By J.D. Ennis, Chris Gabrielli, and Matt Jones
Ugh, shoulder season. Throw in your adventure towel. Maybe it’s time to take up gardening. And you should probably clean out the gutters or something, too. Whether the trails aren’t quite dry, the rock’s still under its winter blanket of snow, or the ski lines are melting out, spring can be a rough time of year for the intrepid adventurer. But these in-between conditions are exactly what make the Wenatchee Valley—and its surrounding hills, rivers, and trails—the perfect shoulder season destination.
The powder’s mostly gone and the temps are rising, but don’t give up just yet. Instead, throw on your Hawaiian shirt and shades and head to Mission Ridge to enjoy the spring skiing without the crowds. The resort is located on the east slopes of the Cascades and is higher, drier, and sunnier than many nearby ski hills.
At only 12 miles from downtown, Mission Ridge makes Wenatchee the state’s most accessible ski town. There aren’t any fancy condos on mountain yet, and the food is classic pub fare that you’d expect to find at any resort, which is part of the charm. However, Mission punches above its weight in terms of snow quality and fun terrain. It boasts a small mountain vibe but with really interesting terrain. The free SkiLink bus runs every Saturday and Sunday from the downtown Columbia Station and Lincoln Park through the end of the season. Also check out ski and stay deals through several local hotels.
After getting sufficiently sunburned, grab a drink at the Chair 5 Pub or fire up your grill in the parking lot. With events and live music on every weekend this spring, there’s plenty of reasons to ski hard and party hard through closing day on April 12.
Hiking and Trail Running
Trail running and hiking are great ways to carry over that ski-season fitness to longer summer endeavors. Wenatchee is home to some of the best early season trail running and hiking in central Washington. Whether you choose to lace up your shoes in town and run straight into the surrounding hills or take a short drive to a trailhead, there’s something for everyone.
Apple Loop Trail: For a low-key paved option guaranteed to be dry, head out on the Apple Loop Trail. This trail is such a community mainstay that the city plows it after snow events. Jump on this 10-mile loop from the parking lot of Pybus Market and enjoy a flat run along the river. Be sure to refuel and grab a brew or a bite at one of the market’s bars and restaurants after your jaunt.
Horse Lake Reserve: For moderate trails through reclaimed farmland with views of the Columbia River and North Cascades, visit Horse Lake Reserve starting on April 1. With interpretive signage to help identify flora, fauna, and nearby mountain peaks, Horse Lake offers a remarkable opportunity to get your bearings on the valley. Many .15 through 2.5-mile options can be braided together to create shorter or longer runs or hikes. These popular trails are dog and mountain-bike friendly and burst with color when balsamroot and other wildflowers are blooming.
Ancient Lakes and Beezley Hills: The earliest trails to dry out are usually around Ancient Lakes near Quincy and the Beezley Hills in Ephrata. For information about these trails and other regional recommendations, visit WenatcheeOutdoors.org, which offers the most comprehensive guidebook to the region. Here you can find dog friendly, family friendly, and accessible trails, as well as up-to-date information about other outdoor activities.
When the skiing starts to fade, and the trails are in the process of drying out, it’s prime time to start climbing outside in Eastern Washington. Even when the nights are still frigid, know that there’s plenty of local dry rock to be climbed.
Frenchman Coulee: The most popular place for early spring climbing is Frenchman Coulee, better known to climbers as Vantage. The area’s columnar basalt offers a lifetime’s worth of splitter cracks for trad climbers and bolted face climbing for sport climbers. The area known as the sunshine wall catches a lot of—you guessed it—sunshine, so it heats up pretty well for a few hours on even the coldest spring days. Because Vantage is often warm and dry when most other areas in the state are overcast and wet, this place can get packed. Plan ahead if you’d like to get on any of the classic moderates. Note that camping in the area is allowed but that a Discover Pass is required for parking. One last hot tip: for climbing at vantage: The queue for the latrine is about 40 people deep on popular weekends. Plan to take care of your business early or bring your own TP and a winning attitude.
