I pack a car full of friends and leave the Seattle skyline behind on a mid-May weekend with the forecast calling for bright sunshine and blue skies. A two-hour drive east brings us to Leavenworth, Washington, a small mountain town of 2,000 in the Cascades.
Prime summer season is just beginning on the local Wenatchee River. The weather is already beautiful, thanks to the rain shadow of the Cascades. We blow up our raft and put in at the junction of Icicle Creek and the Wenatchee River in the town center, then lose our sunscreen in the rollercoaster Class III rapids of the Chumstick Canyon. We wear farmer john wetsuits, but later in the season all you need is a bikini or trunks. By afternoon, our shoulders are toasting as we watch whitewater kayakers riding the swell at Rodeo Hole. Rodeo Hole sits about a two-hour float from the put-in, and what is now a mellow swell will reach five or six feet deep by June. On mellower sections of river, novices learn to ride stand-up paddleboards. We cruise and tally up the wildlife: three eagles, one bear, six jumping fish, and one teenage couple necking on a rock.
We pull out of the river a couple of miles down the Wenatchee River where we’d left a car on Route 2 that morning. The road mirrors the Wenatchee’s course, offering endless options for where to start and end. We drive to Castle Rock to log a few pitches of climbing. When our tendons are shaking, we call it a day and head into the Bavarian-themed town to sample raspberry, cranberry, and blackberry wines. We end the day at the local sausage stand, Muchen Haus. The storefront isn’t much to look at, but it hides the biggest beer garden in town. —Charlotte Austin