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Washington Part 3: The Cascade Loop (Winthrop, Chelan & Leavenworth)

Photo: The Bavarian-Themed Town of Leavenworth

This is Part 3 of a 6 Part series focused on Washington. We will spend one very busy week traversing a wide loop around the scenic state, hitting three gorgeous National Parks (Mount Rainier, Olympic, and North Cascades); visiting several unique Cascade Loop towns; viewing a waterfall twice the height of Niagara; and even riding a car ferry across the Puget Sound to spend some time in Seattle. In Part 3, we will head to the fun Cascade Loop towns of Winthrop, Chelan, and Leavenworth. Western themed Winthrop, vineyard-draped Lake Chelan, and Bavarian inspired Leavenworth each bring their own unique flair to the region.

The Cascade Loop is a scenic drive situated in the upper portion of Washington state. In Washington Part 2, we traveled the northern section of the loop from Anacortes, west along Highway 20 through North Cascades National Park. In this installment, we will be visiting three iconic towns spread along the eastern portion of the loop--Winthrop, Chelan, and Leavenworth. Each of the towns has its own unique theme. All are worth at least a quick visit, but more time would be well spent in any--or all--of them!

Photo: Downtown Winthrop (taken in the early morning)

Tonight, we are staying at our first of two overnight stops along the Cascade Loop. We are in the little western themed town of Winthrop. Our hotel is aptly named Hotel Rio Vista (river view) as the rooms overlook the Methow River. It’s both scenic and peaceful. Tonight, we can fall asleep to the sound of the river swishing over the rocks below. It reminds me of falling asleep at the beach to the rhythmic tempo of the waves, except here, it's the more constant sound of flowing water.

Photos: Hotel Rio Vista and The View From Our Balcony

Our room is quiet, comfortable, and centrally located. We can easily walk to everything in town from here. The hotel doesn't have a lot of extra frills*, but we are both quite happy with our selection. There is a no vacancy sign hanging in front of the hotel. Winthrop is in full swing tourist season, and it’s busy tonight. With that in mind, we decide to forego showering in favor of finding food as soon as possible and drop our luggage, clean up a bit, and head out.

*Note: The hotel has a hot tub, but we didn't get a chance to check it out during our stay. It does not have a laundry or fitness facility.

Photos: Downtown Winthrop (taken in the early morning)

As we walk down Riverside Avenue, the town's main strip, we take in the various shops and dining establishments. All of the buildings' facades are western-themed, even the gas station. The shops are all closed up for the night already--most seem to close around 6pm--but we still do a bit of window browsing along the way. The old-west themed stores remind me a bit of the western shops we found in Jackson Hole, WY. The clapboard storefronts are selling leather boots, belt buckles, and all things "cowboy." There are quite literally saddle seats in front of the town's sweet shop. The brewery is in a building shaped like an old schoolhouse. There's even a saloon. The town is really committed to this theme. There are also your more typical tourist shops, though, selling soaps, candles, books, and various items with the town's name on them.

There aren’t many restaurants open in town this Wednesday night, and nothing is open late (even the bars). We’re taking a bit of a chance not having any kind of a reservation, but luckily, with just the two of us traveling, it is a bit easier to get into places. We are able to find two seats at the bar at the Old Schoolhouse Brewery. I overhear the hostess telling a party of 5 that the current wait time for a table is 1.5 hours (it’s 7:30pm now), and the kitchen closes at 9pm; so, if they wait, it would be cutting it very close for them to be able to get food. When they ask where else there is to eat in town, it sounds like they will be lucky to find anywhere their group can get in at this point. I'm very glad we found our spot when we did!

Photos: Old Schoolhouse Brewery

We each order a local brew from the bartender and ask for menus. After reviewing our options, we decide to share two entrees. We select the BBQ Burger which comes with blue cheese crumbles, barbecue sauce, coleslaw, and frizzled onions and the Lamb Kofta Pita which comes with tzatziki, lettuce, tomato, feta, and an onion olive slaw (we skip that last part). For sides, we select coleslaw and the garlic and herb french fries.

