Best Getaways
These are a few of our favorite (Northwest) things
By CARY ORDWAY

The Pacific Northwest probably offers more diverse getaways than any other region of the country — at least it feels that way after trying out all sorts of Northwest destinations over several years. We're invariably asked what places rank as our all — time favorites? There are dozens of favorites and so many adventures we'd like to do all over again. But here are some that we found really special:

Skitchine Lodge

Nowhere in British Columbia do you get a better taste of the Canadian wilderness than at a remote fishing lodge - an oasis of civilization deep in the backcountry of the rugged B.C. interior. Skitchine Lodge, is a case in point.

This remarkable lodge is located 50 miles from Kamloops, B.C., in the historic Bonaparte Plateau and is renowned as a fishing camp, yet comfortable enough for the entire family to enjoy. Like other wilderness lodges, Skitchine can be reached by helicopter or floatplane (by special permit), where you will be flown directly to the lodge. You can also travel by car to the park boundary where you will be met at the trailhead and driven by camp transport a short distance to the lodge through spectacular forest scenery. We chose the latter option. Rounding a bend and descending a hill just behind the lodge, the first sight of Skitchine and its several private cabins is exhilarating. The buildings are perched on a peninsula with picturesque Dagger Lake visible on three sides. Across the lake is a high butte, a scenic and fitting backdrop for this unusually placid lake. Part of the appeal of Skitchine is the accommodations. This is not a posh resort by any stretch of the imagination, yet it's a comfortable place to stay when you consider you are surrounded by some of the most beautiful wilderness around. When we came here a few years ago there was no power and, if you had to make a late night visit to the loo, you did it in the cold with a propane lantern to light your way. The lodge and cabins are now powered by solar power and a generator.

There is no doubt that Skitchine Lodge appeals mostly to avid fly fishermen, who enjoy the sport of creating flies to catch wild Kamloops trout - one to eight pounds in any of the 15 small lakes near the lodge. With an average of 14 guests or less at any one time you could end up with a lake all to yourself. The lodge also targets families and couples who find this remote location a good spot to enjoy and learn about wildlife. Meals are included in your daily rate and are hearty and satisfying. You have unlimited fishing, with fish packed for travel, and the ground transportation to and from the trailhead is included. Kamloops is about a three-hour drive north of the Canada/U.S. border station at Sumas.

For more information, you can contact the lodge by phone at 403-897-9875 or visit their website at www.skitchine.com.

Rocky Mountaineer

The folks at the Rocky Mountaineer have come a long way since we took our first trip on the railroad back in 1991. While they were the premiere Canadian rail experience even back then, they now offer several more routes including a 17-day excursion coast-to-coast.

In our opinion, the original route -- a ride between Calgary and Vancouver - is why the company has grown and prospered. If there is a more spectacular setting for a train ride anywhere in North America we haven't yet found it or heard about it. The scenic backdrop for this two-day trip is the spectacular Canadian Rockies. Prior to 1988, Canada's VIA Rail offered service along this route - connecting Vancouver, BC and Calgary, Alberta - but some of the most scenic segments were traveled in darkness. In 1988, VIA Rail began running a special Canadian Rockies by Daylight service and, after two successful seasons, the BC government offered the private sector a chance to operate it.

The winning proposal was from Great Canadian Railtour Company Ltd., which inaugurated its service in May 1990. A typical two-day trip on the Rocky Mountaineer will transport passengers about 600 miles, showing them vast remote stretches of Canadian wilderness where elk and moose play in the shadows of the jagged Rocky Mountains. The train travels at a leisurely but steady pace, stopping along the way at picturesque stations in Banff and Field and slowing down for unusually high trestles. Miles of tunnel are also included along with real-life scenery reminiscent of the fake backdrops you find at Disneyland.

Traveling past such photo opportunities as Mount Rundle and Castle Mountain - both over 9000 feet - the train skirts Lake Louise and the Mount Victoria Glacier, elevation 11,365 feet. At Stephen, the train passes the Continental Divide, and just a few miles further is the "Spiral Tunnels," a unique design that allows the train to change elevation at a low grade.

