Wags for Winthrop

Almost completely surrounded by wilderness, Winthrop and the Methow Valley beckons to adventurers of all kinds...canines included.
Written by Brandie Ahlgren | Photos by Julie Clegg
It’s a scenic drive along Highway 20, winding through the majestic peaks of the north Cascade Mountains on our way to the historic town of Winthrop, Washington, located in the heart of the Methow Valley. With over 1,000 square miles of mountain peaks, valleys, glaciers, and wilderness, the Methow Valley is a Mecca for outdoor enthusiasts and dog lovers alike.

With year-round activities, the valley draws visitors looking for adventure from river rafting, hiking, rock climbing and mountain biking in the summer, to cross country skiing and snow-shoeing in the winter. And, no matter the time of year, dogs are of course always welcome in Winthrop.

Settled in the late 1800s, Winthrop keeps its frontier past alive with its Old West theme—wooden boardwalks, old time storefronts and small town charm—all of which is back-dropped by mountain peaks, expansive farmland, horse ranches, rolling hills and a river running through it.

Our destination in Winthrop is family-owned Spring Creek Ranch, located at the confluence of the Methow and Chewuch Rivers. The ranch was homesteaded in the late 1800s and sits on 60 acres of open meadow with riverfront and trail access. Upon our arrival, proprietor Sarah Berns and her daughters Maeve and Ayla are there to greet us and give us a tour of the property. It’s been a long, four-hour drive, so all of us, especially Scout and Ziggy, are ready to stretch our legs.

We start with a stroll across an expansive field separating the main house from Spring Creek Cabin, where we are staying. A short distance from the main house is Spring Creek. The salmon are spawning and we spot several attempting to make their way back up the stream to spawn. A little further down the trail we end at the lovely Methow River, complete with a sitting area and hammock situated along the river’s edge.

Back up at the cabin, and after Scout and Ziggy have had a good run, we unload our gear and check out where we’ll be sleeping for the night. Spring Creek Cabin is roomy, with a fully stocked kitchen, bathroom, living area, gas fireplace, TV and DVD player plus a bedroom downstairs and another bedroom in the loft area. It’s super cozy with a big front porch and Adirondack chairs to relax and take in the scenery. Do not be surprised if a deer or two stroll by, munching their way through the grassy meadow.

We take only a moment at the cabin since we have much exploring to do. Our first order of business is to swing by the Winthrop Visitor Center, located at the four-way intersection as you enter town, to pick up maps and information about the area. A great resource is the Methow Valley Sport Trails Association, whose goal is to “establish the finest and most interesting year-round trail recreation area in the United States.” We are pleasantly surprised to discover dogs are welcome on 90% of MVSTA trails, all National Forest trails and designated Wilderness Areas in the Methow Valley, adding up to miles and miles of trails for dogged exploration. The only place dogs are not permitted is in the North Cascades National Park. The MVSTA website (mvsta.com) is home to a wealth of information including a page dedicated to dog friendly ski trails.

Of the countless trails, we opt for Falls Creek, where a beautiful waterfall awaits. It’s a 15-minute drive from Winthrop to get there, with a short, ¼ mile hike to a beautiful waterfall—there is also a campground nearby. For more extended hikes, locals recommend Big Valley, located right off of Highway 20. It features a flat, wooded trail along the river allowing for lots of opportunities to enjoy a swim.

The Community Trail from the nearby town of Mazama offers a pleasant hike or bike ride. Be sure to stop at the Mazama Country Store for yummy baked goods. The store has a dog run in the gorgeous outdoor seating area. For the more ambitious, Goat Peak Lookout at 7,000 feet elevation is a great 2.5 mile hike to an old fire lookout, staffed today by “Lightning Bill.” Bill has two dogs and legend has it, he has the most amazing dog stories you will ever hear. All of these trails can be found on the MVSTA map, so don’t forget to grab one at the visitor’s center before heading out with your four-legged hiking partner.

Following our visit to Falls Creek, we heed the call to stop by Sheri’s Sweet Shoppe for a treat. As we walk though the doors, we spot shop owner Doug Mohre stirring a copper pot full of what will soon be caramel for a tray of Granny Smith apples sitting nearby. He points us to the expansive deck, with tables and a fresh water station for the dogs, a pee wee golf course, and best of all, an ice cream stand. I order up a scoop of raspberry cheesecake and a scoop of pralines and cream, Scout and Ziggy’s favorites. More treats include Milk Bones dipped in doggy-safe white chocolate for the pooches and a plethora of sweets for the peeps.

After our ice cream we meander over to a nearby park situated at the edge of the Methow River to cool off and watch as paddle boarders and rafters float by. The park is located next to The Barn, a community center for meetings, dances and events.

Starving, we head back into town to the Old Schoolhouse Brewery for a burger and a beer. There is a huge, riverside deck area and if you are lucky enough to grab a table near the outside perimeter, your dogs can be with you as long as they stay on the outside of the railing. Perusing the menu, the “No Cheese Left Behind Nachos” sound tempting, but I opt for Casey’s Classic Burger topped with grilled onions and mushrooms, Swiss cheese, and a special Casey’s Beer Sauce. and Julie orders the Wrangler Burger with apple-smoked bacon, grilled onions, cheddar cheese, and BBQ sauce. Delicious. More dining options include Arrowleaf Bistro and East 20 Pizza. Arrowleaf Bistro, named for the native wildflower that grows in the region, blends regional favorites and locally produced products with the tenets of classic bistro cooking including organic, pasture-raised beef and chicken sourced from local ranches. For pizza lovers, East 20 Pizza is almost worth the entire four-hour drive to Winthrop for a little slice of heaven.

