed beef from the Crown S Ranch, emmer wheat from Bluebird Grain Farms and fresh greens from the gardens around the valley—paired with some Community Red from Lost River Winery (tasting room in Winthrop, 26 Highway 20; 509.996.2888; lostriverwinery.com).