written by Mike G. Christian
If you are hoping to extend your social distance for the foreseeable future, check out these Washington spots
So you say you need a change of scenery. We get it.
But if going to a place like Disneyland conjures images of germs (All those people! All those door handles!), you can stay closer to home in Washington and avoid getting hives at the thought of being shoulder to shoulder with others.
We scoured the state for the best places to get away from it all (and all the people), without losing that Washington charm.
NORTH CASCADES NATIONAL PARK
Let’s start with a national park. If you’ve ever tried to see the sights at Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon in the summer, you might think we’ve lost our minds recommending a park. But North Cascades National Park is remote enough to be one of the ten least-visited national parks in the country and one of our top open spaces.
In a normal year, that would be a shame—the park is spectacular and everyone should see it. This year, however, it’s great to know that fewer than 40,000 people make the trek up to the northern part of the state. The park is about two and a half hours from Seattle, and it’s best to visit between mid-June and the end of September, when the snow is typically gone.
The park is big—789 square miles—and has two units, one that stretches to the Canadian border and another that heads south to Lake Chelan. Two additional recreation areas add another nearly 300 square miles.
You won’t find a lot of people, but you will find an outdoor paradise. Huge, jagged mountains hover over incredibly blue lakes, hilly trails leading to spots destined to be the background of your Christmas card photo and backcountry camping or rustic lodging for the anti-camper.
Must-sees in and around the park include a trip through Lake Chelan to Stehekin (preferably by boat on the Lady of the Lake), a small community inaccessible by road; Diablo Lake (by overlook or by hike), and Ross Lake. If you can swing a stay at Ross Lake Resort, which nearly always has a waiting list, you’ll be treated to a floating cabin.
For small-town America with a dose of Western roots and a lot of wine without the crowds, look to Prosser. This city on the Yakima River sits unassumingly between the Tri-Cities and Yakima and is an agricultural center with a historic downtown. With a little more than 6,000 people living here, you’ll find a small, walkable downtown with plenty of options to alight to the surrounding area for some social-distanced fun.
The city’s restored historic Princess Theatre is part of the charm—when it opens you’ll find culture here. If agriculture is more your speed, there are several alpaca farms nearby to check out.
But what Prosser is truly known for is as the birthplace of Washington wine. Prosser has more than thirty wineries nearby, with names you may recognize—14 Hands and Columbia Crest—and others that have flown under the radar in favor of the more famous Walla Walla region. This is your opportunity to find great wine without the crowds. If you need a meal after your tastings, there are a variety of Mexican restaurants in town or the Horse Heaven Saloon & Brewery to switch it up.
White Salmon has the distinction of being across the river from one of the more famous cities in the Pacific Northwest—Hood River, Oregon. Hood River gets a lot of attention for its windsurfers, beer and generally epic views. But the secret is that White Salmon has all the same aspects, with many open spaces and no crowds.
This town is the ultimate jumping-off point for outdoor adventure, which gets you even farther from the next human. You can partake in outdoor pursuits in the White Salmon River, the Columbia River Gorge, the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, or the mountains nearby.
You’ll want to beeline for Everybody’s Brewing, a favorite of locals and visitors alike—and you can get growlers to go if you’d prefer not to be stuck indoors with strangers.
You can peruse the downtown quickly—with only about 2,200 permanent residents, there are a few good restaurants and stores to check out on the main street, but that’s about it. Then it’s off to explore the wilderness. Swing across the river to Hood River for a bike rental, then hit the mountain bike trails. If you’re an experienced kayaker, you’ll want to check out Northwestern Park, which has access to the White Salmon River’s waters. Or, if you’re more of an experienced wine taster, there are about a dozen nearby wineries that will keep you occupied for hours.
When you think of a city in Washington that mimics a European counterpart, you likely think of Leavenworth and its Bavarian theme. If the idea of crowds at Oktoberfest makes you itchy, try a different country—Poulsbo, in the Kitsap Peninsula, takes its cues from Norway.
Tucked into Liberty Bay about an hour from Seattle, this area so reminded Norwegian and Scandinavian settlers of their home that they named it for the Norwegian town of Paulsbo.
This spot is popular with visitors, so you might not find yourself completely without people around, but with a population of less than 11,000, you can count on quaint. The small city has an arts district, waterfront parks and a marina.
Plus, the Scandinavian culture is on full display here. You’ll find Viking-themed detail in many of the shops and restaurants and storefronts, and the Little Norway historic downtown is picturesque.
A must-see here is the SEA Discovery Center, when it reopens post-coronavirus. The aquarium, part of Western Washington University, has exhibits on local marine life and a tide pool replica.
If boating or water sports are on the agenda, you’ll find Liberty Bay is a great place for kayaking or standup paddling. Finish your day with some fresh seafood and a beer or two from Valholl Brewing.
The Palouse and Walla Walla Country are known for being remote—sparsely populated, but not short on views or open spaces.
Fewer than 2,500 people live here, and it is truly in rural Eastern Washington. The city has an important brewing claim to fame: Jacob Weinhard moved here in 1880 (via Portland, where he’d worked for his uncle’s brewery) and saw the potential for growing barley. He started the Jacob Weinhard Brewery here, and as a result, many of the city’s historic buildings are named for him. His Victorian home is on the National Register of Historic Places, and you’ll find his name on the Weinhard Cafe and the Weinhard Hotel.
There are ninety homes in Dayton that are on the historic register, as well as a historic train depot that is the oldest remaining in the state. The city can feel a little like you’re traveling back in time. An added bonus is the many nearby wineries, the proximity to Palouse Falls—one of the wonders of Washington—and a fascinating recreation of a Lewis and Clark campsite with life-size metal silhouettes, 2 miles east of town. Dayton residents used journals to make sure every animal and human in the expedition are included in the installation.
If fishing is your thing, you’ll find that this town, at the confluence of the Touchet River and Patit Creek, has many nearby options.
The entire Olympic Peninsula is proof of the glory of the natural world—the majesty of the mountains mixes with the blues of water and the greens of lush forest canopy. This area just never stops giving back to visitors.
Sequim, perched on the northern edge of the peninsula, is a small city with big offerings. It is a place people like to visit, but you can still get away with so many options for hiking (both on the beach and in the forests), fishing, boating. It’s also a perfect place to get on your bike and hit the Olympic Discovery Trail, which will someday run from La Push in the west to Port Townsend in the east (currently there are unfinished sections, but Sequim is in the heart of a beautiful, complete section).
The downtown is charming and you’ll want to check that out—but the real charm of Sequim and its surroundings are the fresh-air opportunities. Every year, Sequim holds a lavender festival. Even if you’re not around for that weekend event each July, head into the hills to find field after field of lavender farms. You can pick some to take home—and berries, too.
If all this is still too much human interaction, head less than a half hour west and you’ll be in Olympic National Park, a diverse ecosystem with plenty of places to get lost—all alone.