The pears have arrived. They join the apples, half of which still hang from their branches, poised for plucking.
Fruit stand after fruit stand is filled with dozens of varieties, as well as local honey, melons, and squash. It's just two hours from Seattle to the heart of Washington's harvest ― the largest slice of fresh fruit in the state ― yet it's a world apart.
Begin in Leavenworth
Transformed from hard-luck logging town to ersatz Bavarian village, Washington's favorite little vacation spot has unparalleled riverfront B&Bs and memorable eateries. Stroll through town, then hit the fruit trail; grab a free copy of the Ag Tourism Driving Map en route at the visitor center (940 U.S. 2; 509/548-5807).
Leavenworth is about 130 miles east of Seattle. Take I-90 east to exit 85, and follow signs for U.S. 97/Wenatchee 45 miles to U.S. 2, then go 4 miles west to Leavenworth. Our Leavenworth-Wenatchee-Chelan loop takes about 2 1/2 hours. With stops, though, allow a day from Leavenworth or a leisurely weekend from Seattle.
Pull over for pears
Rows of pear trees flank the Wenatchee River almost as soon as you head east from Leavenworth on U.S. 2, and fruit stands follow. Pop into Prey's Fruit Barn (11007 U.S. 2, Peshastin; 509/548-5771), a classic grower-seller with top-quality produce. Soon, orchards shift to apples. In Cashmere, Armenian immigrants turned the apple and apricot harvest into chewy-sweet Aplets & Cotlets. Stop at the Liberty Orchards factory (117 Mission Ave., Cashmere; 800/888-5696) for a free tour.
Poke around or pike
The whole Wenatchee River Valley is netted with backroads connecting farms, orchards, packinghouses, and wineries. Explore on your own or with Washington Apple Country (866/459-9614). A four-hour hayride orchard tour with lunch at a cider mill, for example, is $49. Reserve ahead.
Head up the Columbia
In 1908, Mike Horan put Wenatchee on the map by taking a railcar of rosy-red apples to the National Apple Show in Spokane. A century later, the apple market is strong and still expanding for larger growers, but smaller orchardists must depend on innovation to prosper. Some offer rare varieties or fresh ciders; others are strictly organic. Many crank up the fruit-stand fun with petting zoos and hayrides.
Taste fruit from a family farm
At Feil Pioneer Orchards (5 miles north of Wenatchee on U.S. 97; 509/884-7570), you'll find three generations of Feils selling 150 kinds of apples, plus 100 more kinds of cherries, peaches, pears, and plums.
"In the early days, when apples were hand-packed," explains granddaughter Kim Langston, "the Winter Banana apple was king. It tasted great but bruised easily, so when machine-packing came along, growers replaced it with thicker-skinned apples. But we still have the best of the old ones ― Winter Banana, Spitzenberg, and Arkansas Black ― and the new. Everything is handpicked and hand-packed. That's why people keep coming back."
Near the mouth of fjordlike Lake Chelan, Guy and Juliana Evans have survived by diversifying their 94 acres, which have been in the family since 1924. Buy their organic produce at Sunshine Farm Market (37 U.S. 97 ALT, Chelan; 509/682-1350), or go next door to the Tunnel Hill Winery (Fri-Sun and by appointment; $3 tasting fee; 509/682-3243) to taste their estate-grown Pinot Noir and Riesling. Up the lake, the barnlike Blueberry Hills restaurant ( $$; closed Mon-Tue starting Oct 15; 1315 Washington St., Manson; 509/687-2379) grows its own berries and apples.
Save room for dessert
- From Chelan, follow U.S. 97 ALT, which hugs the west side of the Columbia and rejoins U.S. 97 at Wenatchee. As you cruise back through Cashmere, stop at Anjou Bakery (3898 Old Monitor Rd.; 509/782-4360) for its signature baked-pear pastry and the best collection of artisan breads east of Seattle.
Where to stay
- Run of the River Inn and Refuge: A luxe Leavenworth B&B with birding, biking, and views. Book the Ravenwood Lodge if possible. INFO: From $220; 800/288-6491.
- Campbell's Resort on Lake Chelan: The rambling inn is a good jumping-off point for orchard tours. INFO: From $125; 800/553-8225.
Where to eat