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Spotlight: Cascades

Savor Washington’s mountain majesty to the fullest

Connect with nature in an unforgettable way in the Central Cascades of Washington State. The Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area is a grand focal point of the Cascades and contains several hundred mountain lakes in its peaks and valleys. Nearly 50 trailheads lead to the wilderness and its varied climates, which allow old-growth forests to thrive and provide habitats for owls, wolverines, lynx and golden eagles.

A portion of the famed Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) runs through the Central Cascades, from Snoqualmie Pass to Stevens Pass. In the town of Snoqualmie, the Northwest Railway Museum operates a 5-mile interpretive railway and houses exhibits detailing the history of the railroad in the Northwest. The depot on-site was built in 1890 and remained in active service for 80 years.

Between Snoqualmie and Fall City, the Snoqualmie River plummets 270 feet to become Snoqualmie Falls. The falls were the site of the world’s first underground power plant, which was built in 1898. Fall City is a picturesque, unincorporated community where residents and visitors cool off on hot summer days by floating on the Snoqualmie River.

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Year-Round Fun

Winter sports are just as popular in the Cascades, where perfect powder means great skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling at designated “Sno-Parks” located along Interstate 90. Hyak Sno-Park offers sledding and snowshoeing, and Crystal Springs offers tracks for dogsled runners and snowmobile operators.

The town of Skykomish rests on the edge of Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area and welcomes kayakers and whitewater rafters to the Skykomish River. If a lazy day on the river appeals to you, check out a family float trip or just cast a line from the banks to catch steelhead or Chinook salmon.

Take a hike through old-growth Douglas firs and stands of hemlock along the North Fork Skykomish River trail and along the West Cady Ridge to Benchmark Mountain. Benchmark is a day-long hike to its end, at 14.4 miles roundtrip, but the views are worth the walk. Forest canopy gives way to heather meadows and views of surrounding peaks around 3 miles in; the landscape here is ideal for an afternoon picnic.

Stop at the town of Cashmere and stroll through the Cottage Avenue Historic District. The street is home to antique shops and 1900s-era Craftsman bungalows. More history resides at the Historic Museum and Pioneer Village, where children engage in an educational “treasure hunt” and grownups can learn about the museum’s exhibits through an audio tour.

Unpack your golf clubs while you’re in Cashmere and tee off at Mount Cashmere Golf Course. This petite nine-hole wonder is a feast for the eyes, carved out among apple orchards at the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. Players of all skill levels will appreciate the driving range and putting green.

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Alpine Attractions

Raise a glass and toast the ingenuity of Leavenworth and its Bavarian-flavored village feel. Inspired by the soaring mountains in the vicinity, the town remodeled itself to resemble an Alpine community, complete with authentic European architecture, beer gardens and a German restaurant. Tour the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum or any of several galleries featuring the works of local artists.

Charming Cle Elum boasts the distinction of hosting the first organized skiing runs west of Denver, beginning in 1921. The town’s Telephone Museum displays relics of another distinction: Cle Elum becoming Pacific Northwest Bell’s last service area to convert from manual phone service to automatic dialing. Trek the nearby Coal Mines Trail and visit historic mining sites along the former railway bed. Points of interest abound along the 4.7-mile path, including former mine buildings, a company store and foundry.

The main attraction in the township of Chelan is Lake Chelan, where swimming, boating and fishing are among the area’s popular activities. The lake is remarkably deep; at one-third of a mile down, the lake bottom is below sea level. Picnic sites and a 300-foot stretch of beach, along with boat access and playground equipment, line the shores of the lake. Lake trout, Kokanee and Chinook salmon are among the plentiful species that make for great trophy fishing.

Washington’s fertile soil and alpine climate provide perfect conditions for growing wine grapes in the Cascades region. Chelan boasts several wineries that feature tasting rooms and special events, as well as winery tours.

Rustic solitude is on order in the tiny town of Index, where adventurous outdoor enthusiasts find easy access to day-hiking trails and rock-climbing locations. Keep both feet on the ground if you prefer, and visit Pickett Index Historical Museum. Mining and logging are the focal points, along with exhibits detailing the area’s history with natural disasters.

Wallace Falls State Park, near the town of Monroe, is a 4,735-acre camping park on the shores of Wallace River, Wallace Lake, Jay Lake, Shaw Lake and the Skykomish River. The breathtaking scenery of Wallace Falls includes a 265-foot waterfall, old-growth forests and wildlife-viewing opportunities. Peregrine falcons and cougars have been spotted in the park. Travel north to Mount Pilchuck and take in the view from a historic fire lookout.

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