One of my favorite day trips from Seattle is driving alongside the Columbia River in central Washington. It’s literally where “east meets west” – in this case, the moisture-sucking Cascade Range of the evergreen west gives way to the dry and desert-like climate of the east. And with the help of large-scale irrigation and a near-perfect growing climate, this region has become one of the premier agricultural areas in the world. And that’s no more apparent than in Wenatchee, smack dab in the middle of the state. This small city calls itself the “Apple Capital of the World” and with good reason. Washington produces more apples (and pears) than any other U.S. state. And Wenatchee is the epicenter of the fruit industry, where billions of apples are harvested each year. It’s also a leader in research and testing of new fruit varieties, irrigation systems and really, anything to do with agricultural technology. The draw for road trippers is the hundreds of thousands of acres of neatly manicured orchards gracing the foothills that roll down to the Columbia River banks. This story follows US 97 and nearby country roads as the highway parallels the river north to Brewster, roughly 65 miles. But that’s only a small part of the whole picture. Continuing north another 155 miles and crossing into Canada, fruit and wine grapes are grown throughout the Okanagan Valley all the way up to Kelowna, British Columbia. And heading south of Wenatchee, orchards and vineyards extend to Yakima and onto Walla Walla, near the Oregon border. By my count, that’s 455 miles (733 km) or 8½ hours of cosmic crisp apples and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, from Walla Walla to Kelowna – without stops! Best to savor small chunks at a time. And this “Fruit Route” around Wenatchee is fun to drive twice a year: once in late summer or fall during prime harvest and fruit stand season. But also in the spring when apple blossoms cover the hillsides, as this video essay illustrates.
Wenatchee is fairly large, offering all services. Chelan, about 45 miles north, is a popular summer destination with many hotels and restaurants open year-round. And just 30 minutes west of Wenatchee is the Bavarian-themed, touristy town of Leavenworth. Somewhat hokey yet quaint, the mountain views are exceptional.
Route & Map
Wenatchee lies in the center of Washington, about 2½ hours east of Seattle and 3 hours west of Spokane. Starting in Wenatchee, the Fruit Route portrayed in this Wide Open Ride follows the Columbia River north to Brewster.
It’s 65 miles from Wenatchee to Brewster. But plan on more time to explore the side roads which wind through the blooming orchards.
Starting and returning to either Seattle or Spokane, it’s a pretty full day of sightseeing. It’s certainly doable but Wenatchee also offers plenty of overnight lodging.
Best time to visit
While apricot, cherry, peach and pear orchards are also common, nothing beats the staggering number of apple trees in the area. Late April into early May is full bloom but many factors determine timing so start monitoring local conditions in early April.
Wenatchee, Chelan and Leavenworth all maintain helpful websites. And if you want to bone up on all-things-apples, check out the Washington Apple Commission’s site. I always call either Visit Wenatchee or the Wenatchee Chamber of Commerce in early April to get an estimate on when full bloom will happen so I can plan. Growing conditions vary greatly from year to year.