Scenic Washington State


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Official Washington State Travel Planner - Southeast Washington

Southeast Washington:

Palouse, Hells Canyon and the Blue Mountains

When it comes to the Palouse, seeing is believing. A tractor plows cocoa-brown earth on a perfectly symmetrical hill. The slope looks to be a 45-degree angle. You roll up one hill, down again, up another and down again, until you feel like you’re riding waves.

Add to that pristine settlements, manicured farms and some ancient and deserted, tumbling-down barns and windmills. In Dayton you’ll see 117 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Don’t miss the 1887 courthouse or the train station.

Follow old roads wherever they lead. The very names of the towns are straight out of cowboy poetry: Steptoe, Garfield, Albion, Colton, Uniontown, Pomeroy. You can simply drive the empty roads and enjoy this rich land where the sun rises on Washington State, or if you’re so inclined, jump on a horse, bareback, and lasso a calf. Either way, the place gets in your blood.

In Pullman, visit the bustling campus of Washington State University and check out the Grizzly Research Center. Follow the Snake River into Clarkston. Here Lewis and Clark entered what is now Washington State in 1805. You’re at the gateway of Hells Canyon.

The drives are scenic. Raptors circle overhead. Look for bighorn sheep up in the rocky ledges. As you motor along, you’ll find yourself inspired to sing along with Washington native son Bing Crosby, “Give me land, lots of land under starry skies above. Don’t fence me in!”

 

Pullman and the Palouse Scenic Byway

LOCAL EXPERTS:
Pullman Chamber of Commerce

509-334-3565 / www.pullmanchamber.com

Distance from Seattle: 285 miles.
Approximate driving time: 4.5 hours.

A great place to begin your Palouse experience is in Pullman. If you’ve made the long drive from Seattle, get settled into your lodging, grab a bite to eat, then spend a couple hours kicking around the historic downtown and the campus of Washington State University, home of the Cougars. Or, as the locals say, “the Cougs.”

Be sure to stop at the Grizzly Bear Research Center. On Airport Road at Grimes Way, at the east edge of campus, the center is home to a dozen grizzlies in a three-acre enclosed lot. The bears are most active in the afternoon, April through October. You’re welcome to take photographs.

Directly across Grimes Way is one of the nation’s only bighorn sheep research centers, with more than a dozen majestic indigenous sheep. The rams, ewes and lambs are active year-round. In fall, it is not uncommon to see rams butting heads in courting battles.

Before you leave campus visit Ferdinand’s Creamery for what is touted to be the world’s best ice cream, milk shakes and cheeses — including Cougar Gold, named for the WSU mascot, of which you’ll want to take a round or two home.

 

Palouse Scenic Byway driving loop

Named for a local tribe, the Palouse definitely must be seen to be believed. Stretching from north of the Whitman County line down to Umatilla National Forest, the Palouse is a geologic wonder. Rolling hills, one after another like smooth mounds, rise and fall in rapid succession. The existence of these “dunes” is due in part to the fact that this area was a floodplain for melting glacial ice around 12,000 years ago. With little vegetation to hold the sediment in place, winds deposited silt particles throughout this region.

Today, you can see tractors that appear to be hanging at a 45-degree angle plow these rich and fertile mounds. Depending on the season you’ll see apple-green spring growth, amber harvest hues or quiet, silvery, snow-dusted hills stretching as far as the eye can see.

 

Palouse and Steptoe Butte

From Pullman, take WA-27 north to Palouse. This is a town where you can buy a $10,000 piece of art but you can’t buy a garden hose. It is the home of four flourishing antique stores and has no cell phone service. Continue north on WA-27 through the communities of Garfield, Oakesdale, Tekoa and cut across on WA-271 to Rosalia for more beautiful scenery and that small-town atmosphere that assures all travelers that they are among friends. Just 15 minutes south of Rosalia on U.S. 195 you’ll see Steptoe Butte State Park, looming high above the rolling Palouse farmland. At 3,615 feet, this is not a towering peak by Washington standards, yet it is a lofty summit with a 360-degree view that opens your eyes to the immensity of this land. On a clear day, you can see forever…or so it seems.

 

Exploring Uniontown

In Uniontown you will find the Artisans at the Dahmen Barn, an organization dedicated to supporting the region’s artists. This restored dairy barn, surrounded by a fence made from more than 1,000 wagon wheels, houses several artists’ studios where travelers are invited to watch regional artists paint, sculpt, weave, knit and photograph this beautiful landscape. Head down the road to see the historic St. Boniface Catholic Church, or end your day with a freshly baked goody from Sage Bakery.