Traveling westward, the train passes Craigellachie where, in 1885 the last spike was driven to connect the ocean-to-ocean tracks of the Canadian Pacific Railway. From Kamloops, the train travels along the walls of the narrow Fraser and Thompson river canyons. The train crosses the Thompson River seven times, with the most spectacular crossing at Cisco Bridges. Passengers can view white-water rafters battling the Jaws of Death Gorge. The train continues along the Fraser River Valley into Vancouver, passing along the way such attractions as Hell's Gate, the narrowest part of the Fraser River.

For more information and to get route times, destinations, and rates, call 877-460-3200, or visit www.rockymountaineer.com.

San Juans by boat

For most of us, a "yachting holiday" to the San Juan Islands is out of the question. Donald Trump, maybe, Average Joe Working Stiff, forget it. Yachts mean money and few of us have the money to splurge on such non-essentials.

But wait a minute. We were able some time ago to take an extraordinary vacation in the San Juans — yes, on board our own "yacht" — and we're not the Trumps. Okay, we're travel writers, but we paid for this week-long adventure out of our own pockets. How could we afford it?

In our case, we shared a boat. And fortunately our YachtLease program does not require all leasing families to be on the "yacht" at the same time.

This is one example of how average wage-earners can enjoy some of the best scenery and experiences our region has to offer. Nowhere is it more beautiful than the "undeveloped" San Juan Islands, and no viewing platform gives you better perspective than your own boat.

While YachtLease is one way to go, many people simply charter for the weeks they want to use the boat. With YachtLease you pay a monthly lease for a minimum number of days to use the boat each year. With charters you pay only for the time you will use. As you might expect, though, charter rates are higher, especially if you have your eye on those prime months of July and August.

Whichever way you go, "big boating" opens the door to an exclusive club. Instead of crowded state campgrounds and parks that everyone can reach by car, your playground now will be more remote island state parks and, even better, quiet little coves and inlets where there's scarcely another boat or camper. Obviously you must feel comfortable on a boat to have a good time on a boat. And feeling comfortable begins with learning good seamanship and how to safely operate whatever size craft you are taking out. In our case, part of our YachtLease program was devoted to training. This involved boat handling as well as the basics of navigation and marine safety.

With our YachtLease we had the ability to reserve our days in advance and were quick to do so early for days in those prime summer months. With charters you may need to book many months in advance to get the late summer season.

When we entered the YachtLease program, we decided what boat we would be using on a regular basis. We immediately dismissed the idea of a sailboat — its way too much work for us — and determined that a 36-foot powerboat made the most sense for us. The cabin layout gave us two bedrooms, two heads (toilets), and a middle salon that could be converted to a bedroom. For all intents and purposes it was like a recreational vehicle.

Nothing is quite like the feeling you get heading out of the marina on a sunny day at the controls of your own motor yacht. That's what all the training and monthly lease payments are for and, in our case, full value was received.

We actually cruised our boat from Tacoma up past Everett, Camano Island, La Conner and to Anacortes. From there it was just minutes to the San Juans. A few miles away is Cypress, mostly state-owned and open for public exploration. Then across the strait to James Island, Thatcher Pass and the entire wonderland we call the San Juans.

We had reserved moorage for a couple of nights at two resorts: the Lopez Islander and Rosario. In all, we spent an entire week exploring and truly relaxing in 85-degree summer sunshine. With visits to places like Stuart Island (with its trails and picturesque cove) and Sucia Island (wildlife, trails and vistas of Mt. Baker), we became acquainted with Washington's marine state parks. Even in the busiest season of the year, these parks were far less crowded than their mainland cousins.

Leasing programs have evolved since we participated in the program and different boats are now available for lease. For more information about the "YachtLease" program, contact Elliott Bay Yachting Center at 206-285-9499 or visit their website at www.yachtlease.com.

Photos, from top: Fishing at Skitchine Lodge; Rocky Mountaineer Railroad; Lime Kiln Point in the San Juan Islands

Photos by Cary and Sandi Ordway

OTHER DESTINATIONS: If you're looking for other Northwest travel ideas, be sure to check out other Northwest Travel Advisor articles on Northwest zoos, Northwest water vacations, Port Townsend and Seattle attractions.

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