Exploring Ellensburg, Wenatchee, Omak & Beyond

A journey through Washington's heartland

The small towns of North Central Washington have a habit of making your eyes pop wide open. Tour the communities here and encounter the sun-kissed Columbia Plateau and the Canadian Okanagan, evergreen forests, and the cloud-piercing Cascades—and, of course, lots of hospitality from the locals.

In Ellensburg you can catch the Ellensburg Rodeo, held each September, the largest in the Northwest and recognized as one of America’s Top Ten Professional Rodeos. A few miles to the northeast, the town of Quincy is home to the state’s, if not the country’s, most jaw-dropping concert venue—the Gorge Amphitheater—and nearby Moses Lake boasts one of the state’s largest natural freshwater lakes.

Set on the banks of the Wenatchee River, Cashmere sparkles as a destination for white-water and fly-fishing enthusiasts. Don’t forget to stock up on Aplets & Cotlets from nearby Liberty Orchards. Just downriver, stretch your legs in Wenatchee. The self-proclaimed Apple Capital of the World also sits at the core of an outdoors paradise, with downhill skiing at 2,000-acre Mission Ridge, sailing and boating on the Columbia River, and biking on the 10-mile Apple Capital Loop Trail. And don’t miss a ride on the Saunders Steam Train; the miniature train is accessible in downtown Wenatchee and crosses bridges and trestles along the Columbia River.

Be prepared to kick up plenty of dust when you reach Omak, though. Some 20,000 rodeo fans line up here each year to attend the Omak Stampede, now more than 80 years running.

Continuing north, ghost towns are a popular attraction. Nearly half a dozen deserted pioneer-era settlements can be found inhabiting the rolling hills outside of Tonasket.

Unless you’ve brought your passport, prepare to end your trip just shy of Canada in Oroville, where you’ll find Osoyoos Lake. One thing not to forget: your swim trunks. This 14-mile-long oasis, which straddles the border, is one of the warmest lakes in the Northwest.

Find other North Central Washington towns.

—Craig Romano