If you’re not quite ready to board a flight, but you’re itching for a getaway during Memorial Day weekend – or any long weekend – there’s plenty to experience just a short and, well, not-so-short drive away.
This list is by no means exhaustive, but I’ve had the fortune to experience a number of beautiful nearby areas as a new resident of the Pacific Northwest.
Cusick is just an hour north of Spokane, and it offers a mix of nature and casino action. Kalispel Casino, which is part of the Northern Quest Resort & Casino family, is quaint for a gambling joint. The casino, owned by the Kalispel Tribe, isn’t open 24 hours a day, and there are only a couple hundred slots. There’s not even a hotel on the property, and dining options are limited to three restaurants: the Wetlands, the Slough and Birdshack Chicken.
You can’t go wrong with the Wetlands’ steak or salmon dinner, each a reasonable $20. Sate your gambling fix, enjoy nature and learn the history of the Kalispel. You can fish off the pretty Pend Oreille River. There are cool hikes, the best being a short but impactful journey along Manresa Grotto. It’s brief, steep and historic.
Hang out in the cool caves where Kalispel members worshipped a generation ago. It’s akin to stepping back in time if you can avoid glancing at the graffiti. Enjoy the shade and the view. It’s an inspiring locale.
Yes, it’s a haul at five hours, but Mount Rainier is one of the most stunning destinations not just in the state but in the country. The colors – the green of the grass, the blue of the sky, the white of the mountain – appear unreal. It’s as if they have been CGI’d into the backdrop. But believe what you see.
There are endless hikes, particularly around Crystal Mountain. Fish at Mowich Lake, the largest lake in Mount Rainier National Park. Climb barefoot along the mountain’s patches of snow. The Alpine Inn (crystalhotels.com) offers reasonable, comfortable rooms.
Missoula was well on its way to being a mecca in Montana before the pandemic. A giant, entertainment complex, the Drift, was in the works. It would have been huge for Spokane since it would have built a venue bridge to Minneapolis. Plans were scrapped, but, regardless, Missoula is on its way. The charming city offers a great deal, including six beautiful golf courses, excellent food trucks and nice restaurants.
There is even one of the coolest ghost towns in the country with Garnet. There is fishing, biking and birding. If you just want to hang out among, well, people again, there are coffee shops, breweries and a distillery. The C’mon Inn (cmoninn.com/missoula) packs a lodgelike atmosphere with a pool, and it’s centrally located.
Glacier National Park
It’s a journey at 4½ hours, but it’s Montana – and it’s worth it. Glacier National Park is stunning. Wade in the pristine but chilly lakes. There are more than 700 hiking trails. Don’t forget bear repellent since there are grizzlies. Hidden Lake is majestic. Glacier is paradise for cyclists. It’s the perfect time of year at Glacier since crowds aren’t out of control.
Shop at nearby Whitefish, which is beyond charming. The same goes for Kalispell, which is a cool town in its own right. Grouse Mountain Lodge is centrally located and offers amenities such as a pool, shuttle service and laundry facilities.
For some reason, Sandpoint seems closer than it is, but it’s 72 miles away. The downtown is so quaint with plenty of galleries and restaurants. North Idaho and Mexican cuisine do not sound like a match, but Fiesta Bonita is worth a visit. The same goes for Jalapenos. Relax on the banks of scenic Lake Pend Oreille. Nearby Schweitzer Mountain is the place to be for mountain bikers. Sandpoint is a serene change of pace.
Grand Coulee Dam
A trip to this architectural wonder should be mandatory for those in the Evergreen State. Grand Coulee Dam, which resides on the Columbia River, was constructed between 1933 and 1942. The dam, which creates hydroelectric power and provides irrigation water, is the largest power station in the country. Check out the historical photos of the dam, and take a peek at the turbine models.
Is it possible to overlook Spokane County’s highest point? Of course. It happens every day. There are more than 100 miles of hiking trails on Mount Spokane. What was once known as Mount Baldy is located northeast of Spokane. You can go huckleberry picking, hike to Vista House and enjoy the dramatic views and drop in the mercury. There are eight campsites.
Tualatin Valley, Oregon
It’s a journey, but Tualatin Valley is lovely. There are terrific wineries and restaurants, including farm-to-table eateries. There are myriad trails for hikers and bikers. There are also ziplines. It feels like California wine country, but it’s less than six hours away. The Century Hotel (thecenturyhotel.com), considering its location and spacious rooms, is a great deal.
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