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Gas-wise Getaways

Northwest 'stay-cation" ideas that aren't so radical

By CARY ORDWAY

Okay, let',s face it – five-dollar gas may not be that far down the road and that can translate into more expensive vacations and getaways. Some hotels are even promoting “Stay-cations” or, in other words, vacationing in your own home town this year.

Maybe a less radical approach is to simply draw a circle around your particular region and take a look at the getaways that are much closer, but not the same scenery and attractions you can experience almost anytime. After all, vacations and getaways are supposed to be special, right?

So don',t panic. The options are considerable and we',ve found a few special semi-stay-cation getaways for residents of Seattle, Portland and Vancouver, B.C. These getaways are all less than 90 minutes away from your home.

Seattle residents

In the old days, prominent Seattle families such as the C.D. Stimsons used to escape the Big City, traveling over hill and dale to what felt to them like the far reaches of the Northwest wilderness. Today, Seattle families and visitors hop on the 405 Freeway and reach the same destination – Woodinville – in a matter of minutes.

Woodinville was a true getaway experience for the sultans of Seattle commerce, and so it is today – although for slightly different reasons. Back in the day, it was duck hunting and wilderness that drew the bigwigs – today it's wineries, a micro-brewery and a luxurious resort that seems to embody the Northwest spirit.

The resort is the Willows Lodge – not a hunting lodge like the Stimsons once built on nearby property, but rather a lodge of luxury that has all the refinements anyone of stature could possibly want. No duck hunting here – the fowl in these parts comes already baked or roasted and, like everything else at the resort's famous Barking Frog restaurant, prepared to perfection. Our dinner and breakfast there were occasions to long remember.

The resort itself is a tribute, in some ways, to the huge forest of cedar trees that once covered the entire Woodinville area. The Willows Lodge now incorporates Douglas Fir timbers into the structure of the lodge. The warm, rustic feeling makes this resort feel as Northwest as anyplace you'll ever visit – as far away from other regional cultures as you can get. Adding to the ambience is the giant stone fireplace in the lobby.

About 40 wineries are in the immediate vicinity including Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery just across the street. This winery is another world of exploration for anyone curious about the fine art of wine-making.

Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery is Washington's oldest winery and really was the genesis for a thriving state wine industry that has spread to several geographic regions. Also, just a five-minute walk from the Willows Lodge is the Redhook Brewery, a fun diversion for beer-lovers and those interested in how beer is made. Redhook has become a national favorite among microbrews and the tour and tasting room do not disappoint.

For more information on the Willows Lodge, please visit www.willowslodge.com. or phone 877-424-3930. To learn more about Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery, please visit www.ste-michelle.com.or phone 800-267-6793.

Portland residents

Those who visit Long Beach Peninsula, located in Washington State, will find a number of amazing sights to enjoy. First, enjoy a range of unique attractions here, including a number of wildlife experiences. Spend the day on the sand as this is one of the most soothing areas to explore the natural terrain of the western coast of the country. A number of cultural events take place each year, all open to any visitor wishing to come. With so much to see and do, Long Beach Peninsula is the perfect stop for a family, a couple or an entire group.

Perhaps the most unique experience that will hit you as soon as you visit Long Beach Peninsula is the expanse of unspoiled beauty. The Peninsula is located in such a way that it has the Pacific Ocean on one side, pristine Willapa Bay is on the other and the Columbia River is at the bottom of the peninsula. Each section offers its own unique experience whether it be fishing, boating or simply watching for the migrating birds that come in each year for refuge here. The entire region offers unspoiled charm with expansive beaches and a skyline that is impeccable. Watching the sunset here is truly inspirational. In fact, many call this region a seaside resort for the soul because of the beautiful natural surroundings.

Many exciting area attractions are available throughout Long Beach Peninsula. Make one of your first stops one of the two lighthouses found here. What is interesting is to learn the story behind the Long Beach Peninsula's name of "The Graveyard of the Pacific." The area just off the shore is filled with terrain that is less than beneficial to sea travel and has caused many horrific sea accidents in the early years of shipping in this area.

One of the lighthouses that helped to protect those ships was Cape Disappointment Lighthouse. This lighthouse protected visitors coming in from the Columbia River from the southern regions. Another lighthouse, North Head Lighthouse, helped protect those coming from the north. You can visit these two historic landmarks and experience their rich history.

You will find many other attractions here, too, in Cape Disappointment State Park, which is now one of the sites which comprise the new Lewis & Clark National & State Historic Park.

For more information on the Long Beach Peninsula, visit www.funbeach.com.

Vancouver, B.C. residents

There are tons of attractions in B.C., but we',re going to recommend one that is just a short ways south of the Washington state border. The Mt. Baker region is a spectacular place, offering relaxing getaways that are just as remote as remote can get.

In fact, the entire county of Whatcom is sky-high on anyone's beautiful scenery list. As a jumping off point for the world-class vacation destination known as the San Juan Islands, Whatcom County's western side is replete with gorgeous views of water, islands and sunsets that match any you've seen on the Travel Channel. And Bellingham itself is a fascinating city of historic buildings and interesting neighborhoods that is worth a daytrip all by itself.

But go east from Bellingham and you venture into snow-topped mountains so dramatic they have been used in movies and on TV shows to depict the Colorado Rockies and other famous mountain areas. During winter, the snow's so deep up here that the Mt. Baker ski area always seems to get the first snow and the deepest snowpack. This area is for mountain-lovers, not for folks who settle for the hills that pass for mountains in places like Vermont or other eastern states.

Our quick getaway into the Mt. Baker area began with a turn-off from Interstate 5 in Bellingham at Highway 542 – the Mt. Baker Highway. After a few blocks of businesses and homes, this country road began to live up to his billing as one of Washington's most scenic drives. The two-lane road meanders through meadows and valleys, over hills and around curves through old-growth timber that grows more towering with each passing mile. The Mt. Baker Highway is about 57 miles to its end, although we planned to spend the night near Maple Falls, less than half that distance from Bellingham.

We stopped in Maple Falls to pick up our keys to the cabin we had reserved for the night. Our cabin was just another four miles or so from Maple Falls' tiny downtown, so it was quick to get to, and easy to return to town for groceries or dinner at one of a few local restaurants. The cabin was all by itself, no neighbors, hiking trails nearby and ideal for our quiet weekend in the woods.

The word cozy was invented for this place. It was relatively small, simple construction but with plenty of charm. The chalet-style building had a bathroom, a small kitchen and dining area, and a comfortable couch and easy chair for watching the 20-something inch TV or for curling up by the fireplace. Upstairs were three small bedrooms with low A-frame style ceilings but still plenty of room to move around.

The trees in these woods were thick and mossy green, almost like a rain forest. In between them snaked a trail that, just in case you missed it, had a sign designating the pathway as a "TRAIL." Who could resist following it to its end to see what was in store even deeper in the woods?

Once we brought in our suitcases and a few groceries we were headed down the trail to find what we would find. In just a few minutes we came to Silver Lake, a tranquil pond that, on a warmer day, might have been perfect for a swim. Thick woods and marshes lined most of the lakeshore.

It was so gorgeous and close to the cabin that it was the perfect hike for anyone just looking for great scenery and a dense natural landscape.

For information on cabin rentals at Mt. Baker, please go to www.mtbakerlodging.com or phone 800-709-7669.

Photos, from top: Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery in Woodinville; Spectacular view in Long Beach; cabin near Mt. Baker

Photos: Cary Ordway; Long Beach photos courtesy www.funbeach.com

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.

Here is a list of Attractions in Port Townsend based on user reviews from across the web



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