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Unique getaways

Trip ideas to make your NW travel extra-special

By CARY ORDWAY

Okay, you only get to do a getaway every once in a blue moon, and waiting for your time away from work is like waiting for Santa when you were a little kid. You’re climbing the walls, anxious to get on the road – but where to? You don’t really want to just go stay in a rundown motel for the sake of getting away. No, you want something special.

And special is exactly what you get with this unique set of Northwest getaways – a chance to experience something out of the box, something suitable for a good long set of talking points around the office water cooler.

Stay in a treehouse

If you're like most people, you either had a treehouse when you were a kid, had a friend who had a treehouse or knew someone in the neighborhood who had a treehouse where the kids would go to get completely away from everything and be in your own little world. It was just part of growing up.

Well there is no reason you have to give up on that just because you happen to be, say, 40 years older. You can still go to a treehouse to get away from everything but, in this case, your treehouse will be just a bit more comfortable. If you do a getaway at Treehouse Point just a few miles east of Seattle you'll be treated to a comfy bed, lots of picture windows looking out into the forest and a certain charm that just can't be duplicated anyplace else.

It was all Pete Nelson's idea. He's the one who can't let go of the past and decided one day that he just wanted to become known as the treehouse guy. He's built treehouses since he was a little boy and, guess what; he's gotten a lot better at it over the years. He's so good, in fact, that people come from all over the world to Fall City to watch and learn how he builds treehouses. His treehouse building school has made him internationally famous among those people who are fascinated by living up in a tree.

Visit Treehouse Point and you can get an up-close look at several of Pete's creations. If you enjoy being under a thick forest canopy surrounded by dozens of tall trees with a meandering stream and little hansel-and-gretel trails all over the place, then you'll like Treehouse Point.

There are a half-dozen or so options for your stay and they vary a lot in space, layout and amenities. There are houses built way up in trees, others closer to the ground. Some are set off by themselves, while others are more clustered. Every room design seems a little different, but all of them interesting and unique.

We stayed in the Trillium, a treehouse that is very tall and narrow with a sleeping loft many, many feet above the sitting room. Windows are everywhere so be sure and turn out the lights before you crawl into bed. Not ready to retire yet? Enjoy a quiet few hours of reading in the sitting area. Chairs and lights make it easy to stretch out and page through a good book. There's no TV, but somehow that just wouldn't seem right anyway.

So what's it like sleeping in a treehouse? Well even if you did try that when you were a kid, this is likely to be quite a bit more comfortable. The beds are truly the same quality as the five-star hotels we've visited. Normally, we would guess, the forest is pretty quiet; and dark; but this night we had some wind and rustling trees so, interestingly, the house swayed just a little bit. And it creaked. Not enough to keep anyone awake, but enough that it was noticeable.

For more information on Treehouse Point, phone (425) 441-8087 or go to www.treehousepoint.com.

A BIG lodge

There are family getaways – and then there are family getaways. The first kind is where you pack up the kids, dogs and belongings and scrunch them into an RV or a couple of motel rooms and then kind of accept the fact there will be no privacy, quiet or downtime for the entire duration of your trip.

The second is the kind that includes privacy, quiet, downtime and general peace of mind because in this version of your family getaway you are going to book a vacation house -- and one that is big enough that everybody has their own little piece of real estate. Even when you consider all the variety of vacation homes out there for rent, this one is unique.

It’s in Leavenworth, the Bavarian Village just on the eastern edge of the Cascade Mountains where mountain scenery truly resembles what you find in the Alps. Leavenworth Town Fathers have milked this for the last 50 years or so with the Bavarian-themed storefronts and German-style beer and celebrations. The town just keeps getting more and more popular.

Tucked away from the downtown and a mile or so up Icicle Creek Road is a rental called Snowgrass Lodge, one of several offered by Destination Leavenworth but certainly in a class all by itself. We wanted to sample a larger property and put it to the kid test by inviting seven grandchildren to come along and try it out. Unfortunately, that pesky Cascades weather – and very snowy passes -- limited our party to just our own immediate family of three, and my in-laws.

