More than just apples, Wenatchee is also the Center of the Universe for Outdoor Recreation
By Carolyn Price
Photo at right: Skip Johnson and Kim George of the Wenatchee Row and Paddle Club paddle through Wenatchee’s Horan Natural Area on the Columbia River. Photo by Carolyn Price
Kealani Paton, 18, earned a running scholarship at Lewis Clark State College in Idaho this fall, while her brother Cole, 15, placed fifth in last year’s National Cross Country Mountain Bike Championships.
Scott and Nalini Paton’s kids are no doubt gifted athletes but grew up in Wenatchee, an outdoor recreational paradise. Toss in the fact that the kids were exposed to outdoor activities at their parent’s store, Arlberg Sports, the biggest sporting goods store in Wenatchee, and you know these kids were destined to be serious competitors.
Outside the back door of Arlberg’s, for example, is the 10-mile Apple Capital Recreational Loop Trail. Down the road where the family lives in Cashmere lie some of the most epic downhill mountain biking trails in the state.
“We love everything about this area; that’s why we live here,” said Scott Paton, whose parents hawked their old Mercedes to start Arlberg’s in 1958. “We can go skiing at Mission Ridge in the morning and get in some mountain biking in the afternoon.”
On a weekend trip with my brother and Outdoors NW co-publisher Greg Price, Paton’s words inspired us enough to go check out Wenatchee’s outdoor scene for ourselves.
Apple Capital Recreational Loop Trail
You can’t go to Wenatchee without doing some part of this 10-mile loop that skirts around the east and west sides of the Columbia River. The distance looked doable and so Greg and I rented a couple of cruisers from Arlberg’s rental shop and started off on this paved, scenic trail.
The west side of the loop is more family-friendly and connected by a series of three riverfront parks: Wenatchee Riverfront Park, Walla Walla Point Park and the Wenatchee Confluence State Park as well as the Horan Natural Area. The parks offer plentiful rest areas, swimming, boat launches, sports fields and lots of open space for picnics and playing on huge grassy areas.
Crossing over Highway 2/US 97 bridge, the trail continues to East Wenatchee. Unlike the wide, level trail on the west side, this trail traverses paved ravines with curvy hills and offered up scenery of the Sage Hills in the distance that any Old West movie producer would covet.
The Horan Natural Area
That afternoon, we met up with Skip Johnson and his friends from the Wenatchee Row and Paddle Club at Confluence State Park for our kayak tour through the Horan Natural Area, a 100-acre man-made wetlands.
Historically, the area was established as a trading post in 1886, but over the years has served as an alfalfa farm, vineyard and pear orchard. The Natural Area has been in its present wetlands state since 1990.
High water from spring run-off made for some interesting paddling among the currents on our tour, but we were able to find some quiet spots and relaxed to the melodic calls from a variety of song birds nesting in the surrounding cottonwoods. Soon we floated out of the estuary and enjoyed a quick ride down-river to the paddle club’s boat house, a renovated log barn built in the 1930s.
If you want to enjoy the wetlands sans watercraft, hikers can also enjoy the Horan Natural Area along a two-mile loop gravel path, highlighted by 15 viewing stations.
Stand Up Paddling
I returned to Wenatchee last summer with my family for a few days. I had heard that the lagoon at Walla Walla Point Park was a great place to learn stand up paddling and with my 10-year-old in tow, we rented a few boards from Osprey Rafting Company who had a small rental stand nearby.
The lagoon is a safe place to learn with a sandy beach, shallow water and no current. Yet, if you’re brave enough and want to take it to the next level, there’s a little inlet that merges with the Columbia. Just watch that current—especially with the spring run-off.
Pybus Public Market
Perhaps some of the biggest news to come out of Wenatchee in some time is the opening of the new Pybus Public Market, scheduled to open in time for the Apple Blossom Festival April 25–May 5.
Local visionaries and the Port of Chelan are creating the state’s second-largest indoor public market (behind Seattle’s Pike Place Market).
The 26,000-square-foot building will house a year-round Wenatchee Valley farmers market as well as restaurants, wine and food vendors and local craftsmen. Cyclists riding the Loop Trail can rack their bikes at the Market and enjoy the amenities, including a fully renovated 31-foot, 1973 Airstream trailer where they can walk up and order coffee and espresso.
Watch for the five-foot tall red neon letters on top of the building that will beckon visitors from both sides of the Columbia River.
The center of what?
After visiting Wenatchee four times in the last year enjoying the eastern Washington sunshine, small-town atmosphere and outdoor activities, I am pretty sure this place is going to become the next Center of the Universe for outdoor recreation—something that the Paton family has known for decades.
More Wenatchee Activities
Sage Hills Trails: Entrance at the end of 5th Avenue. Enjoy 30 miles of single track. All levels. Ideal for hikers and trail runners as well.
Devil’s Gulch: 14 miles of epic downhill on logging roads behind Mission Ridge. Don’t forget to plan your return shuttle.
(Thanks to Scott Paton for these suggestions. Arlberg Sports has maps of all areas. Paton suggests that you ask if one of their staff may even be riding that day.)
The Wenatchee Valley has numerous hikes. Don’t leave home without picking up a copy of Day Hiking, Central Cascades by Craig Romano, published by the Mountaineers Books.
Ice Age Flood Tours
The Wenatchee Valley has a diverse geological history thanks to the Ice Age Floods 13,000 to 18,000 years ago. It’s pretty interesting stuff and you can find out more with the self-guided drivable Ice Age Floods Geological Trail map with 40 sight-seeing stops along the route. Pick up a free map at the Wenatchee Valley Visitors Bureau, 5 So. Wenatchee Ave. or call (509) 663-3723.
Running: Apple Blossom Run, May 4: 1-mile kids run, 10k run, 5k walk, www.appleblossom.org
Plus, check out www.runwenatchee.com for a comprehensive list or runs and trail runs.
Biking: Tour de Bloom, May 4-5: Omnium race featuring a time trial, criterium and road race. wenatcheevalleyvelo.org
Apple Century Bike Ride, June 1: 25-, 50-, 100-mile routes, www.applebikeride.com
Eat and Sleep:
Lemolo Café and Deli: featuring local produce, made-to-order sandwiches and microbrews, 114 N. Wenatchee Ave. (509) 664-6576
Marriott Springhill Suites: one of Wenatchee’s newest hotels, complimentary breakfast, pool, fitness room, www.wenatcheespringhill.com
Apple Blossom Festival: www.appleblossom.org
25 N.Wenatchee Ave.
Osprey Rafting Company: www.ospreyrafting.com
Pybus Public Market: www.pybusmarket.org
Wenatchee Outdoors: www.justgetout.net/wenatchee
Wenatchee Row & Paddle Club: www.wenatcheepaddle.org
Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce: www.wenatchee.org
Wenatchee Valley Visitors Bureau: www.wenatcheevalley.org
Carolyn Price is the publisher of Outdoors NW and hopes to be on hand when the champagne bottle is uncorked for opening day at Pybus Public Market.