Central Washington's Unexplored Destinations
While many tourists will recognize Washington destinations like Ellensburg, Cle Elum, and Roslyn, there are more options nearby that offer just as much small-town charm, hold fascinating histories, and feature an abundance of attractions and outdoor adventures. Conveniently located within a less than 60-mile stretch of I-90, these Central Washington towns are all worth a stop on your road trip itinerary.
Established in 1883, the small, agricultural town of Kittitas is the historical gem of Kittitas County. Founded as part of the westward expansion of the railroad, you can still visit the original depot, which is the only significant structure still intact at the Kittitas Yard. It is an excellent example of turn-of-the-century railroad architecture, and as such was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992.
For a unique stay in downtown Kittitas, book a suite at Brew House Boarding, located in one of the town’s oldest surviving buildings. Embrace local history in the Western-themed suite or travel back to the early 1950s with a stay in the Nostalgic Suite. Both rentals include a private entrance and private bath, and the building is just one block from the Iron Horse Trail, eight miles to Ellensburg, and nine miles to the Yakima River.
One of the biggest draws to the area, however, is located just a short drive from downtown Kittitas. Olmstead Place Historical State Park is a working pioneer farm offering a look at one of the first homesteads in the Kittitas Valley. Many of the original buildings still stand, including a log cabin built in 1875 by the Olmstead family. In addition, there is a dairy barn, granary, wagon shed, hay barn, and the Olmstead family home. The park consists of 217 acres of farmland and encompasses activities such as hiking, fishing, interpretive trails, wildlife viewing, and a living farm museum. During the winter there is also cross-country skiing and snowshoeing on the site. Bring the kids and history lovers in your family for a prescheduled tour or just come on your own to explore the 221-acre park!
Easton, the first town east of Snoqualmie Pass, offers ample recreation opportunities during each season. It was platted in 1902 and given its name by the Northern Pacific Railway due to its location near the east end of the Stampede Tunnel through the Cascade Range. In the summer, visitors flock to Lake Easton State Park to boat, fish, kayak, paddleboard, and swim. A playground is a short sprint from the beach, so the kids will run back and forth all day. With dozens of trails nearby, this is also a popular destination for hikers and bikers. The Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail runs along the southern edge of the park and into town, making for a wonderful bike ride with scenic views overlooking the lake. Be sure to ride through the Snoqualmie Pass Train Tunnel, a 2.3-mile tunnel built between 1908 and 1911 for the railroad. In the winter, snowmobilers, cross-country skiers, snowshoers, and sledders play in the picturesque forests located throughout the area. So, go jump in the lake, or don your skis for a glide through a wintry forest in Easton during your next Central Washington getaway.
Thorp is well-known among travelers frequently driving through Washington for the Thorp Fruit and Antique Mall, which is visible from I-90. Here you will find fresh produce, specialty foods, wine, antiques, and more year-round. Thorp Fruit began as a small stand in 1944 and has transformed into the roadside attraction travelers visit today. Whether you’re visiting the area or just passing through, be sure to stop here along the way to peruse the large collection of quality antiques and grab some tasty snacks for the road.
Thorp is also home to one of Kittitas County’s oldest landmarks, the historic grist mill, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and offers a unique perspective on the history of Thorp and the surrounding area. Between 1883 and 1946, the mill was an essential place for milling, social interaction, and a window to the future for Kittitas County residents. Preserving this treasured past, the Thorp Mill has been lovingly restored and maintained so visitors can catch a glimpse of history dating back to the early days of settlement in Washington State. Visit the interpretive center to uncover information about the mill, pioneering families, local history, and photographs that are on display.
Nestled in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, the 17-acre site of Liberty was once a lively gold mining town. Several hundred people came and went with hopes of striking it rich, although only 200 people were thought to live here permanently at the time. Today, the quaint township is known as the oldest mining town site in Washington State. Explore the somewhat deserted area to get a sense of life from the late 1870s when Liberty’s mining camps spring up. There are five historically recognized buildings and many other interesting sites along the road, including a community information kiosk with old photos of gold strikes, as well as the old fire hall with an exhibit of historic photos of life in Liberty and information about local hard-rock mining. During your next visit to the area, take advantage of Liberty’s ample opportunity to learn about local history while exploring the vast beauty that Central Washington has to offer.
During your visit to Central Washington, take advantage of the amazing natural wonders that are available in and around the area of Vantage! Gingko Petrified Forest State Park is a highlight for visitors of all ages, featuring fascinating displays on the geological history of the area as well as information on ancient local Native American culture. The center includes Wanapum tribe petroglyphs, petrified wood, and an up-close look at an ancient fossil bed. Take a walk on the Ginkgo State Park Interpretive Trails during your visit for a look at petrified wood in its natural state. A can’t-miss, this is one of the most unique fossil forests in the world, with artifacts dating back thirteen to seventeen million years!
Vantage is also a popular destination for its proximity to the Columbia River. Visitors may recognize the Vantage Bridge, which carries them across the scenic river on their journey through Washington via I-90. This section of the river is named Wanapum Lake, and is a major destination for boating, water skiing, and other water activities. The boat launch is conveniently located just off the interstate, offering well-kept amenities and new views of the iconic bridge.
Ready to explore all of Central Washington’s unique communities? Plan a weekend getaway that takes you across Kittitas County, from Snoqualmie Pass to Kittitas, to truly experience the outdoor adventures, culinary experiences, shopping opportunities, and more that our diverse area has to offer.