Washington State Highway20 runs from Anacorteson the tip of FidalgoIsland through the 90-million-year-oldhigh terrain that separates wet andwindy west Washington from the drier,flatter land beyond. The drive is calledthe Cascade Loop and, according toRob Thorlakson, marketing director ofSun Mountain Resort, driving this loopis a rite of passage for those who live onSeattle's sheltered shores.
The loop (509-662-3888; www.cascadeloop.com), which stretches 400miles around the Cascades, should besavored slowly. It's a fun drive into themost complex and least understoodgeology in North America, but it's also ajourney into the heart of rural Americapast clapboard churches, red barns,flower-bedecked stone walls, desertedsawmills, rickety vegetable stands, andold-world country stores in villages stillclinging to the 1950s. Along the route,you'll find pleasant luxury resorts, interestingtowns reinvented to appeal totourists, and several attractions to lurethem from their cars.
Towns that stand out include Anacortes,named for the wife of the firstpostmaster, now delightfully decoratedwith wall murals by local artist BillMitchell. About 130 miles east layWinthrop, one of two towns in WashingtonState with a new identity. (888-463-8469; www.winthropwashington.com). When Winthrop lost its sawmill,a benevolent mill owner stakedthe town for an architectural makeoverin 1972, transforming it into aWild West replica. Streets have woodensidewalks, stores have hitchingrails, and bars have seats that weresaddles. The locals say "Howdy," andvisitors look around wondering whenthe stagecoach will come in.
Leavenworth (509-548-5807; www.leavenworth.org), 125 miles south ofAnacortes, reinvented itself as aBavarian village 50 years ago. It lost itsrailroad in the 1920s, limped throughthe Great Depression, then rediscovereditself in the early 1960s as a BlackForest-like tourist attraction. The transformation,completed without governmentfunding, has become a way of lifefor the 2000 locals, many of whom havevisited the Bavarian region of Germanyto further develop what they have created.More than a million visitors a yearfind their way to this delightful aberrationin the central Cascades.
The drive between those towns passestwo other interesting summer holidaytowns: Wenatchee and Chelan. Chelan,on the lake of the same name, has anatmosphere more Swiss than Bavarian.Both towns have extensive vineyardslocated in one of Washington's best wine-growingareas. Visiting the wineries hasbecome one of the state's top attractions.
The magnificent hiking and mountainbiking may entice most visitors, butother outdoor activities include glidingover the Methow Valley in a MorningGlory Balloon (509-997-1700; www.balloonwinthrop.com), piloted by ownerKurt Oakley, or careening down theWenatchee River rafting with GaryPlanagan's Osprey Rafting (800-743-6269; www.shoottherapids.com).
Finding a place to stay in the Cascadesis never a problem. Leavenworthhas many wonderful inns, including theBest Western Icicle Inn (800-558-2438;www.icicleinn.com), located downtownwith its own cinema and close proximityto rafting. Downtown Chelan hasCampbell's Resort (800-553-8225;www.campbellsresort.com), a familyfavorite for over a century. Five milesaway in Manson is the waterfront family-oriented Wapato Point Resort (509-687-9511; www.wapatopoint.com).
To savor the mountains, stay at theFirestone Inn at Wilson Ranch inMazama just short of Winthrop (800-639-3809; www.wilsonranch.com),where some of the mystique of area pioneerJack Wilson may rub off on you.Or drive a few miles above Winthrop toreach Sun Mountain Lodge (800-572-0493; www.sunmountainlodge.com),which is is particularly proud of its5000-bottle wine cellar. Dining in itsrestaurant as the sun sets over theMethow Valley is surely a lasting memoryof the Cascade Loop.