Just south of US-2, Wenatchee (pop. 31,925) is the commercial center of the Wenatchee Valley, one of the world’s most productive apple- and pear-growing regions—it’s responsible for about half the nation’s annual crop. The Washington Apple Commission Visitor Center, a block south of US-2 below the Ohme Gardens, is the place to go to find out all about the state’s apple industry, and to enjoy potent air-conditioning.
Wenatchee stretches south from US-2, with three miles of shopping malls, car dealerships, and anonymous highway sprawl before you reach the downtown business district. Many large fruit warehouses and a nice park line the railroad tracks along the riverfront. One place worth stopping is the excellent Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center (127 S. Mission St., Tues.-Sat., $5), which contains extensive displays tracing the region’s prehistoric and pioneer past, from native rock art to a working HO-gauge model of the Great Northern Railway route over the Cascades. An adjacent building houses a large exhibit on Washington’s apple industry, including an antique but fully functioning apple sorting and packing line.
Around the corner from the museum, McGlinn’s Public House (111 Orondo Ave., 509/663-9073), has wood-fired pizzas and other good food. Along with every fast-food franchise known to humankind, Wenatchee also has some great local haunts, including Dusty’s In-N-Out (1427 N. Wenatchee Ave., 509/662-7805), famous for burgers and shakes (and words of wisdom on its sign) since 1949. There are also lots of motels, ranging from the national chains to the business-oriented Coast Wenatchee Center Hotel (201 N. Wenatchee Ave., 509/662-1234, $109 and up).
Ohme Gardens County Park
Overlooking the confluence of the Wenatchee and Columbia Rivers on a bluff above the junction of US-2 and US-97, Ohme Gardens County Park (509/662-5785, daily Apr. 15-Oct. 15, $8) maintains nine acres of immaculate greenery that offer a cool contrast to eastern Washington’s arid terrain. Created beginning in 1929 by the Ohme family, the lush plantings of ferns and evergreens have transformed an otherwise rugged Cascade crest. Stone pathways wind past waterfalls and rocky pools, culminating in a rustic lookout that gives sweeping views of Wenatchee and the surrounding Columbia River Valley.
Lake Chelan Detour
From Wenatchee, US-97A runs north along the west bank of the Columbia River to beautiful Lake Chelan, at the southern edge of the North Cascades National Park. Edged by wilderness and surrounded by tall mountain peaks, fjord-like Lake Chelan offers a quick and comfortable escape from the modern world, thanks to a pair of Lady of the Lake tour boats (509/682-4584, daily May-Oct. shorter hours Nov.-Apr., $36-61 round-trip), which cross the waters to the peaceful hamlet of Stehekin, on the lake’s road-free northern shore. One Lady is faster than the other, so check the schedules.
From Stehekin, where there is a national park visitors center (509/699-2080), you can hike deep into the volcanic wilds of the North Cascades, ride bikes along old mining trails, fish or swim in the glacial lake, and stay the night at the 28-unit North Cascades Lodge at Stehekin (509/682-4494, $145 and up), one of a handful of tourist facilities in this delightfully isolated neck of the woods.
If you don’t have much time but still want to savor the Lake Chelan experience, head to Campbell’s Resort (509/682-2561), which has nice rooms and a great restaurant on the easier-to-reach south shore.