Washington State

National Parks

Eastern Washington State

Washington State is a state of many faces, where just a few hours' drive can take you from rainforest to desert, from Bavaria to Native American, from skiing to windsurfing.  Eastern Washington's vibrant mix of cultures and geologies make it a fascinating place, with plenty of activities to keep you busy.

Most visitors to Washington will fly into Seattle, but there's a wealth of things to do if you venture east across the Cascade Mountains.  The Cascades form a barrier separating the wet, lush Pacific Coast from the arid desert plateau that covers the eastern two-thirds of the state.  Don't let the sagebrush fool you:  modern irrigation has transformed the desert into fertile orchards, fields, and the vineyards which make Washington the nations second-largest wine-producing state.

Columbia River in Eastern Washington © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
The Columbia River is a source of water for the central valley farmlands as well as a recreation destination.

Close Encounters with Nature

For an active adventure try out some of these local favorites.  The Columbia River Gorge is a spectacular river canyon which forms part of the southern border between Washington and Oregon.  Eighty miles long and up to 4,000 feet deep, the canyon is the only sea-level passage through the Cascade Mountains.  It is a popular spot for windsurfers and kiteboarders, and in the summer months the tranquil waters are studded with brightly-colored sails. 

Approximately a three-hour drive from Seattle through the spectacular scenery of Stevens Pass (US-2), Lake Chelan is a paradise in the summer for watersports, hiking, and relaxation.  Locals from the west side of the Cascades flock to the lake for the warm weather and sunshine, when placid waters reflect perpetually blue, cloudless skies.  Lake Chelan is not just for the summer, however, and in the winter downhill and cross country skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling draw crowds, as well.

Forty miles east of Ellensburg on I-90, the Gorge Amphitheatre is a 20,00-seat outdoor concert venue that hosts world-class concerts and festivals.  Despite its remoteness from Washington's major cities, the Gorge draws thousands to experience its awe inspiring combination of spectacular scenery and talented musicians.

Leavenworth, WA a Bavarian town in Eastern Washington © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
The town of Leavenworth is like a Bavarian Village surrounded by the beautiful Cascade Mountains.

A State of Many Histories

Washington is a diverse state, and its people showcase their various heritages proudly.  Nestled into the northern foothills of the Cascades west of Lake Chelan, Leavenworth is a delightful recreation of a Bavarian town.  Things really get going for Oktoberfest, and the special events and decorations around Christmastime are not to be missed.

Drive 59 miles to the northeast and you can put on your cowboy boots and walk the boardwalks in Winthrop, a recreated Old West town with historic pioneering roots.  Winthrop maintains its Old West vibes in its architecture, staged shoot-outs, and the numerous festivals it holds throughout the year, most famously the summer Winthrop Rhythm and Blues Festival.  The lakes and rivers of the surrounding Methow Valley is a fisher's paradise.

In the center of the state, the Yakama Indian Reservation is Washington's biggest, encompassing 1.2 million acres.  A twenty minute drive south of the town of Yakima (the tribe and the city spell their names differently) you can visit the Yakama Nation Cultural Heritage Center's museum, library, theater and iconic Winter Lodge.  It is located in the reservation's largest city, Toppenish, which is also the self-styled "City of Murals."  Over the years Toppenish's historic business district has been embellished with over 70 murals depicting scenes from the Old West and local history.

The Breadbasket of Washington

People come from all over the state to the Yakima Valley, where family-owned produce stands sell seasonal fruit and vegetables harvested from the fields around them.  Row after row of peppers, berries, squash, pumpkins and apple trees line the country roads, and locals share the roads patiently with lumbering tractors.  Take your pick from the overflowing bins, or head out into the field to pick your own! 

Toppenish, WA in the Yakimna Valley of Eastern Washington © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
The small town of Toppenish is best known for the more than 70 historically accurate murals found throughout the town.

Nine of Washington State's ten official wine growing regions are in Eastern Washington.  The Columbia Gorge region covers a vast swath of land in the central and southern part of the state, and vineyards blanket the fertile valleys near Prosser, Richmond, and Walla Walla.  More and more wine is being made within view of the vineyards, so stop by one of the many tasting rooms that beckon off the highway.  Chances are that the person behind the counter has seen this wine through from seedling to bottle.

The Inland Empire

Drive to Northeast Washington, and you'll climb gently into the foothills of the Rocky Mountain.  Known as the Columbia Highlands, this area is an outdoor lover's paradise, with over 35 parks and wildlife areas throughout the region.  Spokane is an ideal base for exploring, offering all the amenities of a metropolis all only a short drive from white-water rafting, horseback riding, mountain biking and skiing.  The city's Riverfront Park, sitting on the site of the 1974 World's Fair in the heart of downtown, provides over 100 acres of recreation.

Written by: Jessie Kwak
Top Photo Credit: © Ronnie Allen / USATourist.com
Photo Description: At 55-miles long, Lake Chelan is the largest natural lake in Washington State and a popular four-season retreat.