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Eastern Washington travels

Cross the mountain to see the 'other' Washington

Steptoe Butte features breathtaking views of the Palouse below. Photo credit: Leah Jones

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The road trip to eastern Washington is easily one of the most scenic and beautiful trips from Joint Base Lewis-McChord.  Most people don't automatically think of Spokane and The Palouse region as vacation destinations, but the ever-changing scenery of mountains, forests, deserts and rolling hills, gives this area a distinct beauty that makes it a worthwhile trip for any traveler. The Columbia Plateau, created by lava flows that were cut by glacial floods, covers eastern parts of Washington and Oregon and into Idaho, giving this region unique and beautiful landscapes any direction you turn. Here are a few highlights.

Umtanum Canyon

Our first stop was in Ellensburg at a spot called Umtanum Canyon.  We exited I-90 and traveled south, following the Yakima River through beautiful desert hills. The strange grassless landscape was mesmerizing and left us feeling like we were on another planet.  We arrived at the trailhead, paid $5 to park, and crossed a big bouncy suspension bridge with the river flowing swiftly beneath.  Honestly, I thought the suspension bridge was pretty scary, but my fearless 4-year-old loved it.  This detour added about 30 minutes to our trip, but it was a great pit stop to stretch our legs on our way to Spokane.  For those with more time to spend, there is a longer hike of about a 6.5 miles.

Umtanum Creek Recreation Area, Ellensburg,


Located four-and-a-half hours from JBLM, this beautiful eastern Washington city is known for its iconic Riverfront Park. The focal point of downtown, this gorgeous park features a large clock tower, a carousel, a giant Radio Flyer wagon that kids can climb on (and slide down), duck ponds and more. Manito Park was another favorite. This is a 90-acre public park that includes miles of beautiful trails. My kids loved the shaded playground, and I loved the small, tranquil Japanese garden.  In addition to the parks, we also loved all the shops, dining selection, and small-town charm of Spokane. We spent several nights here, and we had a blast exploring the parks and unique stores.

Riverfront Park, 507 N. Howard St., Spokane,; Manito Park, 1702 S. Grand Blvd., Spokane,

Coeur d'Alene

Since we were so close to the border of Idaho while in Spokane, we decide to drive a little way further into the neighboring town of Coeur d'Alene, which is only about 30 minutes away. Not having heard of it, I didn't really know what to expect, but it turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip. The town is reminiscent of a beach community, although Lake Coeur d'Alene is the only water. The streets were lined with flowers and had simple and artfully placed sculptures scattered throughout. Surrounded by mountains, forested hills, and miles of recreational trails, this is a great place for outdoor fun, but it also keeps you within steps of restaurants and stores.  We decided that if we go back to eastern Washington, we will make this a larger part of our trip so we can enjoy the lake and find out more about what the town has to offer.

Lake Coeur d'Alene, 710 East Mullan Ave., Coeur d'Alene, Idaho,

McEuen Park in beautiful Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Photo credit: Leah Jones

The Palouse Region

The Palouse is a large region in southeastern Washington and north central Idaho. This is a major agricultural area that primarily produces wheat, but you will occasionally see acres of other crops. The land is dotted with old farms, rolling hills, and beautiful country scenery.  

Our first stop in the Palouse was Steptoe Butte. Driving up the giant hill to the lookout at the top was definitely the most nerve-wracking part of our entire trip. This 3,612-foot tall quartzite butte offers amazing panoramic views of the nearby farmlands. Spiraling up (and up) a steep hill and seeing the tiny landscape below was breathtaking and extremely scary all at once. I don't think I would want to do the drive that often, but the one-of-a kind views were definitely worth it.

Our second stop in Palouse was at Palouse Falls State Park. This is the official waterfall of Washington state; it is 198 feet wide and surrounded by gorgeous canyons. Listed as one of the most beautiful destinations in Washington, this waterfall is stunning and a must-see. The downside is the long drive; however, the scenery and beauty of the falls are definitely worth the trip.

Steptoe Butte, Whitman, Washington, open 6 a.m. to dusk, requires Discover Pass,; Palouse Falls State Park, Palouse Falls Rd., Lacrosse, Washington, 6:30 a.m. to dusk 888.226.7688,

Palouse Falls: the official waterfall of Washington State. Photo credit: Leah Jones

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