Ever find yourself growing tired of the beautiful, sweeping views of the Cascades from I-90 as you descend towards Central Washington on your way to Pullman? Getting really sick of the drive over the mighty Columbia River? Judy’s Great Food west of Royal City not so "great" anymore? Of course not. If you’re like me, you live for the drive from Seattle to Pullman, especially in the summer when the wheat on every rolling hill is gorgeous.
But variety is the spice of life they say. Who is "they" you ask? I don’t know … the spice conglomerate? Washington is a state of extraordinary beauty and there are plenty of other ways to get to Pullman. If you find yourself with some free time on the way to God’s Country this year, why not take a little of that time to enjoy some of the beauty that is Washington? And yes, I’ve done the legwork for you. I’ve laid out three alternate routes, plus some quick detours if you just want to take the normal trip but make it a little more interesting/enjoyable.
Traveling Note: for the purposes of travel time, I’ve tried to use a centrally located place because the Seattle metropolitan area is so big. Travel times are from 2260 1st Ave. South, Seattle. This happens to be where Peco’s Pit, home to the best barbecue in the city, is located. If you go, don’t try and be the hero and go with the hot sauce. Medium is enough to sear the taste buds off your tongue.
Alternate #1: Stevens Pass Highway
Travel Time: 6 hours, 22 minutes
I’m sure plenty of you have found yourselves on this route before because Snoqualmie Pass was covered in a little too much snow. But for those living north of Everett, this is a route you may travel regularly and it’s hard not to love it. From the beauty of the Skykomish River, to the majesty of the Cascades and Wenatchee on the other side, it’s a breathtaking drive.
Sultan Bakery: Every Saturday we’d head up to Stevens Pass for skiing, the first stop was at the Sultan Bakery for some mouthwatering maple bars. 11-year-old me was practically giddy every time we got out of the car. Maybe I’m a little over the moon about doughnuts that probably aren’t that special but the people are polite and the doughnuts are reasonably priced.
Leavenworth: A little slice of Germany in Central Washington. And let's face it, there isn’t anything much better than German beer, classical German architecture and views of the Cascade Mountains. Alright, maybe a parade with the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, F-15’s flying over, and all headlined by a 6 hour circa-1989 Guns N’ Roses show, but you get my point. You could stay for days and sample every last delicious sausage and sauerkraut dish.
Wenatchee: Nestled in the Wenatchee Valley with sweeping views of the Columbia River and HOLY APPLES BATMAN! It’s worth a quick stop for a look around what is arguably the most beautiful city in Central Washington. Little known fact: the city, named for the Wenatchi Tribe, means "river which comes (or whose source is) from canyons."
Alternate Route #2: White Pass
Travel Time: 7 hours, 56 minutes
I’ve spent over 15 months in the Chehalis River Valley (which you’ll pass through) and it is a beautiful piece of country. Add in the beauty of the US 12 corridor through Lewis County and down into Yakima County and you’re in for almost as stunning a drive as the Stevens Pass route.
Mossyrock Dam: The dam sits in front of the body of water it created, Riffe Lake. It's one of the more popular recreation destinations in Southwest Washington and it’s a visually stunning place. Also, the dam is 606 feet high which I’m told is "gigantic", "massive" and "knee knockingly frightening". That height, by the by, makes it the tallest in Washington.
Rimrock Lake: While it’s technically a reservoir, the "lake" is gigantic and features plenty of places to get down on the shore and take a look around.
Miner’s Drive In: Question 35 on the Senator Joseph McCarthy’s "Communism Questionnaire" used to be "Do you like Miner’s Drive In?" Answering no bought you a few years in a federal penitentiary and the FBI digging through your home. Home to the Miner Burger and, if you hit it at the wrong time, every sports team imaginable coming home from whatever tournament they were just at.
Alternate Route #3: North Cascades Highway
Travel Time: 9 hours, 21 minutes
This one is a little on the unreasonable side unless you live in Mount Vernon or points north. But remember all the beauty and gorgeousness of the other routes I’ve been talking about? This one takes the cake. The highway normally re-opens in June and closes again in November once the snow arrives, but for the time it’s open, it’s the best way to get across the Cascades if you’re looking to treat your eyes to something special. And you’ll also spend much of the drive on US 97 up against the Columbia River. This route is mostly about the stunning scenery you’ll see along the way and not necessarily where you’ll stop.
Methow Valley: If your eyes had jaws, they'd drop. You may never make it to the game because you’ll be too busy looking, hiking, and just generally being amazed by the breathtaking beauty of nature around you. Also, there’s a city called Twisp, which might be most "real life home of the seven dwarfs from Snow White" sounding place I’ve ever heard.
If you find yourself with some extra time going to or coming from a Cougar football game this year, take some extra time and see parts of this state you’ve never seen before. Don’t have too much extra time? Worry not, there’s plenty to do the regular way to Pullman.
Wild Horses Monument (4 miles from Vantage): Created just a few years ago, this stop requires a little extra work in terms of a hike up to the sculptures. But you’ll be rewarded with beautiful views over looking the Columbia River.
Potholes State Park (25 miles from Othello): It’s up against the Potholes Reservoir which flooded when the O’Sullivan Dam was built and raised the water table high enough between hills to create incredibly tiny lakes which look like, you guessed it, pot holes.
Palouse Falls State Park (17 miles from Washtucna): The Palouse River winds its way through a canyon before tumbling into a gigantic … whatever a huge bowl in a canyon is called (I’ll be honest, I didn’t listen too much to Mr. Wilkie in Geology 101). Perhaps the best feature is the ability to actually hike right down to the falls or, if you seek a little more danger, around the rim of the "bowl" canyon. And a guy by the name of Tyler Bradt went over the 200-foot tall falls in a kayak. I can’t decide if this is incredibly brave or stupid.
So if you ever find yourself bored on a trip to Pullman (and as I said earlier, you shouldn't but just in case) don't say I didn't give you tons of different ways to keep it interesting. I think we can all argue though no matter which route you use to go home, it's a lot worse with Pullman in the rear view mirror.