I’ve never been a dog person.
Why, I’ve always thought, spend so much time, money and energy raising this critter whose poop you have to pick up, who has to be let out every few hours and whose care you have to worry about whenever you go on vacation?
If you’d told me three years ago that I would one day plan an entire 440-mile road trip around a canine companion, I would have laughed and told you “Never.”
So of course that’s exactly what ended up happening.
Over Memorial Day weekend, armed with a packed four-day itinerary, my wife and I bundled Gryffi, our 2½-year-old mini-labradoodle, into the car and set out to conquer the Cascade Loop Scenic Byway.
Everyone I’d talked to beforehand gushed about how beautiful the drive was and how much there was to do in the little towns that pepper the loop’s nine distinct regions from Everett, through Stevens Pass and Leavenworth, Wenatchee, Chelan and the Methow Valley, the North Cascades and back around through the Skagit Valley and Whidbey.
After some preliminary Googling, I realized we’d need to plan to ensure we stayed at dog-friendly hotels, and found activities that we could take Gryffi on. That meant no museums — unfortunate, there were a couple of intriguing ones around — and no hikes within national parks, where dogs aren’t allowed on trails — also unfortunate, because our dog loves hiking. But the Cascade Loop Association’s guidebook was a good resource: it included a list of dog-friendly campgrounds, hotels and attractions, and formed the basis of the Gryff-friendly itinerary we built.
Gryffi came into our lives 2½ years ago after Lauren, my wife, begged for us to get a dog.
Lauren and I are opposites in many ways, and this manifests itself most vividly in our philosophy on planning — I plan, she doesn’t — and our perception of animals. Lauren is the person who stops to pet every dog she sees while walking down the street. Her parents tell stories about how, when she was little, they always knew that if they ever lost sight of her in a public space, all they had to do was find the nearest dog, because that’s where Lauren would be: crouched in the dirt, affectionately petting the furry beast.
Needless to say, I knew going into our marriage that we would one day have to get a dog.
That day came in March 2017. The puppy we picked out was mostly black, with a full ring of white on her back, and a lightning bolt-shaped tuft of white fur on her forehead. After nixing “Harriet” and “Potter,” we christened her Gryffindor — Gryffi, for short.
I worked from home in those days, so after my wife went to work every morning, I was left alone with the dog I hadn’t really wanted. Initially, I regretted our decision daily. There’s a reason why all puppies are cute. It makes it harder to want to kill them when they poop inside, whine for you to play with them, and need to be let out to pee every two hours because, at 8 weeks old, their bladders are minuscule.
Yet, slowly, this dog grew on me.
Sure, I got annoyed whenever she had yet another accident on the carpet or barked annoyingly while I was conducting a phone interview. But, for every one of those incidents, there were several endearing ones: like how she would sidle up and cuddle me when she knew I’d had a bad day, or the kick I got out of watching her enthusiastically lick peanut butter off my fingers as we shared a snack. I adored how she chomped on sticks and obsessively squeaked all her stuffed animals. And I loved watching her romp happily at the dog park. Lauren soon got her to sit, shake hands, roll over and high-five. I taught Gryffi to climb the stairs of our town house, and she taught me how to communicate with a living being who couldn’t use words.
So by the time we steered the car into Everett, I was a convert. I loved our dog, and I wanted to ensure she had as good a time as my wife and I did on our grand Cascade Loop adventure.
Day 1: Seattle-Everett-Stevens Pass-Leavenworth-Wenatchee
Remember how I’m big on planning? Dog-friendly trip or not, I was also determined to keep to our itinerary early on to ensure we’d get to see everything and not have to rush through the back end of our trip in parts of Washington — Wenatchee and beyond — we’d never been to.
So as we sped through Everett and Stevens Pass (we drove the loop counterclockwise) on that drizzly Friday before Memorial Day weekend, I kept time judiciously, in a hurry to get to Wallace Falls State Park because we hoped to squeeze in a hike and high-tail it to Leavenworth for dinner before spending the night in Wenatchee.
But Gryff and Lauren ganged up on me and threatened to derail our schedule within the first couple of hours.
