As I write this post, the Methow Valley is on fire, literally. Every year at this time the community holds its collective breath and prays for the fire season to pass without incident. Last year, the Carlton Complex Fire scorched the entire lower valley, leaving the earth on both sides of Highway 20 south of Carlton, black. After the Carlton Fire, many homes were reduced to concrete foundations. Those homes and fields that escaped the fire, because of ample irrigation, dotted the landscape but were eerily surrounded on all sides by smoldering earth. Driving between the towns of Carlton and Pateros last fall I was silent. There were no words to describe the destruction and devastation seen through the windows of the car. As I write this, the towns of Winthrop and Twisp, to the north of Carlton, have gone through a series of evacuations. Three firefighters have lost their lives, while countless continue the good fight. The hills are burning and threatening the heart of this valley, again. Fires rage in the West ever year, and many wonder how they can help. I propose that you can start by reading this post. And when the embers have long since cooled, dream up an excuse to visit the Methow Valley. With the return of tourism, this valley will be prosperous once again. I had not intended to publish this post for a couple more weeks, but the timing could not be more relevant, as it brings to light the persistent glory of the Methow Valley. METHOW STRONG!
There is no more beautiful drive in the Pacific Northwest than the route 20 takes over the North Cascade Mountains into the Methow Valley. Highway 20 drops you into the hamlet of Mazama, with the towns of Winthrop and Twisp beyond. My favorite time of year to visit is the fall; the leaves are turning, the air is crisp, and the threat of summer forest fires has passed, returning campfires and s'mores to the evening line-up. For close to 30 years, the Methow Valley in north central Washington State has been my second home. When I was a kid my parents bought a piece of land on the Methow River between Winthrop and Mazama, and since then it has been the place where we escape the city on the weekends. In the winter, the Methow is a nordic haven for outdoor enthusiasts. In the summer and fall, the region attracts mountain bikers, hikers, fly fishermen and river rafters. With dry weather year round, the Methow sees roughly 300 days of sun a year, making its climate optimal for exploring the great outdoors. The Methow has no ski resort or golf community, no condos or shopping centers; it is the anti-resort, which is why we like it. All things considered, the Methow Valley is the ideal refuge for those who like to be outside, escape the city, and check out of the scene.
So what do I do when I head east of the mountains for the weekend? I cook, a lot. I go to sleep with all the windows open, so I can hear the sound of the river. In the summer, we swim, go to the farmers market, ride bikes, hike, and throw the tennis ball over AND OVER for the dog. In the winter, we have fires in the river rock fireplace, snowshoe, cross country ski, and sled. Cocktail hour starts at 4:00 pm., but is always flexible. In my formative years there were a lot of shenanigans at our cabin the woods. I miss those days, and the people I shared them with. Hopefully we haven't totally aged ourselves out of that category of fun. The journey continues...right?
There is no shortage of mediocre places to stay in the Methow Valley, but there are a few places that offer good accommodations for every type of traveler. Here is the short list of where I would stay. I wouldn’t call this list the best of the worst, but you aren’t going to the Methow Valley for its memorable and lux accommodations.
At the top end of the Valley near the small town of Mazama are the Rolling Huts. Designed by internationally renowned architect, Tom Kundig, the Rolling Huts bring a small slice of design, rustic-chic to the Methow. The Rolling Huts are six individual structures built from steel, wood, and glass that are simply furnished with wood burning stoves and kitchenettes. The Rolling Huts are an alternative to camping (i.e. communal showers and barbeques) that have stunning views of the mountains, front door access to trails, and a massive beautiful lawn for running around. When we visited this summer, I envisioned a group of friends taking over the place, perhaps a weekend filled with hiking, biking, flag football, barbeques and campfires. Sounds like fun, right?
The Freestone Inn is the first thing you come to when you descend down Highway 20 into the Methow Valley. A beautiful log lodge, the Freestone Inn is set in the forest on the edge of a small lake. It is a great spot to get away from it all; fly fish, bike, sit by the fire, or enjoy the poolside cocktail service while you watch the kids swim. In the winter, put on your cross-country skis and hop on the Methow Trail; the river rock fireplace at the Freestone is a great place to come back to after a day of skiing on a cold snowy afternoon. It’s not fancy, and frankly, could use a re-boot, but the Freestone Inn is a lovely spot – I got married there after all!
Sun Mountain Lodge is perched high above the town of Winthrop and is the only large, full service resort in the area. Sun Mountain is the place that can accommodate large weddings and conventions. In the summer, Sun Mountain offers organized horseback riding and fly fishing, among other things, and in the winter has horse drawn sleigh rides and nordic skiing lessons. Sun Mountain is not a quiet place to check out from it all, it is the place that has something for everyone. On approach to Sun Mountain Lodge you will pass their Paterson Lake Cabins. Set along the shore of a beautiful mirrored lake, the Cabins are the way to go if you are looking for the amenities of a full service resort without all the people.
I used to think that I was never going to eat anything but mediocre food in the Methow Valley. Times, they are finally changing.
Recently, we had lunch at Kelly’s at Wesola Polana, the restaurant at the Rolling Huts. Their burger is a half-pound of grass fed beef topped with English style bacon, and the BLT is rounded out with an egg. The place is managed by an Irishman, so naturally, rugby and soccer are on the television and the beer selection is top notch. Need I say more?
