Charming Small Towns Along the Palouse Scenic Byway

Explore beyond the rolling hills, from Moscow, Idaho, to the Lewis-Clark Valley
The Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at WSU aka “Crimson Cube”

This article appears in print in the January 2020 issue. Click here to subscribe.

This article is part of our Palouse feature, click here to see part one.

Steptoe and Kamiak buttes’ sprawling Palouse views offer a picturesque introduction to this region of rolling hills, but if heading west from Colfax takes you back toward the city too soon, take a detour along the Palouse Scenic Byway.

Drive south from Kamiak Butte along State Route 27 for just 20 minutes and you’ll arrive in quaint Pullman, Washington. Most well known as the home of Washington State University (WSU), the town has a lesser claim to fame as host of the National Lentil Festival each summer. Stretch your legs with a stroll around campus and enjoy an architectural journey through the ages, with century-old neoclassical brick buildings rubbing shoulders with innovative new structures like the “Crimson Cube,” WSU’s new art museum, with its striking red glass exterior. Stay for cocktails and Mediterranean flavors at The Black Cypress, or save your appetite for dinner down the road.

Take a quick 15-minute drive east into Moscow, Idaho, and the college-town charm continues in University of Idaho territory. The town’s tree-lined streets are flanked by historic patterned-brick and Art Deco buildings, and an unexpected selection of independent eateries. Visit Lodgepole for an upscale dinner menu inspired by local flavors; afterward, stop by Nectar for a seasonal, hand-crafted nightcap. Beyond the chain hotels, you’ll find a host of independent inns and rental homes: Among them are the Peterson Barn Guesthouse, presenting a rustic, wood-paneled option; and The Little Green Guesthouse, which offers cozy accommodations a short walk from downtown. (Be sure to check the local college football calendars if you’re hoping to score overnight lodging on short notice.)

Try upscale dinner fare at Lodgepole. Photo by Brooke Fitts

In the morning, fuel up at The Breakfast Club and head back to Pullman to resume your scenic route south on State Route 27. You’ll complete the remaining southern leg of the Palouse Scenic Byway in less than an hour, landing you at the confluence of the mighty Snake and Clearwater rivers in the Lewis-Clark Valley, named for those intrepid 19th-century explorers, who had a campsite nearby. The neighboring cities of Lewiston, Idaho, and Clarkston, Washington, share scenic views, a banana belt climate and river access to the deepest river gorge in North America.

Once you’ve sated your appetite for the gentle terrain of the Palouse, consider a change of scenery: Although Hells Canyon isn’t easily accessible by car, a number of boat tours based in the Lewis-Clark Valley area will take you south down the Snake River, making it possible to experience the gorge’s majesty from within.

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