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Scenic Driving Tours
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The Itinerary
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Scenic Driving Tours in Washington
Leavenworth to Coulee Dam

The Itinerary

Day 2 - Leavenworth to Coulee Dam

Spend a leisurely morning taking in Leavenworth's village atmosphere - you probably wont make it through all the shops! Be sure to go beyond the main shopping center by taking Icicle Road from the highway, to explore the scenic valley, at least as far as the National Fish Hatchery. (See map.) In the Leavenworth - Chelan area, you will see signs of the 1994 fires. Four major blazes burned 170,000 acres in two weeks. The fires were the result of summer storms that blasted the Pacific Northwest with thousands of lightning strikes.

Continue down US2 / US 97 in the fertile Wenatchee River Valley toward Wenatchee (whose commercial center makes an interesting aesthetic contrast to Leavenworth!) You will pass the Peshastin Pinnacles, 200-foot sandstone pinnacles that are irresistible to climbers.

Take either I-97 or I97A north to Chelan. I-97A passes through a short tunnel, reaching the Columbia River Valley from above, for spectacular views. Crumbling rocks at the base of sheer cliffs are reminders that geological processes are alive and well. You will pass Earthquake Point, named for the immense 1872 earthquake that left its mark here. The tree covered islands you can see are part of the rock-fall that actually stopped the flow of the Columbia River for several hours. The long, deep Lake Chelan comes alive with boats, jet-skies, sea-planes and swimmers in the summer. It is bordered on both sides by mountains that get higher the further up-lake you go. Take a scenic detour for about 20 miles along the lake's shoreline to Fields Landing and back. A possible extension to this tour, is to take a ferry up the lake to Stehekin, which has no road access.

The evening route along 174 heads straight for the rising moon. The sight took our breath away, as the moon crested the distant range with a red blaze like the rising sun.

Continue north along I-97, and take in the view as you cross the mighty Columbia River on WA-173. Housing and backyard knick-knacks identify Pateros, Brewster and Bridgeport communities focused on the irrigation-dependent, apple-growing industry. (Washington produces 60% of the nation's apples). Chief Joseph Dam is named for the famed leader of the Nez Perce Indian tribe and is buried on the Colville Indian Reservation, a long, hard-won way from his original homeland. Continuing east on WA-17 then on WA-174 to Coulee Dam, you are now on the high plateau at the top of the cliffs you could see above the Columbia River. The sagebrush desert plateau is a lonely, treeless area, with barely a human habitation to be seen. For us, its stark beauty was heightened by the snow, and one of the most spectacular moon rises we had ever seen. Don't forget to look back to see the Cascade Mountains on the distant horizon.

Finding accommodation in winter Coulee Dam should be no problem, although the bed and breakfasts will probably be closed. The two hotels above the dam are cheaper, and appeared popular with folks on fishing trips. Two below are slightly more up-market, and we found the Columbia River Inn to be nicely-presented and comfortable.

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