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Recognizing a need to protect this pristine wilderness from overzealous logging and mining companies, Congress declared a huge swath of Washington wilderness, a National Forest. Officially established in 1908, Wenatchee National Forest saw very little development over the subsequent decades. Considered a low priority, Wenatchee National Forest, for example, received only $250 for developing roads in 1914, which is roughly $6,500 in today’s dollars (as of 2020). In the 70s and 80s, however, the potential for recreational opportunities grew, and a larger budget was allocated to develop that. Wenatchee National Forest was combined with Okanogan National Forest in 2007 to minimize administrative oversight, and today its official name is Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.
The closest large town to Wenatchee National Forest depends on which access point one is using. Sprawling across the eastern flanks of the Cascade Mountain Range, there are a few different entrances. One of the larger towns near the park is Leavenworth, which is a fun Bavarian-themed town. In addition to delicious confectioneries and chocolatiers lining the main street, there is a small hospital with an emergency room. Leavenworth is roughly 20 miles south of the southeastern entrance.
With over 1.7 million acres of Wenatchee National Forest explore, there’s plenty of room for solitude and quiet. There are well over 1,300 miles of established trails, many of which are multi-use, shared with mountain bikers and horseback riders. The trails meander and weave, forking into low valleys divided by babbling creeks, and others ascending to mountaintops. The highest peak in Wenatchee National Forest is about 9,000 feet, which is attainable for most hikers. Though the summits are lower than their counterparts in the Cascades, the views are no less impressive. Hikers are rewarded with panoramic views of other mountains to the west, north, and south, and high desert region to the east. Some trails also enter deep, thick forests. It’s estimated that around 320,000 acres of forests are old-growth trees that are older than the founding year of the United States.
Rock climbing is a popular activity for many. On a warm summer day, it’s not uncommon to spot a climber scaling a seemingly impossible sheer wall of rock. Climbing routes range in difficulty from 5.6 (very easy) to 5.14 (very difficult). Note that some crags are closed to climbing in between May and late July to ensure that the raptor nests are undisturbed. Check with the park rangers to learn which ones are open for climbing.
Considering that there are 1.7 million acres of wilderness, it should come as no surprise that there is a wide array of wildlife. Bring a camera. Nature lovers and photographers will have the best luck at dawn and sunset, which is generally when animals are most active. In addition to deer, moose, and elk, rabbits, raccoons, and other small game are common. Black bears roam the woods, but because they are shy, they can be difficult to spot. Wolves are rarely seen but often heard singing to the moon.
This region is notorious for getting several inches of snow in winter. As soon as snowflakes fall, the fun resumes. Most of the trails are open to a variety of winter activities like snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. Note that most are not groomed. Sledding and tubing are popular in hilly meadows and open spaces. Along the flat valleys, skijoring - which is a hybrid of cross-country skiing and dogsledding - is popular.
Avoid the long drive at the crack of dawn by renting an RV and RV camping at Wenatchee National Forest. One needs to simply step out of the front door of their temporary home to be immersed in nature. Wenatchee National Forest has around 100 campgrounds, and though several are developed, most are primitive, lacking any hookups.
Eightmile Campground is a popular site, and reservations are recommended. It’s able to accommodate trailers and RVs up to 50 feet. There are 41 sites. However, there are no hookups, and only potable water is available. The restrooms have vault toilets.
Alternatively, consider RV camping at Nason Creek Campground. Although there are no hookups, the bathrooms have electric outlets that can be used to recharge devices in a pinch. The bathrooms also have flush toilets, which is a rarity in Wenatchee National Forest. Though the campground is larger, able to accommodate up to 70 RVs, reservations are recommended during the peak season.
Hop into a rental motorhome and explore the charming mountain towns that are scattered across the eastern flanks of the Cascade range. Many are historic, playing a pivotal role in settling Washington in the mid-1800s. Cashmere operates the Cashmere Museum and Pioneer Village at which visitors can learn about the town’s history. The museum houses tens of thousands of Native American artifacts, pioneer-era tools and clothes, geological specimens, photographs, and other memorabilia.
The Stutzman Ranch, just outside Wenatchee, is one of the oldest ranches that has been continuously operated and owned by the same family for four generations. Established in 1907, the ranch now functions as a “you-pick” enterprise. Visitors can pick their own apples, cherries, peaches, pears, and nectarine (seasonally available), and there is also an on-site farm store selling fresh produce, jams, and other baked goods.
Though the western part of Washington is better known as wine country, the valley floor to the east of Wenatchee National Forest is equally suited for grapevines, and there are several thriving wineries in the area. Traveling from winery to winery is a snap in an RV rental. The Chateau Faire le Pont Winery is a state-of-art wine producer that has seized several awards for its wines. Visitors can not only taste wines but also learn about how to make the wines and get some hands-on experience.