Before the cowboys came, the Methow Valley was a favorite gathering place for Native American tribes, who dug the plentiful and nutritious bulbs and hunted deer while their horses fattened on the tall native grasses. For wayward pioneers who came later, the cool, glacier-fed streams provided welcome relief on hot summer days, and the rich fields were a starting point for vast crops and orchards. The 1800s saw the burgeoning riverside settlement of Winthrop grow into a cattle-ranching town, whose residents inspired some of Owen Wister's colorful characters in his novel The Virginian. In 1972, inspired by Leavenworth's Bavarian theme, Winthrop business owners enacted a plan to restore its Old West feel, and many of the original, turn-of-the-20th-century buildings still stand.
Getting to town through the Washington countryside is a picturesque drive, with endless vistas of golden meadows, neatly sown crop fields, and rustic old barn frames. In winter the land is a crisp blanket of glittering frost; in summer little fruit-and-vegetable stands pop up along the back roads. Massive tangles of blackberry bushes produce kumquat-size fruit you can eat right off the vines, and the pungent aroma of apples pervades the breezes in autumn. Flat roads, small towns, incredible views, and plenty of camping spots make this the perfect weekend wandering territory by bike, car, or motorcycle.