Follow the course of the mighty Columbia River from Vancouver  eastward and you’ll experience a parade of photogenic panoramas. From the sheer basalt cliffs diving into the river’s depths along the Columbia Gorge  to the windswept wheat hillocks of Walla Walla  to the shady apple orchards of Yakima  and Wenatchee , the region is the stuff of postcards.
It’s not just a feast for the eyes, either: This is Washington wine country. Resting at the same latitude as the famed French wine chateaus of Bordeaux and Burgundy, central Washington’s distinct landscapes are bound together in the pursuit of perfecting reds and whites.
Over the last decade, the state has seen an explosion in wineries—from slightly over 100 in 1997 to more than 500 now. Most of those new growers and winemakers have set up shop in central Washington, home of seven of the eight official wine appellations in Washington.
A day’s drive can put you in position to walk the rows at scenic vineyards and chat up winemakers in their cozy tasting rooms. Wine country vagabonds will also find artisan cheeses, freshly picked fruits, and other culinary delights dished up in the hidden countryside cafés and bistros that have sprung up from the region’s viticultural boom. And you needn’t worry about the scale after your gastronomic excess: The region offers plenty of outdoor activities that will make a four-course meal and a bottle of wine seem well justified by day’s end.
Cyclists can spin on serpentine bands of blacktop winding through the country past historic train depots and scenically dilapidated barns. Hikers and equestrians can scramble through rugged multiuse trails in ponderosa stands, desert wildflowers, and sylvan canyons. And water-sports lovers will be in heaven—temperatures soar on the dry eastern side of the Cascades, making the prospect of a good drenching more than appealing. Experience the wind-whipped excitement of kitesurfing or sailboarding the Columbia River. Or enjoy a lazy afternoon tubing or fly-fishing its tributaries.
So slip on your driving gloves and prepare to hit the road. Even the most remote outposts along the Gorge and the rest of central Washington’s country roads are well worth the trip.