 

Gateway to Hells Canyon: Clarkston to Dayton

LOCAL EXPERTS:
Hells Canyon Visitor Bureau
509-758-7489 / www.hellscanyonvisitor.com

On the Washington side of the Snake River, across from Lewiston in Idaho, Clarkston merits a full day—especially if you plan to take a jet boat excursion into Hells Canyon, which we highly recommend.

This is a small, easygoing city where you can kick back, stroll along the river trails and explore the scenic area where the Clearwater River joins the Snake River.

Enjoy riverside parks, RV resorts and restaurants. Sample award-winning wineries and microbreweries, and explore museums and art galleries. For year-round affordable fun for the whole family visit the Asotin County Aquatics Center with waterslides and wave pool.

 

Hells Canyon Excursions

Hells Canyon National Recreation Area encompasses over 650,000 acres of some of the most spectacular and rugged wilderness on earth. It offers world-class fishing, hiking, camping, swimming, whitewater rafting and helicopter and jet boat tours. Local operators have an assortment of packages.

The canyon—the deepest gorge in North America—is so deep and the river bank so wide that there are actually ranches and settlements at the bottom of the canyon, offering an inexhaustible collection of options for enjoying the outdoors in a climate that is reliably sunny.

 

Asotin/Buffalo Eddy petroglyphs

A few minutes south of Clarkston on WA-129 will take you to Asotin. To see the Buffalo Eddy petroglyphs, follow County Road 29 straight through the four-way stop and then take the Snake River Road for about 15 miles to Buffalo Eddy. Plan a minimum of two hours for the round trip and visit to the site. Here you can see several densely grouped, distinct images from early Nez Perce people dating back over 4,500 years. These petroglyphs are located on two groups of rock outcroppings found on both sides of the Snake River.

 

Garfield County: Southern end of the Palouse

West from Clarkston toward Walla Walla, U.S. 12 crosses the southern end of the Palouse. The highway meanders through dry-land farming country, along creeks and over rivers whose banks are lush with willow and scrub, in and out of small farming communities like the town of Pomeroy, the only incorporated city in Garfield County. Grab a latte and shop at the unique gift stores, or visit any of Pomeroy’s four museums and make a local acquaintance along the way. These small encounters are quite often where lasting memories are made. www.pomeroychamberofcommerce.com

 

Historical downtown Dayton

From the U.S. 12/WA-261 junction, head south for about 15 miles to reach historical downtown Dayton. There are 117 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places in this small town. Two of the stars are the 1887 courthouse and the train depot.

Due to its charm, mild climate and remote setting, Dayton has drawn new residents from all over who are ready for a change of lifestyle. The result is a keen civic pride; residents are eager to invest in historic preservation and restoration, good restaurants, shops and pleasant bed-and-breakfasts.

Among the unlikely discoveries here is a French restaurant and wine bistro that folks from across the state will drive for hours to dine in. Don’t miss your opportunity to enjoy this experience and earn some bragging rights. (www.historicdayton.com)

Many travelers add Dayton to their Walla Walla itinerary. This easy and scenic 35-to-40-minute drive on S.R. 12 adds some nice variety to the Walla Walla wine-tasting experience. On this route, you’ll pass an out-of-the-way but delightful hummingbird farm near Dixie and drive through little Waitsburg, which boasts a couple of cute antique stores that may tempt you to linger a bit looking for hidden treasures.

 

Blue Mountains and the Bluewood Ski Area

Hikers, campers and skiers will agree that Washington’s Blue Mountains are worth a visit. A secondary road, south out of Pomeroy, leads to Umatilla National Forest and a state park. From Dayton, rugged roads lead further into the forest and the mountain range and the Bluewood ski and recreation area. Bluewood is only a 20-mile drive one-way, but plan a full hour to reach the ski area and an hour back.

Bluewood has the second-highest base elevation in Washington State and is renowned for its clear skies and dry powder, while receiving an average snowfall of more than 300 inches annually. There are plenty of excellent trailheads and campgrounds so pack up the kids and head for the backcountry.

Relax and enjoy the peace

This is still a place where you can free your mind and gently soothe your spirit in solitude. Enjoy the quiet pace of back roads. Take the time to look up at cliffs and canyon walls for a spell. You may begin to see movement. A raptor takes flight, or a bighorn ram catches your eye as he jumps from a rocky ledge to a hanging meadow. And then you see why. There’s a whole up herd there grazing.

A lazy weekend spent meandering through the southeast corner of the state will reward you with renewed energy and fond memories.

 

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