When our meal comes, I'm a little surprised at how much we enjoy it. In my experience, places with very limited competition don't always have the best cuisine. That doesn't appear to be the case here, though. Everything is quite good, but the garlic and herb fries are my favorite—they are delicious. The meal really hits the spot. It may be that we're absolutely famished by this point, but we polish everything off in record time.

Photos: BBQ Burger & Lamb Kofta Pita (top); Draft Beers & Schoolhouse Outdoor Dining (bottom)

The restaurant has a very picturesque outdoor space, and I step out back to take a look after we finish our meal. It’s charmingly decorated with strings of lights and tables spreading out from the restaurant along the riverbank. I’m happy we have a seat at all, but eating out here would have been a bonus.

After dinner, we head a short way down the town's main street to the Winthrop Emporium, one of the few places still open. They have ice cream (an advertised 24 flavors), and I could go for something sweet to cap off our meal. We decide to share a waffle cone of cookie dough ice cream and stroll town with our cone. We pass a sign for the Shafer Historical Museum that says it’s only one block up the hill and two to the right. So, we decide we might as well check it out while it is still light outside.

Guy Waring founded Winthrop in 1891, and his original home is situated within the Shafer Museum’s Historical Village. It’s a small site with some old machinery, artifacts, and small buildings. The evening weather is beautiful, and we have the place to ourselves. So, we slowly pick our way through the museum. There are stairs that lead back down to Riverside Avenue at the other side of the museum. They just so happen to lead to right across the street from our hotel. It couldn't get more convenient than this for a last stop this evening.

Once we're done, we take the stairs back down to the town's main thoroughfare. Since we’ve now found ourselves back at the hotel, we officially decide to call it an early night. It’s been quite a busy day, and we’re exhausted! Plus, most of Winthrop is closed down for the night. Like the cowboys, the town apparently goes to bed with the sunset.

In the morning, we’re up very early—must still be on east coast time. So, around 6:45 am, we head out to explore town sans all the cars and foot traffic we encountered last night. It’s so much more scenic without all of the vehicle parked in front of the old-west themed shops and restaurants! The streets are quite literally empty. We walk down and back along the entire strip, taking our time.

For breakfast, we hit the only place in town that opens at 7am, the Rocking Horse Bakery. It’s situated two buildings down from our hotel. They have a delicious selection of muffins (the blueberry banana is divine), as well as breakfast sandwiches and breakfast burritos. I select a sausage, egg and cheese biscuit, and my husband gets a breakfast burrito with egg, chorizo, potatoes, onions, and cheese. They are both quite good, but we should have shared. The biscuit is enormous; it’s more than I can possibly eat in one sitting! I also order a vanilla latte (they have a good selection of hot beverages), and my husband gets a regular coffee. We take out breakfast out back to sit along the river where they have tables set up. We perch at a high top up on the deck overlooking the tables and the river flowing just beyond. We can hear the water peacefully swirling by. It’s a serene spot from which to enjoy our breakfast.

Photos: Rocking Horse Bakery

After, I have just one more stop to make in town—Sheri’s Sweet Shoppe. Luckily, it opens at 8am. I have a huge sweet tooth and just have to try some of their homemade chocolates. They have an enormous selection, but I immediately gravitate to my favorite--milk chocolate coconut haystacks. My mission complete, I tuck the confections into my bag to take along with us to our next adventure.

Photos: Sheri's Sweet Shoppe

It’s our second full day of vacation, and as usual, we want to make the most of it. Today, we are traveling south, along the scenic eastern section of the Cascade Loop. For once, our plans are supposed to be relaxing. The extent of today's "itinerary" is to spend the afternoon tasting wine along picturesque Lake Chelan and the night tasting the beers of Bavarian-themed Leavenworth.

