Early French-Canadian fur traders took one look at southeast Washington’s majestic, rolling hill country and named it pelouse, or “lawn.” Once endless swatches of bluebunch wheatgrass, the hills now sport a smooth flaxen hue thanks to today’s dryland farming of wheat. The fields provide a calming, soothing ambience for country driving.
Begin in Ritzville, and visit the Wooden Nickel Public House and Emporium, an open-air bistro dishing up a mouthwatering three-layer German chocolate cake.
Nestled at the base of a deep basalt gorge, you’ll find 198-foot Palouse Falls, the star attraction of Palouse Falls State Park, just off of rural Hwy 261. Hike the rim or meander down to bubbling Palouse Creek. Down the road, stop at Lyons Ferry State Park to swim, picnic or cast for steelhead and salmon—species you can also spot clambering up the fish ladder at nearby Little Goose Dam, thanks to a series of underwater viewing windows.
Then take the Palouse Scenic Byway to Pullman, home of the red-brick–lined campus of Washington State University. Sample the famous Cougar Gold white cheddar and old-fashioned soda fountain treats at Ferdinand’s Ice Cream Shoppe on campus before touring the seven miles of smooth blacktop on the Bill Chipman Trail—a rail trail connecting Pullman with Moscow (Idaho, that is)—or entertain the kiddos with live science demonstrations at Palouse Discovery Science Center.
At day’s end, take in the sunset at Steptoe Butte, about 25 miles to the north. The 3,612-foot-tall quartzite mountain surveys the Blue, Selkirk, and Bitterroot mountains and serves as a good listening post for the plaintive hoot of Northern saw-whet owls.
—Christopher van Tilburg