Winter in Washington – USA

This week’s journey takes me back to one of my favorite places on Earth: our home in the Pacific Northwest. While we’ve thoroughly enjoyed our travels throughout Europe over the past decade, this adventure – a road trip with my parents across snowy Washington state – reminded me there are few locations on the planet as beautiful as our own little neck of the woods.

The following post documents the short journey I took last January from my parents’ house in Winlock, Washington to my brother and sister-in-law’s home in Moscow, Idaho. We made a point on this 12+ hour round-trip drive to visit several of our favorite beauty spots in Eastern Washington, from the winter playground of Alpental to the spectacular natural beauty of Palouse Falls State Park, with several memorable stops along the way. Please enjoy this trip across snowy Washington through our lens…

 

Alpental

We made the first stop of our road trip at Alpental, located approximately 50 miles east of Seattle. Named after the German term for alpine valley, Alpental is one of the most popular outdoor recreation areas in Washington state. In the summer months, the valley is a haven for hikers and climbers; in the winter, it attracts downhill ski and snowboard enthusiasts eager to take on the area’s challenging pistes. It is also a much-loved destination for back-country skiing, snow shoeing and ice climbing. We had plans for no such physical activity during our visit, but greatly enjoyed admiring the mountains, alpine cabins and surrounding forests blanketed in fresh snow.

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Yakima Canyon Scenic Byway

The next highlight of our journey was the spectacular Yakima Canyon Scenic Byway. This curvy, 22-mile route – also known as Canyon Road or SR-821 – is a beautifully scenic alternative to the rather dull stretch of Interstate 82 between Ellensburg and Yakima. Indeed, this lovely drive – featuring views of both high desert hills covered in sagebrush and sheer basalt cliffs rising dramatically from the banks of the Yakima River – has been a family favorite for decades. Range land and ranches lie to the east of the canyon, while to the west lies the sprawling Wenas Wildlife Area, where elk, bighorn sheep, white-tailed deer and coyotes roam freely. It is, quite simply, one of the most picturesque and underappreciated natural areas in all of Washington state.

We stopped briefly at the Umtanum Creek Recreation Area, a popular location for rafting, kayaking, fly-fishing and bird-watching, just miles south of Ellensburg. The remnants of former homesteads can still be seen here in the form of untended apple and chestnut orchards, surrounded by towering groves of aspen and cottonwood. In the spring and early summer months, this portion of the canyon comes to life in a dazzling bloom of yellow and purple wildflowers; it also becomes infested with rattlesnakes, so caution is key while hiking and exploring. During our January visit, however, the area was empty and frigidly cold, as evidenced by the ice floes in the river and frozen foliage on its banks.

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Columbia River

After exiting the Yakima Canyon, we made our way back to Interstate 90 and continued driving east, eventually crossing the Columbia River at Vantage. We then turned south onto SR-26, stopping briefly while we photographed a pair of immature bald eagles perched atop a snowy tree on the shores of the mighty Columbia.

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Palouse Falls State Park

Our last stop on the journey to Idaho was Palouse Falls State Park. Here the attraction is the park’s eponymous cascade, where the Palouse River runs through a narrow cataract in basalt cliffs, dropping some 200 feet into a churning bowl below. Carved more than 13,000 years ago, Palouse Falls is among the last active waterfalls on the Ice Age floods path. We had visited the falls on numerous occasions in the past, but never in snow. Needless to say (hopefully these photographs speak for themselves!), the park was truly breathtaking in winter white!

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Oak Creek Elk Feeding Station

After a wonderful visit with my brother and sister-in-law, we made our way back across the state, eager to reach my parents’ home before the next round of snow moved in and impeded our journey across the Cascades. We did make one memorable stop, however, at the Oak Creek Wildlife Area just outside of Naches (on US-12 approaching White Pass). Here, a supplemental feeding program maintains the Yakima elk herd during winter months, when snow forces it into the surrounding foothills in search of food. Wintering elk may eat from 3 to 10 pounds of hay per day at the feeding stations, most of which is grown and purchased from Washington farmers. During severe weather, as many as 8,000 elk (!) may utilize the stations. Elk begin arriving as early as mid-November, with the largest part of the herd arriving in January – just our luck! It was quite the sight to behold, and a must-see destination for wildlife enthusiasts!

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We made it home just in time, as heavy flakes began to fall at my parents’ house. While it made for some fabulous scenery on our trip, we were happy not to risk travel on icy roads. Thank you for joining me on this adventure in snowy Eastern Washington! – B. June

Next week’s journey: German Christmas Markets

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