As an anomaly to the rest of this road trip, we also don't have to do a ton of driving today. It's only a little over an hour from Winthrop to Chelan and a little under an hour from Chelan to Leavenworth. The only set item we have planned today is our Lake Chelan lunch reservation at Tsillan Cellars' renowned Sorrento's Ristorante.

Our original trip itinerary had us traveling the Cascade Loop in the opposite direction, spending the night in beer heavy Leavenworth and then having the next afternoon for wine tasting in Chelan en route to Winthrop for the night. Unfortunately, I got sick and we had to reschedule our entire trip last minute. In doing so, I couldn't find accommodations for certain nights along this route in high tourist season unless I reversed the whole trip's itinerary. So now, we will be wine tasting in Lake Chelan the afternoon and beer-tasting in Leavenworth in the evening. That long hike we have planned for tomorrow in Mount Rainier National Park should be interesting!

Currently, it's a little after 9am, but the car is already packed up, and we're ready to set off for Lake Chelan. We could have left even earlier, but our lunch reservation isn't until 12pm, and even the earliest wine tastings don't open until 11am. So, there is really no rush.

The drive south along Highway 20 and then WA-153 to US-97 is quite scenic. I remark to my husband that I’d like to study geology someday. The rock formations we pass are all so unique; I’d love to better understand what I'm looking at when we travel. The mountainous landscape soaring around us currently is fairly arid, with just a few stray pine trees and some sun-scorched grasses. However, we pass a surprising number of bodies of water—lakes, flowing rivers, etc.--with flanking greenery.

My husband remarks that he’s surprised how much water there is here. On our trip last year to the midwest, we saw very little water other than Lake Powell and the Colorado River--and both of those were suffering from extreme drought conditions. Here, we see several dams, hydroelectric power facilities, and large bodies of fresh water. I remark that much of it must be the result of snow runoff from the long winters they have here.

Photo: Lake Chelan

When we get to Lake Chelan, it’s about 10:30am; so, we have a bit of time to kill before our lunch reservation. We decide to drive down the shore toward Lake Chelan State Park to explore a bit. Along the way, the road skirts the perimeter of the lake, and we take in the scenic view. The lake is gorgeous--and immense. Encircling a small portion of the deep blue waters already makes me want to spend more time here than we have today!

Photos: Lake Chelan State Park

The State Park is bustling with people visiting the beachfront and hiking. The park's small stretch of sand leads into a roped off area of the clear, chilly lake waters. The ducks seem to enjoy this section of the lake as much as the swimmers, and we see a small family of ducklings happily swimming through this motorboat-free zone along with children and their families.

Photos: Lake Chelan State Park

The lake offers a ton of aquatic activities. There is a vendor renting kayaks and paddle boards here which both look fun. We aren’t planning to do any swimming or paddling or boating today, but we do dip our feet into the water just to see how cold it is—it’s pretty chilly! Farther down the lake, closer to where we arrived, there are jet ski and watercraft rentals. There’s also parasailing and several other water-piloted activity options. Lake Chelan is clearly a vacation destination all its own, but unfortunately, we only have this afternoon to enjoy it. We will certainly make the best of it, though!

Along with the prevalent water activities, Lake Chelan is known for its wineries. There are over 30 wineries in the region. The area reminds me a lot of the Napa Valley but with the huge bonus of a gorgeous lake through the center of it. I had no idea Washington State wines were so good. I’ve always thought of constant rain and Washington as synonymous, which isn’t exactly conducive to cultivating good grapes for wine. Apparently that is not the case everywhere in Washington, though. Today, the temperature is perfect with no humidity. The sky is clear, and judging by the surrounding landscape, it doesn't rain much around here--at least in summer. Given this discovery, I'm excited to try some of the local wine firsthand.

Photo: Vineyard Overlooking Lake Chelan

On our way back around the lake from the park, we pass a winery that opens earlier than the others we've encountered; most open at noon or 1pm, but Fielding Hills Winery begins tastings at 11am. So, we decide to stop and share a tasting before lunch. The sign out front says appointments recommended, but luckily, it's early on a weekday. They have plenty of room for us—we’re the first arrivals today.

