The Chinook Scenic Byway is Washington’s only road that’s both a scenic byway and an All-American Road, an honor bestowed to thoroughfares with unusual natural beauty. It’s a 92-mile route less traveled, eventually leading to Yakima, a town bustling with new breweries, wineries, restaurants and hotels. But this is a seasonal deal — the Chinook Scenic Byway will only be open for another month or so. Snow closes down the byway until next summer. So, enjoy it while you can.

The byway starts in Enumclaw and passes Crystal Mountain into Rainier National Park’s diverse, awe-inspiring landscape. From Crystal Mountain, you’ll continue on WA-410 toward the 5,430-foot elevation Chinook Pass, the byway’s highest point and namesake, and a bridge that takes hikers along the Pacific Crest Trail.

The byway threads through various park jurisdictions offering camping, hiking, fishing and other recreational opportunities as you drive through the pass’s fir-to-pine forests. The jurisdictions for these areas can be somewhat confusing, and includes the U.S. Forest Service’s Norse Peak Wilderness, and William O. Douglas Wilderness, named for the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice who grew up in Yakima.

The Washington Trails Association lists 87 varying-challenge hikes in the area, from pleasant loops to the 7,766-foot-tall Mount Aix or 6,856-foot Norse Peak.  Some hikes are short, while others can take the day — many offer a chance to spot mountain views, seasonally changing landscapes, plus marmots and mountain goats. Unusual hikes include Edgar Rock’s spires and the circa-1930s Civilian Conservation Corps-built trail to Boulder Cave, created by ancient lava flows and habitat for the Pacific western big-eared bat.

RV and tent campers can stay at the Lodgepole Campground, Little Naches Campground, the smaller Pleasant Valley Campground or the delightfully named Hells Crossing Campground. Be aware that you probably won’t get much (or any) cell service along the way, so plan accordingly. Tiny towns begin popping up again as you descend from the Cascades before the byway officially ends in Naches. But don’t stow your map just yet.

Road trip to Tieton

En route, take a detour into the quirky town of Tieton about 19 miles west of downtown Yakima. For the past decade or so, the town’s revival has centered around an arts and foodie scene clustered around a quaint, grassy town park. Literary and arts events occur throughout the year in this intimate, lively town, including poetry workshops. But sweet surprises await visitors as well, like the enormous apple-label-style mosaics.

Plan to visit on a weekend when you can shop handmade furniture at Atlas and Cedar, outdoor gear store Nomad Mercantile, or art at Boxx Gallery or among the tiny local artists’ studios. At the annual  10x10x10xTieton (on display until October 7) exhibit, browse works from around the world — each no more than 10 inches wide, tall, or long. Then feast on pupusas at Don Mateo Salvadorean and Mexican Cuisine or tapas at 617 in Tieton Square.

On to Yakima

You’ve probably dined or enjoyed a drink from Yakima Valley’s orchards and vineyards without even knowing it. The Yakima Valley contains approximately 75% of the total United States hop acreage, along with 20,000 acres of grapes. As a result, the region’s newer attractions include a foodie’s dream, with culinary, beer and wine-tasting experiences. But there’s plenty to occupy shopping and history buffs for a Saturday browse.

The Yakima Valley Museum offers one of Washington’s best museums, filled with surprising, delightful exhibits. Check out Yakima’s retired signage at the “Neon Garden,” a polio-era iron lung, an unusual collection of marketing pens and pencils, and trivia on apple processing and famous residents like William O. Douglas — who kept marrying increasingly younger women. While strange and fascinating stuff abounds, don’t miss the “Cabinet of Curiosities.” Open drawers in the looming cabinets to find antique dentures, taxidermized birds and other assortments.

Find a curiosity of your own in one of the area’s antique malls or handsome, well-priced furniture gleaned from the town’s historic homes. Both Yesterday’s Village and Flippers Antiques offer plenty of both.

For newer goods, browse Inklings Bookshop’s shelves of books, toys and gifts tucked away inside an unassuming strip mall. At the same strip mall (Chalet Place), English Country Market offers imported, hand-curated children’s clothing/toys, kitchenware and treats in two separate storefronts. Find more of the local hits at I Heart Yakima, catch a live performance at Capitol Theatre, or experience art exhibits at Larson Gallery.  

For the foodies

Yakima’s downtown core hosts an increasing number of knockout dining options. The downtown core hums with newer dining options, such as the sleek Cowiche Canyon Kitchen’s upmarket fare drawing from international sources and pan-Asian E. Z Tiger. The spectacular, bustling Crafted sends shareable, seasonally focused plates out of the kitchen (make a reservation). 

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If you want to stay close to downtown dining, the unique Hotel Maison boasts a fascinating pedigree — this former Freemason’s lodge just joined the Hilton Tapestry collection. Constructed in 1911, and now on the National Register of Historic Places, Hotel Maison contains myriad photos and details (like an owlery built into the exterior). Ask about informal tours at the front desk.

On a Sunday morning, visit the Downtown Yakima Farmers Market for fruits, vegetables, meats, baked goods and quick fare from local vendors. Enjoy a quick pastry from downtown’s Essencia Artisan Bakery, or walk to the historic brick train station to pull in at the gorgeous Main Stop on the Ave, which serves hearty Mexican-influenced omelets, benedicts and scrambles.   

Yakima County’s population is 51% Hispanic, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, so keep an eye out for events announced and sponsored by the Yakima-Morelia sister city association, such as the Latino film series, Dia De Los Muertos and special tequila-tasting fundraisers. Award-winning Mexican fare isn’t hard to find, including Los Hernandez Tamales, which won a James Beard Foundation America’s Classics Award. Other local favorites include Mercedes and Family, El Mirador, 5 Salsas, and Grand Monarca.

If you enjoy liquid refreshment, various wine, beer, cider and spirits producers abound in Yakima Valley. The Fresh Hop Beer Festival takes place in October. Or sip craft suds at the 16-tap Single Hill Brewing Company taproom in downtown Yakima, samplers at the rural Bale Breaker and craft beer paired with a brewer’s board at Wandering Hop.

Wine lovers can stomp grapes at Catch the Crush from October 8 – 9, 2022. Or simply enjoy the bounty of 90 tasting rooms and small producer and craft wineries in the region’s five tasting areas. Walk up or make reservations at Gilbert Cellars and Sheridan Vineyard, sparkling wines at Treveri Cellars, organic-focused Wilridge Winery, and Owen Roe’s experiences — including guided tastings and outdoor cabana tastings paired with a five-item picnic basket.

But the best aspect of Yakima may be that there’s always more for foodies to explore, whether it be restaurants, local you-pick farms or up-and-coming wineries.

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Discover WA Road Trips
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The Chinook Scenic Byway is Washington’s only road that’s both a scenic byway and an All-American Road, eventually leading to a bustling food and drink scene in Yakima.

A fall trip to Crystal Mountain affords a bucolic drive, shoulder-season rates, gentle hikes and a chance to enjoy a glimpse of Mount Rainier framed in blue skies.

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This road trip on North Cascades Scenic Byway provides a purely Western experience as it threads through tiny towns and jagged mountain.