My biologist wife made us stop at the Wallace River Salmon Hatchery because she thought it sounded interesting, and we moseyed through slower than I wanted because Gryff led us in every direction as she excitedly explored the fishy smells.
Thankfully, we got back on schedule with an up-tempo Wallace Falls hike that had the tired pup snoozing in the car as we headed toward Leavenworth.
The lush, green landscape we sped by took on an almost mystical quality in the overcast, rainy conditions, and the fog gave way to majestic mountains speckled with trees that were shrouded by misty cloud cover.
The longer we drove, the less I watched the clock as I stared out the window. Time passed so quickly that I was surprised to see the charming Bavarian-style buildings of Leavenworth come into view just before 6 p.m.
Whether Bavarians like dogs, I don’t know, but the folks of Leavenworth certainly do. Water bowls dot the sidewalks between shops, and many restaurants have outdoor decks where your furry friend is welcome to sit and hope for scraps as you enjoy dinner. We wandered the town with Gryff, who even got a special treat: a bag of bone-shaped dog biscuits from the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory.
For dinner, we opted for bratwurst at the Leavenworth Sausage Garten — because our dog likes sticks and loves meat, and was really pumped when she got little bits of our stick-shaped meat.
Before hitting the road again, it seemed only appropriate to stop at Doghaus Brewery, a tiny tasting room tucked in the basement of Der Hinterhof hotel. Beers are named after dogs (Leo’s Little Dog Lager, Alpha Dog Amber Ale), there’s a wall decorated with photos of dog-loving patrons, and bartender/brewer Joel Sams poured beer in a hoodie that read “In dog beers, I’ve only had one.”
After an impromptu stop at a poignant Sept. 11 memorial in Cashmere — it included a section of steel from one of the World Trade Center towers, and a cornice from the Pentagon section that was hit by a plane — we checked into a room down the “pet-friendly hall” of the Coast Wenatchee Center Hotel. Smart, I thought. Put all the folks with pets in one hallway so no one complains about the big dog barking in the room next door, or about the tiny rip in the carpet.
Day 2: Wenatchee-Chelan-Twisp-Winthrop
The always-social Gryff made new dog friends as we explored the Wenatchee Valley Farmers Market. Afterward, we wanted to take her on a stroll by the river, but with steady rain falling, decided to continue the drive.
The landscape had changed from greenery and mountains to the pretty, orange-brown hues of more arid lands, though we were coasting through wildfire country on what was probably one of its wettest days of the year.
Gryff has loved car rides ever since, at 3 months old, I first held her up to an open car window so she could stick her head out in the breeze, eyes wide with wonder, floppy ears flying backward. But she gets antsy if we’re in the car for too long, so we ended up stopping several times along the way. Initially, I once again worried that these pit stops would make us deviate from my carefully curated schedule.
However, somewhere between Wenatchee and Winthrop, I stopped stressing about getting to a destination and developed an appreciation for our journey. I impulsively made us stop in front of an orchard to take pictures of little fledgling apples, I suggested a walk by Chelan’s Riverwalk Park and made us pull over at the Wells Dam Overlook Park along the Columbia River to examine a giant turbine. After a brief pilgrimage to Twisp’s famed Blue Star Coffee Roasters, we took a rambling detour to the North Cascades Smokejumper Base outside of Winthrop just because it sounded interesting.
An exploratory after-dinner stroll across the Methow River via the Spring Creek Bridge deposited us in front of a deserted, outdoor skating rink whose ice had long since melted to expose a concrete floor. With not a soul in sight, we unleashed our small, energetic dog to run crazed laps around the rink for a while. Needless to say, everyone slept well that night in our surprisingly cozy, well-equipped log cabin at the Winthrop KOA campground.
Day 3: Winthrop-Newhalem-Concrete-Oak Harbor
Sunday morning brought more rain. So after a shortened exploration of the quaint, but very wet, Old Wild West-themed town of Winthrop, we pressed onward to hike the Blue Lake Trail in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.