After a peaceful night’s sleep back at the cabin, it’s up and at ‘em for another full day of exploring. The Methow Valley offers so many things to see, do, eat and drink that I recommend at least four days to squeeze it all in. Our first stop is Rocking Horse Bakery for coffee and a pastry. Rocking Horse Bakery offers freshly baked handcrafted goodies, including artisan breads and bagels, decadent pastries, mouthwatering scones and muffins, and specialty cakes, pies and cookies. Gourmet soups, sandwiches, salads and pizza are made from scratch daily and feature many local ingredients. Be sure to try their 100% organic, fair trade coffee and espresso roasted locally in Winthrop by Backcountry Coffee Roasters.

While in Winthrop, be sure to check out the Schafer Historical Museum for a glimpse into the region’s past. This popular Old West museum features a collection of pioneer nostalgia and historic buildings including “The Castle,” built in 1897 by Winthrop founder Guy Waring as a log home for he and his wife.

Summer Fun
If visiting Winthrop during the summer, Pearrygin Lake State Park is a popular destination for cooling off, whether its swimming, jet skiing, kayaking, canoeing or fishing for rainbow trout. The park features a boat launch, dock, parking for RVs as well as tent sites, and a roped-off swimming area.

July to October is also prime mountain biking season in the Methow Valley, with a range of options for experts, beginners and everyone in between. Locals recommend Sun Mountain for beginners and experts alike, Buck Mountain for a bit more technical ride, and for riders looking for a challenge, Angels Staircase climbs to 8,200 feet for an all-day pedal over mountain passes.

If you enjoy wine, Lost River Winery, a boutique family-owned winery, located at 26 Hwy 10 near Winthrop, produces wines like Cedarosa, Community Red, Nebbiolo, Pinot Gris and Massif that have received notable awards. The winery’s tasting room is open on Friday, Saturdays and Mondays year round from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and well-socialized dogs are welcome. There is also a dog hitch and water bowls outside.

We are in the Valley on a weekday so unfortunately we miss the Saturday Farmers Market in Twisp and the Sunday Farmers Market in Winthrop—however, we highly recommend them. The Twisp Farmers Market is considered one of the best in the state, offering everything from veggies and greens in the spring to pumpkins and potatoes in the fall—all for the past 30 years. Items have to be handmade and sold by the person who makes them, locally-grown and sold by the person who grows them, or items with added value such as jam made from fruit purchased by another grower. The market also features live music and kids’ activities such as the famous zucchini races.

Also during summer months, the Methow Valley is home to a number of festivals including the Winthrop Wine Festival, Methow Arts Festival, Winthrop Rhythm & Blues Festival and the North Cascades Oldtime Fiddlers Contest.

Winter Wonderland
Although there is an incredible amount to see and do during the dog days of summer, we must not forget winter in Winthrop. The Methow Valley is a maze of backcountry trails for Nordic skiing and snowshoeing. In fact, strap on your skis or snowshoes, grab the dog and head out right from Spring Creek Cabin to find groomed trails literally at your front door. The Methow Valley Sport Trails Association also recommends these dog friendly trails: Lunachick Trail, a 1.6 kilometer trail accessed at the Edelweiss camping area parking lot (multi-use for walking, snowshoeing and skiing and no trail pass is needed), Big Valley Trail, with four and eight kilometer loops (multi-use and no trail pass is needed), and the Rendezvous System with 46.9 kilometers of trails (ski only, a trail pass is needed, and access the dog trail from Cub Creek).

It’s no wonder the first words we overhear on arrival in Winthrop are, “I can’t believe how dog friendly this place is…it’s fabulous!” We could not agree more.

Getting There
From Seattle, take I-5 North to Burlington then Hwy 20 East to Winthrop.

Take your time and stop at one or all of the scenic viewpoints along the way. The scenery is just about the best of any highway anywhere. During the winter months (usually November to April), Hwy 20 is closed, so take I-5 North to Hwy 2/Stevens Pass through Leavenworth or I-90 East/Snoqualmie Pass to Blewett Pass. Call 800.695.ROAD or visit wsdot.wa.gov/traffic/passes for current conditions.

Gear up for Winthrop at the CityDog Shop.

More Information
Spring Creek Ranch
7 Johnson Lane
Winthrop, Wash.

Spring Creek Cabin, sleeps two to four people, rates from $150 to $220; Owl’s Nest Cabin, sleeps two people, rates from $100 to $150. Both are dog friendly with a pet fee of $20 per day.

Winthrop Visitor Center
At the corner of Hwy 20 and Riverside Ave.
888.463.8469; winthropwashington.com
Methow Valley Sport Trails Association
509.996.3287; mvsta.com

To see all of the awesome photos from our trip to Winthrop, please click here.
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