summer days, such as this one on Aug. 20, 2014, can
be warm enough for rafting and kayaking down the
Methow River past Winthrop's new cable-stayed Spring
Creek pedestrian bridge in Washington.
Methow Valley town of Winthrop, Wash., has long been known
for its Old West theme, with false-front stores and wooden
sidewalks, the perfect place to practice your bowlegged
walk and wear that Stetson you always fancied.
other big draw for many has been winter sports, thanks to
a network of 120 miles of cross-country ski trails (see mvsta.com)
along with an outdoor public ice rink.
visited early this summer and enjoyed a side-benefit of
that trail network: Some stretches are also great for
mountain biking, a sport that makes the best of autumn,
when the air crisps up and trees turn golden.
July and August wildfires in north-central Washington didnít
touch the trails I flew happily along. With more than 40
miles of trails to choose from near Sun Mountain Lodge, I
swooped and whooped across little wooden bridges over
chattering streams, through tunnels of Nootka rose and
past Ponderosa pines with strawberry-rhubarb-colored bark.
beautiful," said Jeff Butler, a physician visiting
from Spokane, the only other biker I met on trails with
names such as Rodeo and Sunnyside. "Iíve been here
for cross-country skiing in winter but this is my first
time to mountain bike. I saw a deer and a few rabbits on
Black Bear Trail."
close encounter was with a rooster-sized blue grouse that
seemed unconcerned when I skidded to a stop to watch it
bob slowly into the brush.
Methow Valleyís summer tourism took a big hit from
lightning-caused fires ó including the largest in state
history ó plus a whopping windstorm and flash floods
that hit parts of the valley, closing roads and cutting
been an unbelievable summer," sighed Kristen Smith,
of the Winthrop Chamber of Commerce, and she didnít mean
it in a good way.
the biggest burn, the Carlton fire, didnít come close to
Winthrop, and no community events have been canceled.
people are going to come and never know the fires
happened," Smith said. One of the best things anybody
can do to help the valley, she suggested: Come visit ó
and spend money.
near Sun Mountain Lodge are, if anything, better, since
the Forest Service trimmed brush and regraded an access
road because of the fires, said Brian Charlton, general
manager at the 98-room luxury lodge, which lost about half
its high-season summer business.
was just not a fun time," Charlton said recently.
"But now the temperature has peaked, the breeze is
blowing, skies are blue with big, puffy clouds. Itís
ideal hiking and biking conditions."
draws for an autumn visit to Winthrop:
SHOPS WORTH A STOP
Iron Horse is the place to pick up that Stetson. This
6-year-old shop carries hundreds of Western-style head
toppers, ranging from National Rifle Association
fundraiser hats to the Voodoo top hat ($135), a sassy
leather bad boy with Buffalo nickels on the band that
prompted one young visitor trying it on to crow, "I
look like Billy the Kid!" This is also the place to
pick up decorative iron work such as a goat-head fire
poker by celebrated local blacksmith D.J. Stull or iron
house numbers by shop co-owner Shawn Johnston. 229A
Riverside Ave.; 509-996-3336 or winthropiron.com.
hard to resist Shotgun Nellieís, specializing in Western
decor, when the life-size cutout of John Wayne in big hat
and bandanna stands outside the door to corral shoppers.
Nilsine "Nellie" Harris opened the shop in May
"because thereís not that many Western shops in
Winthrop anymore" since French boutiques and upscale
kitchen shops have moved in. Hereís where to find that
deer-antler lamp youíve needed to properly finish the
den. 94 Bridge St., 509-996-8030.
youíve made it over the North Cascades Highway with
outdoor plans but left something out of your knapsack,
Winthropís new Cascades Outdoor Store is stocked with
the insight of owners Brian and Amy Sweetís more than
2,000 nights in the backcountry, some of which includes
three months on cycling tours of the United States and
Europe, paddling Minnesotaís Boundary Waters and hiking
the full Appalachian and Arizona trails. For my biking, I
picked up an Epic bar, an energy bar made with beef or
turkey and dried fruit. "Itís delicious, and not
sweet like other bars," Amy advised. 222 Riverside
Ave.; 509-996-3480 or cascadesoutdoorstore.com.
PLACES TO EAT
Old Schoolhouse Brewery has at least three things going
for it: (1) award-winning beer, (2) one of the best
brewpub menus around (and Iíve sampled, ahem, a few),
and (3) Winthropís best dining deck, edging the Chewuch
River. No, wait, thereís a fourth thing: It really is in
a cool old schoolhouse (complete with bell tower, seen on
the beer label). The menu includes the Fish Taco Wrap,
with Alaskan true cod in beer-battered panko with pico de
gallo and zesty white sauce ($13). Wash it down with a
Ruud Awakening IPA ó named for brewer Blaze Ruud, it won
gold in last yearís Washington Beer Awards ó aptly
described as packing "a pleasant but brutal beginning
followed by a bold, citrusy finish." The flourless
Chocolate Stout Cake with Tillamook vanilla-bean ice cream
and IPA caramel sauce is a pleasure that might rival your
wedding night ($7). 155 Riverside Ave.; 509-996-3183 or oldschoolhousebrewery.com.
