Traveling east? Check first, as vacation areas hit hard by fires
Tourist areas around the Methow Valley, Leavenworth and Chelan face wildfire complications such as haze, road closures or power outages — and visitors’ concerns.
Seattle Times NWTraveler editor
Northwest travel guides
Wildfires east of Washington’s Cascades are undermining tourism and outdoor recreation in some areas on what should be a peak summer weekend.
That adds economic woes and uncertainty to communities such as fire-devastated Pateros, where dozens of homes have burned, and the nearby tourism-dependent Methow Valley in Okanogan County, which remained without electricity on Friday. The tourist town of Leavenworth in Chelan County is hazy from smoke, with the state’s air-monitoring service labeling it as unhealthy Friday (fortress.wa.gov/ecy/enviwa/).
Drivers: If you’re considering driving over the Cascades, be sure to check road conditions as some major highways in Central Washington are closed. Be aware that it’s a dynamic situation, with conditions changing quickly. (Get road-closure information at wsdot.wa.gov, click on traffic alerts.)
Campers: Do your homework on your intended campground. Mick Mueller, acting public-affairs officer for the Okanagan-Wenatchee National Forest, advised Friday that campers need to make sure there is more than one road that leads to their campsite in case the fire “comes over a ridge and cuts you off.”
Virginia Painter, a spokeswoman for Washington State Parks, said “even just the smoke is enough for some people to not want to stay.” She recommended Friday that would-be campers check with the managers of the campground they plan to visit. And state parks’ Twitter feed has updates on campground closures: @WAStatePks.
Day hikers, backpackers: Check with ranger stations before you go. The Washington Trails Association has posted information on wildfire-trail impacts at wta.org/.
impact of fires by location
Methow Valley: Normally bustling with tourists this time of year, the Methow’s road access from the east is closed because of fire, and most of the valley is without electricity because of transmission-line fire damage on Thursday. However, the Methow can be reached from the west by the North Cascades Highway (Highway 20) — the standard summer route from Western Washington.
Organizers of this weekend’s Winthrop Rhythm and Blues Festival were planning to hold the music festival, which draws thousands, since they have generators for power.
The Sun Mountain Lodge, like most of the Methow Valley, had no power as of Friday afternoon but does have a generator and was open. Northeast of Winthrop, Pearrygin Lake State Park’s popular campground has been closed.
Near Pateros: Alta Lake State Campground has been evacuated and is closed at least until July 31.
Near Lake Chelan: Access to some lands northeast of the lake in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest has been closed as a precaution. Some vehicle-accessible campgrounds also have closed.
However, the Lakeshore Trail along Lake Chelan remains open. In the national forest’s Entiat district, all trails are closed because of wildfires.
Chelan: In the town, a popular destination, skies were mostly clear as of Friday with visitors boating and swimming in the lake. The town’s tourism website is posting fire information at lakechelan.com (scroll down that page). Also check conditions on the Campbell Resort website atcampbellsresort.com/webcam.
Mike Steele, executive director of Lake Chelan Chamber of Commerce, said callers were being assured that “their plans can remain unchanged. ... The Lake Chelan valley is fine.”
Chelan also is helping place people who’ve been evacuated from neighboring towns because of the wildfires.
“We’ve had a lot of trouble finding available rooms, which would indicate that 1) we’ve got the evacuees placed well or 2) that plans are continuing as scheduled,” Steele said.
Leavenworth: Smoke is obscuring nearby mountains and drifting through town, but visitors are strolling the sidewalks of the Bavarian-themed destination.
“The town’s full. It hasn’t dissuaded people entirely,” said Nancy Smith, executive director of the Leavenworth Chamber of Commerce, on Friday afternoon. “We are getting continual calls from folks saying, ‘How is air quality, are things closed?’ We give it to them minute by minute.”
Yet getting to Leavenworth from the west is complicated by a fire-related closure of Highway 2 in Tumwater Canyon, from Cole’s Corner to Leavenworth as of Friday afternoon. Travelers from west of the mountains can get to Leavenworth via Interstate 90 and Highway 97, Blewett Pass.
Hiking trails in the popular Enchantments area near Leavenworth were open (but may be smoky).
A webcam shows conditions in town: leavenworth.org/news-weather#webcams.
Lake Wenatchee State Park: The popular park near Leavenworth, which includes a 197-site campground, was accessible Friday morning but has been offering refunds to those with reservations who want them, according to a park alert.
Park trails are closed and a fire ban is in force — no open flames of any kind are allowed. Smoking is banned in the park.
Seattle Times reporter Katharine Schwab contributed to this report.