It was a rainy Sunday afternoon in early April as I drove across Snoqualmie Pass toward Spokane.
An ordinary day, ending an ordinary weekend.
But Interstate 90, in the opposite direction, was almost bumper to bumper with cars, trailers, boats and RVs all returning from east of the mountains.
The Inland Northwest has been discovered … with a vengeance. Puget Sound residents have finally figured out there’s a lot less rain on this side of the Cascades. Moviegoers want to ride the Montana rapids like Meryl Streep, or go fly-casting in Idaho’s streams.
Around the region, from British Columbia to Billings, tourism experts are expecting more travelers this year, from as close as Seattle or as far away as Japan.
The Canadian provinces, especially, are expecting a boom year because the value of their currency has remained about 30 percent lower than the U.S. dollar. The result is bargain prices.
“We’re expecting a fantastic year for tourism,” says Sid Nieuwenhuis, senior analyst for Alberta Economic Development and Tourism. “From overseas markets, we have seen dramatic growth last year, and we expect that to continue, especially out of Asian Pacific countries. We expect 12 to 13 percent growth from Japan; we expect to see even stronger growth from Hong Kong, China and Taiwan.”
Victor Bjornberg, publicity coordinator for Travel Montana, says interest continues to grow in “active” vacations, not just driving to a destination. “Wagon trains and cattle drives are still going strong for both domestic and international visitors,” he says.
Washington state tourism official Carrie Wilkinson says eco-tours also are catching on. “Wildlife viewing is growing in popularity,” she says. “Environmental learning experiences. Farm tours.”
North Idaho is also expecting a busy year. “Overall, we have very high expectations,” says Rick Shaffer, general manager of the Best Western Wallace Inn and chairman of the North Idaho Travel Committee, a trade group. He says Wallace, in particular, has succeeded in attracting motor coach tours making overnight stops on their way from Seattle or Portland to Yellowstone National Park.
This annual summer travel guide from The Spokesman-Review has more ideas than ever on places to go and things to do around the Inland Northwest, from biking to ballooning.
Whether you prefer intense excitement or extreme relaxation, you’re likely to find sources for both extremes on these pages.
You can ride horses or mountain bikes. You can stay in a plush houseboat, a rugged ranch or a remote forest lookout tower. You can get away from it all in a hot-air balloon, or go back in history at a dinosaur dig.
But at popular destinations, especially, you’d better make plans now. Because, rain or shine, you’re likely to find plenty of fellow travelers around the Inland Northwest this summer.