We’d picked this hike because it’s right outside North Cascades National Park, and while dogs aren’t allowed on national park trails, most national forest trails are dog-friendly.
But we scuttled that plan after pulling into the Blue Lake trailhead parking lot and realizing we were woefully underdressed for this hike because there was a foot of snow on the ground.
Back in the car we went. We’d just about given up on finding a hike outside national park lands when a sign for Canyon Creek trailhead loomed, and I abruptly pulled off the road and into a mostly empty parking lot.
This trail was a hidden gem. The left fork of a crossroad led to a collapsed log cabin on the bank of Canyon Creek that dated to the early 1900s. The right fork was the start of the isolated Chancellor Trail, which we hiked partway, rambling 2 miles on a beautiful, narrow forest trail that offered mountain views, an assortment of woodland plants for Gryff to sniff and sample, and big tree stumps to clamber over — all amid a light breeze with the soothing sounds of water rushing by.
Thereafter, the journey down Highway 20 continued. The Ross Lake and Diablo Lake overlooks offered gorgeous views — albeit around throngs of tourists — and we enjoyed a leisurely walk down the Trail of the Cedars footbridge in Newhalem.
As we entered Skagit County around 4 p.m., the temperature crept up to 75, and we marveled at how we’d experienced spring, summer and winter all in one day.
Pro tip: When passing Concrete with a gluten-free person and a cheese-loving dog in the car, always, always stop at 5B’s bakery. The mac and cheese is divine in its rich, hot, melty goodness. The plump calzones are stuffed with ground sausage meat and herbs, and engulfed in a spongy dough pocket of just the right thickness, and the creamy cheesecake with its crispy cookie crust is good by any standard, not just gluten-free standards.
With full bellies, we didn’t stop again until Deception Pass, where the view from the bridge compelled us to park and whip out cameras.
Day 4: Oak Harbor-Langley-Mukilteo-Seattle
With less than 90 miles remaining, we took the final day of the trip at a relaxed pace.
A morning spent exploring Libbey Beach and Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve worked up our appetites, and a search for restaurants with outdoor dining areas in Coupeville took us to Christopher’s on Whidbey, where we all agreed we had the best meal of the trip.
I loved my Penn Cove manila clams with curry linguine ($15). The curry taste was less overpowering than the strong aroma implied, and was complemented by a rich, white wine-tinged tomato base with a generous serving of clams. The Penn Cove seafood stew ($16) was also delectable, with salmon, mussels, clams, scallops, shrimp and a healthy variety of vegetables in a delicious tomato broth.
But in Gryff’s opinion, Christopher’s clam chowder ($6 for a cup) was the star of this show. She enjoyed the little chunks of warm, crispy bread that I dunked into my soup and fed to her, and we enjoyed watching her devour the unexpected meal.
Our next stop was one of my favorites. Fort Casey State Park was built by the Army in the 1800s, and was used as a training facility until the end of World War II. We took our time exploring, passing Gryff back and forth like a relay baton as we climbed skinny metal ladders to inspect the big guns that pointed outward to defend Admiralty Inlet.
The stop after that was probably Gryff’s favorite. Double Bluff Beach and off-leash area is the only dog beach I’ve ever seen that seemed to have more people than dogs. They’re dog-loving people, though, and many stopped to pet our exuberant black-and-white canine as she gleefully pranced around in the water.
Before joining the Clinton ferry line, we traipsed through Langley’s downtown strip — a certain four-legged friend may have gotten a lick of an ice cream cone or two — and spent a peaceful hour wine tasting at the Ott and Hunter. By the time the ferry docked in Mukilteo around 7 p.m., our dog was snoozing hard in the car’s back seat.
Cruising south on I-5 back toward Seattle, we fondly rehashed the trip, agreeing that we’d broken up the four days with enough stops that we never got sick of driving, and found lots of interesting places we wanted to revisit.
The Cascade Loop showcased the geographic diversity of Washington in all its beauty and took us to places we might never have visited, but best of all, our dog got to participate in every minute of it.
Viewing it all through Gryffi’s inquisitive brown eyes made me wonder how I ever resisted getting her.
See? Never say “never.”