Get close to wildlife even while playing a round of golf in Northeastern Washington.
Just north of Spokane is a quiet corner of the state where it’s easy to put together a day trip with a bit of everything, from a wildlife refuge to golf and dining at a well-regarded rural restaurant.
Here’s an itinerary for a day trip from Spokane:
• Head to Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge in the morning, with its moose and osprey and woodpeckers.
• Check out Chewelah Golf and Country Club in the afternoon, with its 27-hole golf course, tucked among trees.
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• Don’t like to golf, or the weather’s crummy? Browse the antiques and specialty shops in the little town of Colville or head to the Chewelah Casino.
• Eat dinner at Lovitt, a well-regarded Colville restaurant.
The Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge is a 40,000-acre gem about 13 miles east of Colville (and 70 miles north of Spokane). A lot of people barely even know it’s there — it gets few visitors, and most of those are hunters in the fall and fishermen in the spring.
You’ll likely have the place almost to yourself, although you’ll have to share with the white-tailed deer and various other critters.
“We have everything from moose to weasels and otters,” said Steve Fowler, refuge manager.
On a quick visit like this, the best plan is to follow a gravel-road driving loop that takes you past the refuge headquarters, south to Potter’s Pond, a 15-acre lake stocked with trout. Check out the osprey, ducks and turtles. Then head north past McDowell Lake, a sparkling 47-acre fly-fishing-only lake loaded with rainbow trout and beautiful cattail meadow habitat.
Enough with nature. Now it’s time to head to nearby Chewelah for “a good walk spoiled,” i.e., golf. The Chewelah Golf and Country Club is a spectacular course — not only because it has 27 holes, nine over the usual quota, but because of its gorgeous setting. It’s wedged into a niche of the Selkirks, a few miles north of Chewelah, with ponderosa pines lining nearly every hole and wild rocky outcrops looming above.
It’s beautifully maintained and loaded with character — and critters, from deer to elk and turkeys.
You’ll feel a bit like a mountaineer on a few holes. Hole No. 9 plunges down a steep incline; hole No. 10 goes nearly straight up. It’s like hitting a drive into a green, grassy wall.
Still, the climb will help you work up an appetite for dinner — an important consideration on this trip. Not a golfer? Congratulations on your good judgment. But it also means you might want to find something else to do between your refuge excursion and dinner. A pleasant afternoon can be had by walking through the small town of Colville and checking out the antiques and specialty stores, including Barman’s Country Store, which is a combination of antiques store, gift shop and old-time soda fountain. Have yourself an old-fashioned ice cream soda or a malted milkshake — but don’t wreck your appetite.
If you’re not a shopper, there’s another place to open your wallet: the Chewelah Casino, off Highway 395 on the south side of Chewelah. It’s operated by the Spokane Tribe, and it features slots, craps, roulette and blackjack tables.
At the end of the day, you’ll find your reward at Lovitt, a restaurant on the south edge of Colville that has won widespread raves from restaurant critics. (A New York Times article about the owner-chef is framed and hanging on the wall.)
Kristen and Norman Six, who formerly ran a restaurant of the same name in Chicago, have created a culinary gem here in this 1908 farmhouse, serving foods based largely on local ingredients. Some is extremely local — a lot of their greens and vegetables come right from their own garden. Beef, pork and chicken come from Stevens County pastures — and some of it is smoked in the chef’s own smoker (chef Norman even cures his own prosciutto). Seafood comes from farther away — Seattle’s Pike Place Market. The menu changes weekly, depending on what’s fresh and available, and the prices are largely in the teens.
There may be no better way to end a North Country excursion than by sitting at a Lovitt window table, watching the sun set over the Colville River valley, sipping a local China Bend wine or Lost Falls beer and digging into halibut with crispy prosciutto.