Courtesy of Mountain Home lodge
BEST FOR: Food and wine lovers
ALLURE: The lee side of Washington's Cascade range, where the peaks gradually descend into rolling foothills 120 miles from Seattle, is an agricultural paradise. The mountains capture the rain, and the area experiences warm sunny days and cool nights-ideal country for orchards and vineyards. The undulating topography is seeded with acres of grapevines and fruit trees that run in tidy rows down to the banks of the Columbia River. Once an isolated area that simply grew fruit bound for factories, these foothills farms found themselves on the losing end of the global apple trade. Many turned to grapes, and vineyards now vie with apples for acreage. And as people learn the value of locally grown produce, agri-tourism is slowly becoming an important aspect of the region's economy. "We're trying to educate people on what farming is and also to preserve the land," says Hank Manriquez, president of the four-year-old Cascade Foothills Farmland Association, which distributes a driving map charting wineries, fruit stands, and orchards.
Driving east from Seattle, follow Highway 2 over the mountain passes of Snoqualmie National Forest to Leavenworth, a former logging town that adopted a Bavarian look to match the mountainous surroundings. It's a good base for jaunts into the mountains immediately nearby or the farms just east. Begin with a stroll to some or all of the eight winery tasting rooms located in town; highlights include Southern Washington's Kestrel Vintners (888-343-2675, www.kestrelwines.com), which produces lush reds, and Silver Lake Winery (509-829-6235, www.silverlakewinery.com), which serves blends of grapes grown in the state's Columbia and Yakima valleys.
LOCAL EATS: Indulge the Germanic setting with a stein of Warsteiner and the house signature rotisserie roasted pork hocks at family-owned King Ludwig's (509-548-6625, www.kingludwigs.com). Long wooden tables encourage socializing, as does the polka band that brings diners to their feet on Friday and Saturday nights.
WHERE TO STAY: Base yourself for the weekend at the Mountain Home Lodge ($110-$350; 800-414-2378, www.mthome.com), set in a 20-acre Alpine meadow just three miles from-and 1,000 feet above-Leavenworth. Sit back and soak in panoramic views of the Cascades, or explore the foothills via one of the inn's well-maintained hiking trails.
LOCAL FARE: Mountain Home is renowned for its seasonal, regional food; don't miss the pumpkin pancakes with cider syrup at breakfast. Have the kitchen staff pack a sack lunch of smoked turkey, sunflower seeds, fresh dill, and cream cheese on whole grain bread for later in the day, then drive west and south from Leavenworth along Icicle Road to Icicle Canyon. Hike the four-mile River Trail, which crosses cascading Icicle Creek via a wooden bridge. It's a good site for a trail snack.
Double back through town and east again on Highways 2 and 97 to Nicholson's Orchard Fresh (509-548-9152, www.ourorchard.com) for a tour of its organic Fuji apple and D'Anjou pear trees. Continue to the town of Cashmere (sorry, no goats) for a shopping detour at Apple Annie Antique Mall (509-782-4004, www.appleannieantiques.com) to search among the wares of more than 200 dealers. Pick up a vintage fruit crate as a memento of your visit.
LOCAL EATS: Jellied sweets called Aplets & Cotlets, a confection similar to Turkish Delight, came to the region with Armenian settlers.The sweets are made from Washington apples, apricots, and walnuts. At Liberty Orchards (800-888-5696, www.libertyorchards.com), tours show visitors how the fruit purees are cooked down, poured into sheets, cooled, cut, and packed for candy boxes-a process that hasn't changed much since 1920, when the factory opened. Stick around for a sample of these sweets at the end of the tour.
With your sweet tooth satisfied, drive north on Route 97 after crossing the Columbia River at Wenatchee. Enjoy the rolling scenery of apple, peach, and cherry orchards. Stop at Orondo Cider Works for a glass of just-pressed cider (509-784-1029, www.orondociderworks.com). Make an appointment in advance to visit Fielding Hills Winery (509-884-2221, www.fieldinghills.com) near Wenatchee. The tasting room, located in a former orchard pole shed, is often the only place you can try and buy their highly regarded and often sold-out merlots, syrahs, and other reds.
Just a few miles out of Leavenworth, visit Smallwood's Harvest (509-548-4196, www.smallwoodsharvest.com) for a morning walk through the maze made of lumber "orchard props" used to hold up the branches of fruit-laden trees. Then swing by Icicle Ridge Winery (509-548-7019, www.icicleridgewinery.com) to sample its rich merlot-cabernet-lemberger-romanze blend in what is arguably the prettiest tasting house on the circuit-in a log lodge on a pond with ample outdoor seating to enjoy the views. Nearby, pull into Prey's Fruit Barn (509-548-5771, www.preysfruitbarn.com) to stock up on Bartlett pears, apple blossom honey, and cherry cider.
LOCAL FARE: Stop for a slice of fresh baked apple pie and a cup of coffee at The Big Y Café (509-548-5012) on Highway 2 in Peshastin. The roadhouse is popular with locals for generous portions of comfort foods like meat loaf. Leaving the area, drive back west on Highway 2 through the steep Tumwater Canyon, ablaze with fall color in September, for a memorable parting impression.
MORE INFO: www.visitwashingtonfarms.com