Photos: Fielding Hills Winery

Fielding Hills Winery is perfectly perched above Lake Chelan with gorgeous views in every direction. The winery offers the choice of a red tasting flight and a white tasting flight. At the tasting counter inside, we order a white flight to share and are shown to a table outside from which to enjoy it along with the scenery. The vistas surrounding us are comprised of the pristine lake in one direction and floral and grapevine draped hills in the other. A private wine tasting with a beautiful view in perfect weather--it couldn't get much better!

Photos: Fielding Hills Winery

The sommelier comes out to pour each tasting at intervals while we relax and chat about how to plan out the rest of our time today. During one of our pourings, as we are complementing the wines, the sommelier mentions that if you purchase two bottles, your tasting flight is free. Given that we've liked everything we've tried, we find ourselves debating which two bottles to buy.*

*Tip: The sommelier warns us not to leave our wine in the hot car if we are stopping at more places today. We're told no one will question our bringing previous purchases in with us at the other wineries to preserve the wine from being affected by the heat.

Photo: View From Tsillan Cellars

It’s now close to noon, so we pack up our new purchases and head to the car. It's only a three minute drive down the road to Tsillan Cellars, home of Sorrento’s Ristorante. Our lunch reservation* awaits.

*Tip: If you plan to dine at Sorrento's, book ahead. You can reserve here at Open Table up to one month ahead of time.

Photo: Sorrento's Patio/View

At Sorrento's, we have our choice of table since lunch service has just begun. We ask for a shaded table with a scenic view, and they definitely deliver. We are seated on the perimeter of the open-air main dining area, overlooking the vineyard, backdropped by grapevines and the sparkling lake.

Photos: Sorrento's Dining Area

Sorrento’s serves Italian inspired cuisine. We decide to share a few courses and select the pesto vegetarian pizza (thin crust, roasted plum tomato, roasted artichoke, portobello mushroom, herbs, and mozzarella) to start, then the blood orange prawn salad (prawns tossed in corn starch, flash fried, coated with a creamy blood orange sauce, on a bed of mixed greens, toasted almond and citronette) and the spaghetti vongole (white clams simmered in white wine and butter sauce, with green chiles, roasted tomatoes, fresh garlic, and spaghetti). We also ask to share a tasting flight and select a white and two reds from the menu to try.

We get into a conversation with our server about the area and the Tsillan wines we are trying. They're all quite good. When I comment on the beautiful weather and ask her how often it rains in summer, she says almost never. No wonder the wines are so good here! She tells us during the course of our conversation that if you buy a bottle of wine, the tasting fee is waived, and she can open it now for us to have a bit with our lunch if we'd like. So, we soon find ourselves the proprietors of a slowly growing collection of Lake Chelan wines.

Photos: Wine, Spaghetti Vongole, & Blood Orange Prawn Salad (top); Pizza, Wine Tasting, & Tiramisu (bottom)

All of the food is delicious. We both especially love the blood orange prawn salad. I wish we had gotten two of those instead of having to share! We are quite full after the meal (we take half of the pizza with us), but we still decide we have to split a dessert and select the tiramisu. One of my many weaknesses is a good Italian dessert!

After we’re done with our dessert and have paid our bill, we take our wine glasses and our water glasses out to seats under an umbrella on the lawn in front of the restaurant to take in the view and hydrate a bit. Looking out over the rows of grapevines with a glass of wine, I'm reminded of California wine country. Looking down toward the lake, though, there's no mistaking that we're somewhere unique.

Photo: Tsillan Cellars Award Winning Wines

Before we depart, we pop into the Tsillan Cellars tasting room next-door to take a look around. There is a large stone bar set up for the tastings and a little shop selling wine-themed items. The tasting room has several of their award winning wines adorning the bar-top displaying their various medals. If we hadn't already done a tasting, this would certainly entice me to want to order one.