Peshastin Pinnacles: If you’re not into fighting the crowds, there’s another unique spot to check out. Before Vantage stole the show for shoulder-season cragging, the Peshastin Pinnacles were the crud-weather climbing destination of choice in central Washington. Located just west of Cashmere, this group of sandstone fins overlooks orchards, the Wenatchee River valley, and the stunning peaks of the Enchantments. While too hot to climb in the middle of the summer, the primarily southwest-facing pinnacles offer sunny cragging close to the road in the early spring and late fall. Known for its unique but somewhat crumbly sandstone, many folks prefer the bolted sport climbs here, although there are a number of unique trad lines. Be prepared for old school grades and funky gear placements. Note that Peshastin Pinnacles has been a state park since being purchased from orchard owners in 1991, so you’ll need to buy a parking permit or have a Washington State Discover Pass. (MJ)
Kayaking and River Sports
The Wenatchee Valley is truly stacked with incredible whitewater opportunity. While your other hobbies may be taking a break for the season or haven’t ramped up yet, there really is no such thing as a spring shoulder season once you add rivers to your quiver of play. The Wenatchee area boasts incredible spring whitewater for every level of enthusiast. Within an hour of town you can find world class, big water playboating, class IV-V steep creeking, and lots of fun river running.
Challenging Whitewater: For the adrenaline junkies there are only two places to be: Tumwater Canyon and Icicle Creek. Both located within five minutes of Leavenworth, these class V gems drop the jaws of every tourist who drives by. Icicle Creek can feel more like a river that’s been tipped upwards and poured over boulders, producing an endless series of long, complex, pushy, and intimidating whitewater. Tumwater is pool-drop in nature; it’s mellow sections only stand to give you extra time to pucker before dropping into some of Washington State’s biggest whitewater.
Intermediate River Runs: Notching it down a grade, the Little Wenatchee offers a remote, lower volume, and tight canyon adventure for competent class IV boaters. Be on your toes for wood. Next, throw your boat on your shoulder and hike a mile up Ingalls Creek for class IV creeking that dumps you into the Peshastin River for non-stop class III-III+ boogie all way down to the Wenatchee River. Since you’re now back on the Wenatchee right near the put-in for the play section, just swap into your playboat and float down to Cashmere for one of Washington’s best play runs—massive standing waves, many with eddy service, await your surfing pleasure.
Class-Fun Runs: Got some kiddos who want to play? Maybe a non-river person who is excited to see the valley from a different perspective? There are three great sections to suit: The upper Wenatchee River from Lake Wenatchee to the top of Tumwater Canyon provides a beautiful family-friendly scenic float. The town run from Leavenworth down to Peshastin offers easy logistics and keeps you in the heart of the mountains. Finally, the lower Wenatchee River from Cashmere to the Columbia provides a great way to admire the beauty of the lower valley. Flow-dependent, these sections range from class I to II+ and can be fantastic for anything from canoe, to SUP, to family raft, to kayak. (CG)
After 10 years of project planning, the Central Chapter of the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance has received grants and generous community donations that have led to massive trail development over the past four years in the Wenatchee area, stretching from Leavenworth to Chelan. While the areas and trails listed are a sample of what the region has to offer, make no mistake, Wenatchee is a mountain biker’s dream.
Sage Hills: Located on the fringe of Wenatchee, Sage Hills has over 20 miles of beginner and intermediate trails suitable for cross-country and enduro bikes. There are amazing views of the Wenatchee area and dynamic early season wildflower displays. Opens April 1.
Squilchuck State Park Trail System: A perfect place for the mountain biking family. Bikers will find over 8 miles of beginner to intermediate singletrack trails, as well as a skills park. The skills park includes beginner to advanced jumps, skinnies, and log rides. One log ride is over 200-feet long! Creature Comfort Dark Forest is a recommended intermediate trail within Squilchuck. The trail has a manageable climb and a fast, fun descent.
Devil’s Gulch/Mission Ridge: These two trails are intermediate rides through old growth forest, with occasional views of the North Cascades. They are best described as old school, rugged trails that also have some of the fastest singletrack in the state. The two trails cross, allowing bikers the option to ride a section of one trail, and then ride a section of the other trail. And they merge near the bottom and can be ridden up or shuttled. The climb is challenging.
PTD (Prepare to Die): This is a new black diamond trail opening this spring. It is part of the Number 2 Canyon trail system trail near Wenatchee. It is a ride for bikers seeking an aggressive trail with natural features. This trail includes a large rock slab with a 30-foot dirt berm at the bottom. (JDE)
Love Wenatchee’s Trails—Don’t Wreck Them!
Even if it’s a nice bluebird day, certain trails may not be dried out for the season yet. Running, riding, or even hiking on wet trails can ruin them for the rest of the summer. If you’re in the Wenatchee area, make sure to visit the Chelan Douglas Land Trust’s website for current trail conditions or closures and please pay attention to the dirt under your feet or wheels. (Summer Hess)