A Small Town With a Western Flair – Winthrop, WA
Our destination in north-central Washington was the little town of Winthrop, located in the northern portion of Methow Valley along North Cascades Highway 20. It’s surrounded by incredible vistas, ranch lands and soaring mountains. Our one-week stay was at Pine Near RV Park, only a stone’s throw from downtown Winthrop. Once we got hooked up it was time for a walk there to check it out:
Winthrop is a small town that re-created itself in 1972, when State Highway 20 was nearing its completion over the North Cascades. The business owners at that time came up with the idea of a western restoration to make the town look just as it had in 1890. All of the local merchants pitched in financially, and a Mrs. Wagner paid the balance for reconstruction, painting and new signs that we saw on our visit. Their foresight was good, for it’s obvious the town’s western flair draws a lot of visitors:
Walking on the wooden boardwalks reminded me of the fictional Dodge City depicted on the Gunsmoke TV series 🙂 We didn’t think the western theme was tacky, and although busy it didn’t seem overly touristy. We visited there several times to satisfy my pastry fix at Rocking Horse Bakery, and quenched our thirst at the Old School Brewery. Nice!
We were looking forward to their much-advertised farmers market, but to our dismay there was no produce at all, just arts and crafts. Why don’t they call it an Arts and Crafts market instead? On the plus side, we got to walk a portion of the Susie Stephens Trail, beginning at the Spring Creek Suspension Bridge. It spans the Methow River in the heart of town, and we saw the confluence of the Chewuc and Methow rivers:
We thought since we had walked through the Shafer Museum as a shortcut to go downtown, we should stop by and take a look. It features a collection of pioneer nostalgia and buildings, gold mining machinery and a large collection of old farm equipment and other machines.
The centerpiece of the museum was originally the log house home of Guy Waring, the founder of Winthrop. He built the house to entice his reluctant wife Helen to return to Winthrop after leaving town three years earlier due to bankruptcy. She called the house “The Castle”, and it overlooks Winthrop and the Sawtooth Mountain Range to the west.
There were lots of old photographs and articles from the past on display for history buffs. We learned more than we had anticipated, and made a donation to patronize the museum that we were using as a shortcut into town.
During our stay, our friends Harvard and Sara from the Bay Area flew their recently-completed Lancair up to meet us. We’ve watched them build this gorgeous pressurized plane through visits and pictures for many years. This was their first long flight since its FAA certification, and we were very happy to see them and their beautiful plane for a few hours. It was Harvard who gave Steve the final push to begin flight training in 2002.
Winthrop is almost completely surrounded by National Forest and Wilderness areas, and there’s no shortage of year-round outdoor activities. Hitting the trails is always our go-to fun, and we followed the nearby Patterson Mountain and Pipestone Canyon trails.
The hike at Patterson Mountain was a vigorous one, with great views of the surrounding mountains. We didn’t take the extension up to the summit due to gathering thunderclouds, but we completed the 2.6-mile loop and ended up getting rained on as we hustled back to the car. It was a good moderate hike that provided great views of the nearby lake and surrounding area.
Our hike at Pipestone Canyon was almost a fail. We were looking forward to seeing the rock formation that the trail was named after, but the unmaintained path had us walking through deep weeds and the directions we had got us lost. Since there was a rattlesnake advisory there, we were more comfortable walking mostly along a gravel road.
We were happily surprised when we arrived at Beaver Creek Park at the other end, where we had lunch in a forested camping area next to a stream. It ended up being an enjoyable 7.5-mile trek with a 1,000′ elevation gain. Maybe we’ll have a chance to find the Pipestone formation another time!