Before the snow arrives, outdoor enthusiasts might find their way to the Methow Valley’s spectacular scenery—a mix of graceful dales, mellow ridges and brilliant sunshine. Well known for cross-country skiing in winter, the valley’s summer visitors will find a host of outdoor activities and social-distance-approved excursions, along with cultural attractions.
Three small towns make up the Methow Valley’s core appeal and roughly follow the Methow River and SR-20. Winthrop is the main attraction, an Old West-themed town with false-front wood exteriors and wide awnings. Just south, Twisp is an arts-focused community. Just north, Mazama (rhymes with shazam-a) hosts a handful of stores and accommodations, and is closest to the North Cascades pass.
Journey north and east in one of a few ways: From Seattle in summer, take the North Cascades Highway for stunning mountain pass backdrops. While the fastest route, at about 189 miles, the journey still takes almost four hours. Or you can approach from the south. In this scenario, you’d take I-90 east past Roslyn/Cle Elum before branching north toward Wenatchee, then heading west to join up with Winthrop and Twisp. This route also takes a little over four hours.
Due to the considerable driving distance, you might want to stay for more than a night. Which is fine, considering the activities available. The Methow Valley Trail’s 120-mile-plus system attracts mountain bikers, equestrians and trail runners in summer. After winter’s snows fall, the trail system converts to a pass-required wonderland for cross-country skiers. Hikers of every ability and age can find a great trail fit, whether to an abandoned or active fire lookout, or up Washington’s highest road (Harts Pass Road).
For those hoping to cool off, the 1,184-acre Pearrygin Lake State Park is shaded by willow and ash trees, and attracts water-lovers for swimming, boating, water skiing and trout fishing. The 743-acre camping area with both 92 sites and two diminutive four-person, 16-by-16-foot cabins equipped with kitchenettes.
If you didn’t bring the right outdoor equipment with you for exploring the region’s trails and waterways, it’s fairly easy to reserve, buy or rent what you might need. Pick up tents, shoes, rental skis and other outdoor gear at Cascades Outdoor Store and Winthrop Mountain Sports, rent stand-up paddleboards and river tubes from Methow Cycle and Sport, or bikes (including fat bikes and kids’ bike trailers) at Goat’s Beard Mountain Supplies in Mazama.
For a more all-inclusive experience, local guided services include rafting, kayaking and tubing with Methow Rafting, and one-on-one alpine rock-climbing experiences in Washington Pass with North Cascades Mountain Guides.
Some outdoor favorites are temporarily closed. Visitors can typically drop in for summer roller skating at the outdoor Winthrop Rink , but the rink undergoing planned renovations. In November, visitors can ice skate at the rink once more. The Wagner Memorial Pool typically opens for swims, but wildfires abbreviated the pool’s season. Bookmark both for next summer.
History, art and culture
Winthrop’s standardized Western aesthetic came about in the early 1970s, as a result of crafting a theme-town appeal, much like Leavenworth’s German-inspired stylings. So, stroll the wooden boardwalks and storefronts to find Trail’s End Bookstore‘s solid collection of puzzles, art supplies, and books, including titles by Methow Valley authors. For those with a sweet tooth (or many more) Sheri’s Sweet Shoppe provides house-made caramel, fudge, truffles and other treats—but the real draw might be the 40 flavors of ice cream, best in summer.
Learn about the homesteaders of the Methow Valley, the original indigenous inhabitants and locals at the Shafer Historical Museum and the Methow Valley Interpretive Center, in Twisp. The latter features an interpretive garden with more than 150 native plant species grouped by habitat, a natural dye garden and a pit house.
It’s located on the 6.4-acre TwispWorks campus, which was formerly an abandoned ranger station. TwispWorks welcomes community and visitors to visit artists’ studios on Friday and Saturdays. On-site artists and businesses create a collection of items and services you’re unlikely to find elsewhere, including birdhouses tailored to nest specific birds; a native-plant nursery; letterpress classes; and handcrafted brooms, wood furniture and metal jewelry. Pick up lunch or dinner at a food truck and brewery.
In the evening, Winthrop’s Barnyard Cinema is welcoming indie movie buffs with proof of vaccination. Sit in an Adirondack chair in the outdoor lounge for drinks (beer, wine, espresso) with views of Gardner Peak.
Breakfast and lunch options include Rocking Horse Bakery, with riverside picnic and bistro tables; weekend breakfasts at Washington’s oldest legal saloon, Three Fingered Jack’s; baked goods at 3 Bears Cafe and Quilt Shop (yes, it’s a quilt shop, too).
A variety of liquid refreshment suits the hard-playing atmosphere. Methow Valley Ciderhouse in Winthrop rings up sales of their six ciders, but also features an amphitheater as a family-friendly live music venue on weekends, and a restaurant with informal burgers, pizza and bratwursts.
In Twisp, the Old Schoolhouse Brewery is housed in an old, brick-red schoolhouse, with tableside dining along the Chewuch River. The eclectic menu changes, but might include chicken wings tossed in spicy Detention sauce, chili made with stout, and lamb kofta in pita.
More local liquids can be found at Lost River Winery’s outdoor tasting room, Brix Wine Bar’s 300+ wines sourced from destinations worldwide, and The Wine Shed’s 700+ wines, beers, scotch, bourbon, tequilas and mezcals.
For sleeping, one of the area’s star properties—Sun Mountain Lodge—is closed until mid-October for deep cleaning due to wildfire smoke damage. Due to its popularity, booking now for a fall sojourn wouldn’t be the worst idea. The Lodge offers upscale resort amenities and truly spectacular viewpoints, from a stunning mountaintop location.
For those hoping to increase distance during COVID-19’s resurgence, investigate the full-size kitchen or kitchenette-equipped cabins at Chewuch Inn or River’s Edge Resort. For brief stays, Hotel Rio Vista’s rooms overlook local rivers, conveniently located in Winthrop.
On your way home, take a different route back, or enjoy the reverse scenery of the way you approached.
Notice: Temporary or longer closures may occur due to COVID-19, or unexpected heat, smoke or wildfire. Always check road conditions before leaving home, make reservations where possible, and bring proof of COVID-19 vaccination. Masks are required indoors in Washington state as of publication. Remember that regional hospitals and health care systems may have limited resources. If you begin feeling ill, stay home or try to return to your local health care system.
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