Horse Bakery had me the moment I saw its logo: a rangy
looking equus twanging a Fender Stratocaster. They do
sandwiches and such, but bakeries are for breakfast, and
this one rocks. Tackle a cinnamon roll the size of a lunch
plate for $3.50, or Raspberry Dowdy ($4). I went for the
guy-in-his-50s marionberry bran muffin, still warm from
the oven. In this new space since February, Rocking Horse
has local art on the walls, barnwood-type floors and
old-world decor, including a big-wheeled, 1890s-vintage
penny-farthing bicycle on loan from the local museum. 265
Riverside Ave.; 509-996-4241 or rockinghorsebakery.com.
Arrowleaf Bistro is in an old white house set politely
back from the street, with painterly blossoms of the
favorite local sunflower emblazoned across the front.
Locals recommend it for the food, such as a recent menu
including bacon-wrapped dates ($8) for starters, to go
with bison meatballs, Parmesan fries and local greens
($24). 253 Riverside Ave.; 509-996-3919 or arrowleafbistro.com.
PLACES TO STAY
are plenty of nice cabins and lodges spread around the
Methow Valley, but for the full Winthrop experience, stay
in town where you can walk to the shops and eateries:
Rio Vista, hugging the main drag, doesnít look like much
from the parking lot, but the far side fronts on a
beautiful view of a wild, bird-crowded island where the
Chewuch and Methow rivers converge, and every room has a
private balcony. Starting at $116.50 on October weekends.
285 Riverside Ave.; 800-398-0911 or hotelriovista.com.
after one of the townís first saloons, the Duck Brand
Hotel and Cantina has five rooms above the restaurant. Fun
and funky-looking lodging dating to 1981, set back and
above the street, some with balconies. Starting at $95 on
October weekends. 248 Riverside Ave.; 509-996-2408 or duckbrandhotel.com.
River Lodge & Cabins has spacious rooms with
lodge-like decor and balconies overlooking the Methow
River, but with more trees in your view than at the Rio
Vista. Itís down the road and across the river from
downtown, but by foot you can cross the spiffy, new
cable-stayed pedestrian bridge and be in the middle of
things in about seven minutes. Starting at $125 on
weekends through mid-October. 110 White Ave.; 509-996-4348
WORTH A STOP
never found time to stop at Winthropís Shafer Museum,
285 Castle Ave., which sits on a bluff above the Hotel Rio
Vista. You should make time.
a tidy little Old West village of tin-roof buildings
beneath Ponderosa pines. In fact, a pine grows through the
roof of a shed housing a rusty old gold mill. Manicured
gardens and nicely done interpretive placards make the
admission-by-donation indoor/outdoor museum worth a visit
whether just visiting the grounds (daylight hours) or
during staffed hours (see shafermuseum.com
an 1894 log cabin, the bell from the First Methodist
Episcopal Church (circa 1921), a bevy of old-time washing
machines, a print shop from the Methow Valley News, and
plenty more Old West flavor to top off your bowlegged
wander of Winthrop.
Chamber of Commerce, 509-996-2125 or winthropwashington.com
FEEL FOR THE PLACE: Founded as a trading post catering to
miners and ranchers in 1891, Winthrop is about 190 miles
(3Ĺ to 4 hours) from Seattle via the North Cascades
Highway (Highway 20).
Highway 153 is washed out near the town of Carlton,
southerly access to Winthrop for visitors coming through
Wenatchee and Pateros is open via a detour (Twisp-Carlton
Road) that "takes the same time, goes the same
distance and is more scenic," said Kristen Smith of
the Winthrop Chamber of Commerce.
that the North Cascades Highway is typically closed for
the winter from late November to April.
THE NUMBERS: Population is about 400 in Winthropís
square-mile town limits. Elevation 1,765 feet.
National Climatic Data Center reports that Winthrop (and
nearby Mazama) experienced the coldest-ever recorded
temperature in the state of Washington, minus 48 F., in
IN A NAME: Named for Theodore Winthrop (1828-1861), a
noted writer, lawyer and world traveler who was one of the
first Union officers killed in the U.S. Civil War.
TRIVIA: Owen Wister, the Harvard roommate of town founder
Guy Waring, wrote "The Virginian," acclaimed as
Americaís first Western novel, after honeymooning in
1972, when Highway 20 was nearing completion over the
Cascades, business owners agreed to the idea of the
Western-themed restoration that still exists.
EVENT: Sun Mountain-area trails from the Chickadee
Trailhead will host the 2014 Methow Valley Off-Road
Duathlon, including a 40K mountain-bike ride and 10K trail
run, Saturday, Sept. 27. See methowduathlon.blogspot.com.