For breakfast or a light lunch in Twisp, head to the Glover Street Market. Not only can you stock up on organic product and bulk herbs and spices, you can enjoy fresh pressed juices, seasonal salads, and delicious emmer waffles made from grain locally produced by Bluebird Farms. Glover Street Market has a nice little wine cellar as well. If this spot was in my local hood, I would eat here EVERYDAY! Next door to Glover Street is the Cinnamon Twisp Bakery. Stop in for a delicious sandwich on their fresh baked bread, and don't dare walk out the door without tasting one of their delicious cinnamon rolls.
The Mazama Store is a great spot to grab your groceries and a sandwich, or ski in and enjoy a hot cup of soup and a cup of locally roasted coffee. The inventory is well curated from a selection of Patagonia essentials and locally crafted ceramics to fresh organic produce, wine, and pantry items. Once I figured out that they had landjäger, the Mazama Store became the only place to fill up the tank on the way out of town (I am a sucker for cured meat).
Right outside of Winthrop by the grocery store is East 20 Pizza. Eat in or take out, it’s not fancy, but it’s good for kids and has a great beer section. Family favorite is the 509er.
The closest thing to fine dining in the Methow Valley will land you at Arrowleaf Bistro in Winthrop. With a new building just outside of town, Arrowleaf has a lovely light filled dining and serves a refined menu using locally and organically produced ingredients.
We always stop at Blue Star Coffee Roasters in Twisp for beans while we are in town. The beans are roasted on the spot and can be ground however you like them.
The Methow Valley finally has a proper cocktail bar! For delicious small bites and craft cocktails in downtown Winthrop, be sure to check out Copper Vance.
If you like being outdoors, the Methow Valley offers something for every season of the year.
Hiking trails of all levels abound in this part of Washington State. Two of my favorites are Goat Peak and Cutthroat Lake Trails, both near Mazama. The area around Harts Pass is beautiful, more challenging, and a fun place to pack in. For detailed hiking and backpacking information in the Methow Valley, check out Washington Trails Association.
Road biking, mountain biking, and winter fat tire biking – Methow Cycle Sport has it all for rent. They are also happy to point you in the direction of a good trail.
The Methow River and surrounding lakes are the perfect place for fly fishing. With an abundance of cutthroat and rainbow trout, the clear waters of the Methow River offer opportunities for anglers both experienced and novice. If you are looking for an experienced guide, be sure to contact Kevin at North Cascades Fly Fishing.
If golfing is your thing, the nine-hole community course at Bear Creek is a fun place to hack around in the sun.
In the winter, the Methow is home to 120 miles of groomed cross-country ski trails. If you enjoy cross-country skiing, this is the place to do it. Endless blue sky, crisp dry air and world-class trails make the Methow Trails the optimal place to stretch your legs. Should you prefer fatter skis and a slope, Loup Loup Ski Bowl is a fun place to take the kids and fool around, but there are no down hill resorts here. If powder and steep terrain is what you seek, get in touch with North Cascade Heli for an unforgettable adventure. www.methowtrails.org and www.skitheloup.com and www.heli-ski.com.
When you are ready to take a break from cross country skiing, head to the Winthrop Ice Rink! And if you have kids in tow, throw your sledding discs in the car because there is usually a little sledding hill next to the rink.
For more serious sledding, head up to Sun Mountain Lodge or Loup Loup. Sun Mountain has two sledding hills and Loup Loup has a steeper slope for inner tubes. Sun Mountain also offers sleigh rides, a great way to entertain the kids apres ski.
ON THE SIDE
If you happen to be in town over Memorial Day or Labor Day weekends, be sure to swing by the Winthrop Rodeo. With a blanket and a beer, it's a great way to pass the afternoon.
The parade on the Fourth of July in Twisp is small town americana at its best! Don't miss getting splashed with water by the fire hoses!
If you are in the Valley on the weekend, the Twisp Farmer's Market is a good place to grab some local produce, listen to music, and check out the wares from the neighborhood artists. While in Twisp, don't miss checking out the Confluence Gallery.
Be sure to watch your speed when you hit the Valley floor. The Methow Valley is a deer migration area and the last thing you need is a three-point buck embedded in your windshield. Be especially careful when driving at dusk.
Deer hunting season generally falls in mid-October. Unless you like mingling with camouflage clad, orange hat wearing hunters and seeing deer carcasses in truck beds at the grocery store, you might want to avoid visiting during this time.
Every summer there is a burning ban in effect, so don't even think about lighting a camp fire (many years ago, I learned this the hard way). Roast your s'mores on the barbecue!
From late spring to late fall you can reach the Methow valley by driving 3.5 hours northeast from Seattle on the scenic North Cascades Highway (State Route 20). During the winter months, Highway 20 closes because of the snow pack, so the Methow is only accessible from the south via I-90 and SR-97. Where Twisp is the commercial hub of the Methow, Winthrop, with its faux western style buildings, is the tourist attraction in the Valley.
Whats to Come:
Puna, Argentina ★ 10.15
read. share. travel. repeat.
W A N D E R L U S T