Photos: Nefarious Cellars

After we've wrapped up at Tsillan, we decide to stop at one more winery* before departing the lake. We choose Nefarious Cellars which is right next-door to Fielding Hills Winery where we stopped earlier. Stopping in the tasting room, we order a tasting flight to share and then head out back to sip our flight there.

Photos: Nefarious Cellars Patio and Wine Tasting

The patio at Nefarious Cellars has its own unique charms. There are sets of colorful Adirondack chairs stationed under umbrellas with small tables for the wine glasses. Blooming flowers drape the patio perimeter, and the vineyard spills down the hillside toward the lake in front of us. Seemingly from everywhere in Lake Chelan, the views and the weather just invite us to relax. Not for the first time, I wish we had more time here! Maybe someday we'll be back.

*Tip: Tasting reservations at the wineries are highly recommended when possible. We were able to play our day by ear, but that may not always be the case. If you have specific wineries in mind, book ahead to avoid disappointment.

Photo: Front Street, Leavenworth

Our next destination today—and our stop for the night—is Leavenworth*. Leavenworth is a German themed village, complete with a famous Bavarian-style Christmas Market in winter. That’s right, there is a village that makes you feel as if you have been dropped into Europe sitting in the middle of Washington State. While it's obviously not winter currently--something we quickly realize when we arrive to 91 degree weather--the vibe is still very much Bavarian!

*Note: Leavenworth is a great home base from which to hike The Enchantments. The famed hike is magical and provides scenery varying from alpine lakes to unique wooden bridges to snow-capped mountains. The hike departs from 13 miles (about a 40 minute drive) away from Leavenworth at the Stuart/Colchuck Lakes Trailhead (at the end of gravel NF-7601). (Note: The hike ends at a different location--the Snow Lakes Trailhead--so you need to organize how you will be getting back to your vehicle if you complete the entire trek.) The grueling 20 mile hike can be completed in a day, but only by an experienced and hearty hiker--it is a very strenuous undertaking. I debated doing just the first 4.25 miles (8.5 miles round trip) to Colchuck Lake as it's an easier section of the hike and a more reasonable distance. The deep turquoise lake surrounded by snow-capped mountains was definitely calling my name, but we just didn't have the time to fit it in. Doing the full hike takes planning. If you intend to complete the hike, do your research ahead of time. (Note: Permits are required for overnight hiking here and are offered by lottery--they are VERY difficult to get. For day use, you must fill out a free day-use permit at the trailhead and also purchase a $5 National Forest Pass to display in your car window. You can purchase that at the trailhead if you don't have one or display your Annual U.S. National Park Pass in your vehicle window.)

Photos: Bavarian Lodge Exterior

We arrive in Leavenworth a little before 4pm—right at hotel check-in time. So, we stop at our lodging for the night to get key and drop our luggage in the room. The young man working the front desk at our hotel, the Bavarian Lodge, informs me that the shops in town close around 6pm. He recommends that I may want to make my way down to town soon if I plan to do any shopping. I don’t particularly have a ton of shopping in mind, but I do want to check out the town. After setting our bags in the room, we head out to explore.

Photo: View of Front Street Across Front Street Park

It is HOT here, and it feels even hotter in the sun. The main strip of shops and restaurants downtown is located only a block over from the hotel. The Front Street Park is situated directly across the street from us, and we can already see the pedestrianized strip of Front Street through the welcome shade of the trees. Our location is about as central to the action as you can get!

Photos: View of Front Street Across Front Street Park

Front Street's main tourist drag stretches across a few blocks and for the most part, is blocked to traffic to accommodate pedestrians. The Bavarian theme is prevalent everywhere we look, even in revamped signs for the local Starbucks, McDonalds, and Subway. For the most part, downtown is filled with boutiques and touristy shops, brew pubs, and an eclectic selection of eateries covering everything from the expected themed German food to pizza to Mongolian cuisine. I have my heart set on German fare for dinner tonight, given the local theme, but for now, we decide to browse some of the shops, take in the Bavarian-style scenery around us, and try a beer or two.

