September 9, 2012

By Joanna Smith

Washington State’s biggest county offers visitors a large to-do list. Extending from the North Cascade Mountains to Grand Coulee Dam and bordered by Canada and the Columbia River, Okanogan Country is a recreation paradise, with 5,000 square miles of the great outdoors beckoning for adventure. More than 70 percent of the county is public land - national and state forests, state parks and wilderness areas - filled with year-round opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts.

It is not a cliché to say getting there is half the fun when the destination is Okanogan Country. The North Cascades Scenic Highway (State Route 20) leading to Washington State’s frontier town of Winthrop is often described as the most spectacular stretch of road in the Northwest. After slithering past daunting Cascade peaks and shimmering alpine lakes, the road leads through the serene Methow Valley to the wooden boardwalks of friendly downtown Winthrop.  The hub of year-round outdoor recreation in the North Cascades, Winthrop draws mountain bikers, hikers, horseback riders and rock climbers spring through fall. Visitors strolling atop those downtown wooden sidewalks find unusual shops and restaurants, including a brewpub and a popular ice cream stand. Shafer Museum, a block above the main street, showcases the history and settlement of the area. With an original 1896 hand-hewn home known as “the Castle,” plus a general store, print shop, schoolhouse and mining display, this indoor-outdoor museum provides an inviting window onto the town’s 19th century heritage.

Museums in Conconully, Molson, Okanogan, Oroville and Winthrop display the area’s rich history, while cultural, patriotic, ethnic and zany celebrations fill Okanogan Country’s calendar. Hydroplane racing, a hot air balloon festival, Outhouse Races, the Snow Dog Super Mush, and 49’er Days are just a taste of what visitors find.

Okanogan Country is home to handcrafted ales, hard ciders and lush vineyards, with no shortage of delightful flavors, tastes and experiences for you to enjoy under the blue skies and warm sunny days. Vineyards flourish in the high country along scenic rivers - tour our wineries and tasting rooms for an experience in vino.

Visitors can sample Okanogan Country’s booming agricultural industry at its numerous roadside produce stands and thriving farmers’ markets in Okanogan, Omak, Oroville, Tonasket and Twisp. Across the region, guest ranches, cattle drives and wagon trips provide an Old West experience.

Several of Washington State’s most popular state parks can be found within Okanogan Country. Alta Lake State Park near Pateros lures sailboarders and trout anglers to its waters. Pearrygin Lake State Park north of Winthrop features swimming and boating. On Conconully Reservoir, Conconully State Park attracts anglers and hunters. Osoyoos Lake State Veterans’ Memorial Park at Oroville lies at the south end of a 14-mile-long lake shared with British Columbia. Two dams on the Columbia River-Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee-maintain visitor centers offering daily tours from late spring to early fall. Grand Coulee’s nightly laser light show on the dam’s face entertains visitors with a sight-and-sound chronicle of the land, river and the dam itself.

Wildlife abounds in Okanogan Country. Big horn sheep occasionally stroll through the town of Loomis. Visitors might also encounter deer, quail, eagle, osprey, hawk and coyote on any drive, while less-traveled roads may yield glimpses of bear, cougar, turkey and even the occasional elk or moose. Bird watching is also rewarding, and plentiful wildflowers bloom from May through September.

Okanogan Country has the largest interconnected cross-country ski trail system in the US. The Methow Valley Sports Trail Association maintains a groomed 200-km Nordic trail system that follows the Methow River, traverses up Sun Mountain and into the frontier-themed town of Winthrop. In warmer seasons, RVers can hike, cycle and horseback ride on the trails.

Skiers seeking downhill action can enjoy Sitzmark, a family-oriented hill near Tonasket, and 10 major runs at Loup Loup Ski Bowl, between Twisp and Okanogan. More than a thousand miles of trails suitable for snowmobiling wind through state and federal forests and across highland meadows, with access through fifteen snow-parks (large plowed lots, permit required). Heli-skiing has also become popular for the more adventurous. 

September 9, 2012

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