My journey began in Leavenworth, a Bavarian-inspired alpine village of German-themed shops, bratwurst-and-beer-laden restaurants and a music-filled town square. Here, I find the Gingerbread Factory (a bakery with bite-their-heads-off-good gingerbread men) and 17-acre Waterfront Park, which offers a winding trail along the Wenatchee River.
Back on the road, I quickly lose count of the seasonal fruit stands—one even has a petting zoo—on the way to Cashmere. In the heart of Apple Country, I pick up the powdered-sugar-coated jelly apple candies called aplets. At Liberty Orchards, white-clothed workers still pack the candies by hand.
Then I visit the Cashmere Cider Mill Tasting Room, where I sample half a dozen flavors and walk out with a jug of the original, still warm from bottling. Agritourism is booming here: a former pear-packing warehouse on Mission Avenue has been reinvented as Mission Square with five wine-tasting rooms, It’s 5 Artisan Distillery and a local coffee roaster that also sells gelato made from the local cider.
Wenatchee, at the confluence of two rivers, is the valley’s largest city, with restaurants, hotels and the notable Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center. Runners and cyclists enjoy the 11-mile riverfront Apple Capital Loop Trail and skiers head for nearby Mission Ridge. The visitor center at Rocky Reach Dam, just outside the city, offers a glimpse of hydroelectric power, the spawning cycle of salmon and regional history in the Museum of the Columbia.
From here, Highway 2 climbs through brown hills of volcanic rock and across flat plains of farmland before reaching the Columbia again at Coulee City. Not far up the river looms the country’s largest electric power–producing facility, Grand Coulee Dam, but I detour south to visit Dry Falls, where a 3.5-mile arc of 400-foot-high cliffs once boasted waterfalls 10 times the size of Niagara Falls.
The next day, I pull over at one of the more modest fruit stands, where self-serve is de rigueur. I choose apples and pears from big wooden bins, drop cash in the pay box, and continue along the highway with my bounty.