But no matter -- it was not hard imagining how well this particular lodging would suit a large family. In fact, we can't think of a property better suited for a large family group that is interested in a high-quality getaway in one of the best recreation spots in the entire Pacific Northwest. There are a couple of comparisons that come to mind when trying to describe Snowgrass Lodge. First, the house is so incredibly well built, updated and furnished that the first sensation is you're walking into one of those homes on the Street of Dreams. You know, the ones you can never quite seem to afford. The rich woods, the cathedral ceilings, the massive stone fireplace, the gourmet kitchen all let you know right away that this will be an upgrade from the RV park, baby.

The other sense you get is that you are now operating your own bed-and-breakfast inn – except that all the guests are your family.

For more information on Snowgrass Lodge, please phone 866-904-7368 or visit www.destinationleavenworth.com.

Wheels up to Victoria – wait, there are no wheels

Here is that short trip to "wow" your Significant Other and prove that the spark isstill there. One of the most unique getaways we can think of combines two distinctly Northwest experiences: a visit to Victoria, British Columbia and a ride to Victoria on one of Kenmore Air's float planes.

The city of Victoria is one of the most interesting in the Northwest – and one of the easiest to see because hotels, shopping and attractions are all clustered around the Inner Harbour. You can get to Victoria by car ferry, by passenger ferry, by high-speed catamaran, by commercial air to Victoria's international airport and – our absolute favorite – by Kenmore Air float plane.

We parked our car at Kenmore's Lake Union terminal and checked into their small lobby area about a half hour early. Traveling by float plane does require one little inconvenience – you have to tell them how much you weigh. With just a few passengers in each plane, the airline needs to be careful not to load too much weight, whether people or luggage. But that's the only painful part of this trip, and the rest of your adventure will likely have you raving to friends about your unforgettable experience.

Kenmore Air has been flying float planes from its Seattle-area base since 1946 and today has 20 planes that carry between six and 10 passengers each. It's not uncommon to see a Kenmore plane in a movie filmed in Seattle, or on a football game telecast from the region. It's a Northwest company with a Northwest flavor – an icon every bit as familiar as Ivar's or the Space Needle. This wasn't our first trip on Kenmore and, in fact, we've enjoyed many trips to more remote locations such as Big Bay or other island fishing areas along the British Columbia coast. Flying with Kenmore is always a special treat.

The trip to Victoria took just a little over a half-hour as the plane climbed out of Lake Union and flew just a couple thousand feet above the city and Puget Sound, traveling a scenic route that gives passengers a birds-eye view of many popular islands and tourist destinations scattered through the sound. It's fascinating to see how many houses are built in secluded spots only visible from the air. It's fun to look down on the Victoria Clipper or other boat traffic plying the waters in this gorgeous part of Washington State.

The last few minutes are spent crossing the 20-mile-wide Strait of Juan de Fuca – the closest thing Puget Sound has to open sea, and the pathway for major shipping leaving Seattle for Asia and other ports of call around the world. Soon we were swooping down toward the Inner Harbour where our pilot skillfully found an open stretch of water for a quick and smooth landing. After a short taxi to the dock, we had arrived smack in the middle of the city's vibrant tourist center where we quickly observed postcard views of the Empress Hotel, Parliament, double-decker buses, flower displays and charming historic buildings that all combine to give Victoria the feel of a far-off visit to Great Britain.

The hotels are all close to the Inner Harbour so often you can just walk to your hotel, pulling your bags behind you. If you're doing a quick up-and-back as we did, you'll likely arrive in Victoria mid-day and leave for Seattle mid-day the next day. That 24-hour period in Victoria will give you a good taste of the many tourist attractions the city has to offer.

For more information on a float plane visit to Victoria B.C., contact Kenmore Air at 425-486-1257 or visit www.kenmoreair.com. For information on Victoria attractions, phone 800-663-3883 or visit www.tourismvictoria.com.

Photos, from top: Trillium treehouse at Treehouse Point; kitchen in Snowgrass Lodge; float plane arrival in Victoria's Inner Harbour

Photos by CARY 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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