There is a little market set up in the Front Street Park with tents selling various crafts covering everything from paintings to jewelry. There are also German-themed boutiques lining Front Street, mixed in with your typical tourist stores selling t-shirts, hats and trinkets. We wander in and out of the various shopfronts, taking in the town's decor. The shop signs along the street remind me of Europe with their unique designs and gilded lettering. It's a very nice touch.

As previously mentioned, when I originally planned this trip, we had one night planned here and then were going to hit Lake Chelan the next day en route to Winthrop. Unfortunately, our rescheduled itinerary did not work our that way, so we will just have to make the best of it. We’ve been sharing our wine tastings up until now, so we continue the sharing theme and only order one beer at the first brewery we stop at—Icicle Brewing Company.

Photos: Icicle Brewing Company

We take a seat inside since it’s so hot in the sun outdoors. They have misting fans set up outside on their patio, but there isn’t much shade at this time of day. Inside, it is pleasantly cool by comparison. We ask about a few of the beers we are interested in, and after getting a very helpful education from the woman working the counter, we settle on one we think we will both enjoy. The beer is quite good --and most importantly, cold!

After we finish our beverage, we decide to sample a beer at the nearby Bushel & Bee Taproom. It has a different vibe from the large and airy Icicle, but I like the small, pleasantly cool and dark taproom equally as much. The space invites you to sit down and stay a while, outfitted with comfortable seating and boardgames. We sit back and relax with our shared drink on a cushioned bench.

Photo: Bushel & Bee Taproom

At this point, we’re not starving, but we decide it would probably be a good idea to sort out what we are going to do for dinner before the crowds descend on all of the better restaurants in town. There are quite a few people out and about enjoying Leavenworth this evening. I have some notes I made prior to our trip on possible options, and we decide that we would like to try Andreas Keller.

Andreas Keller is a German themed restaurant located in the basement level of a building off the main street (Keller means basement or cellar in German). They do not take reservations, but they have a virtual waitlist you can join from your mobile phone. While, we are finishing up our beer at Bushel & Bee, I join the queue. Soon, I have a text that there is a table available, and we head off in that direction.

Photos: Andreas Keller Restaurant

The restaurant isn’t crowded yet, but we’re just as happy to beat the dinner rush. The decor is typical to what you would find in Germany with little wooden booths dotting the dining room. There are even a few Bavarian-themed murals adorning the walls.

After examining the menu, we decide to share two meals--my favorite since then we can try more things. We settle on the Grilled Jagerschnitzel “Swiss Style” (pounded pork cutlet, topped with mild Swiss cheese and homemade mushroom sauce, served with Spatzle noodles and red cabbage) and the Bratwurst served with weinkraut and cold German potato salad. Both meals are quite good, but the Jagerschnitzel is absolutely delicious. Typically, Jagerschnitzel comes breaded and fried, and I love the grilled twist on the meal here. The Spatzle and red cabbage are equally as good.

Photos: German Beer & Jagerschnitzel (top); Bratwurst & Accordion Player (bottom)

As dinner goes on, the dining room begins to fill, and an accordion player strikes up a tune. It adds a fun atmosphere to the little cellar eatery. We easily wipe both plates clean and most definitely do not have any room for dessert right now. So, we settle our tab. As we are departing, I’m not surprised to see quite a large crowd of people waiting for tables both inside and outside the restaurant. I’m glad to have gotten into the restaurant when we did!

After dinner, we walk around for a few minutes more to take in the evening vibe but decide to head back to the hotel fairly early. When we get to the lobby, I recall that they gave us a buy one beverage get one free certificate for the hotel's pub when we checked in, so we decide to stop in at the comfortable looking bar—The Woodsman Pub--for a nightcap.