September 08, 2023

Fall in Love with Walla Walla

userBy Gwen Dildine user0 Comment

Wine, Wheat, Onions & Outdoor Recreation

Outdoor recreation is not confined to a season. Does a hike on a snow-dusted trail sound refreshing? Would an evening ride chasing shadows and racing the sunset illustrate the cycle of the seasons? Is it too late for a water adventure? Is it too early to think about snow days?

Fall in love with the Walla Walla Valley. You might like our part of the world for obvious reasons—wine, wheat, and onions, but we have more to offer.

Bennington Lake in Walla Walla, Washington
Bennington Lake (Photo Credit: Gwen Dildine)

Bennington Lake is a wonderful place to view the change of season. With unobstructed views of the Blue Mountains and adjacent to farmland, it is a sampling of what our valley has to offer. Bring your bike or walk a few laps around the lake. It isn’t too late to kayak or paddleboard around lake either.

Many Ways to Explore the Land of Many Waters

If pumpkins, leaf piles, sweater weather, and blooming dahlias aren’t enough to solidify fall as the best season, then let’s sweeten the apple cider and take it up a notch. Check out Outside Walla Walla’s Top 10 Fall-Favorite Outdoor Adventures list:

1 | Grouse Mountain Trail
Often big views are reached at the end of a trail. Not this hike. The trailhead boasts one of my favorite vistas of the North Fork Umatilla Wilderness Area. Fall is a great time to take advantage of cooler temperatures along a mostly exposed trail.

2 | Whitman College Campus Sculpture Walking Tour
Explore campus in a unique and engaging way, searching for a broad collection of outdoor sculptures creates a scavenger-hunt like experience.

3 | Lyons Ferry State Park
Greg at Adventure Fit claims that paddleboarding is a four-season sport. This is a great place to prove him right.

4 | Eastside (Road Routes)
We love to collaborate. The passionate and knowledgeable folks at Allegro Cyclery built a plethora of Ride with GPS routes for your cycling enjoyment. Head toward the mountains. The snow is likely starting to dust the peaks.

5 | Big Trees of Walla Walla
This time of year, Walla Walla is surrounded by bald, rolling hills that have worked hard over the summer. In contrast, Walla Walla has grown some really big trees over the last hundred plus years. That means a lot of leaves are changing color.

6 | Middle Point Ridge Trail
It is never too early or too late to get in shape for snow adventures. This trail can help build a solid cardio foundation for adventures to come. Climbing out of the forest and side-hilling up the mountain provides crisp, clear views of autumn in the Blues.

7 | North Fork Walla Walla Trail
Many forest service gates close November 1 in our area. Catch this trail up Tiger Canyon early in the season. The drive will not disappoint.

8 | Bennington Lake
Walla Walla’s outdoor recreation centerpiece, Bennington Lake, checks so many boxes. It also earns bonus points for providing year-round opportunities to play outside. Extra credit goes to those who explore the airport district where Quirk Brewing, the Walla Walla Roastery, and many others brew and pour all sorts of deliciousness.

9 | Buck Mountain Trail
Perhaps the smallest trailhead parking area in the forest, good things come in little packages. The Lake Creek Trailhead provides access to multiple trails. It is hard to pick a favorite, so this is my opportunity to cheat the top 10 list and add two more, Lake Creek Trail and Umatilla Rim Trail.

10 | Allegro Cyclery (Gravel Roads)
In case you missed the Walla Walla Grit, mark your calendar for next year. To wet the pallet with something other than wine, here are a few routes that showcase the foothills.

Try each adventure! There is a little bit of everything on this list—hiking, mountain biking, cycling, paddleboarding, and even a few surprises. The dust-filled skies of harvest are a mainstay of August, but it is time for fresh air. Soak up the fleeting daylight, and go outside Walla Walla!

Lyons Ferry State Park, Washington State
Lyons Ferry State Park (Photo Credit: Gwen Dildine)

As Greg at Adventure Fit always says, there are 365 days to paddleboard. We opted for a quiet week night to escape to Lyons Ferry State Park. Quite a contrast to the mountains. Here, the Palouse River meets the Snake River.

Walla Walla Valley, Where Calories Are Five Star

A lot of calories are burned recreating down our fall favorite list. Guess what else we do really well in our neck of the wheatfields? Some very special people make a lot of incredibly scrumptious food. I wish I could create a scratch and sniff blog, but stroll downtown and find a majority of our local favorites—Bacon & Eggs, Maple Counter, Ak’s Mercado, TMACS, Brasserie Four, Graze, Sweet Basil Pizzeria, and plenty more to recharge your outdoor recreation batteries.

Nothing jump starts an adventure like caffeine and sugar, and the Colville Street Patisserie can meet both needs in a dizzying display of artistic decadence. Carte Coffee serves up a masterful cup of joe and plenty of local hospitality.

Not far from downtown, every outdoor enthusiast can appreciate a coffee shop that is connected to a bike shop, or should we say barn? Bicycle Barn and Livit Coffee Co. offer a dream scenario, a place to grab some gear, tune up the bike, meet up for a ride, and gather for avocado toast and a cappuccino to swap stories.

In Walla Walla, the sixth food group is The Market by Andy’s smoothie. As Outside Walla Walla’s inaugural partner, we thank them for their support of the site as well as their dedication to smoothie perfection. Nothing says fall quite like a chai smoothie (hint, hint—secret menu).

Of course, this is a big valley, Waitsburg’s food scene is even bigger. At American 35, eat pizza and sip on a cocktail, and since you’re there, learn to swing dance or play bingo. Ten Ton Coffee has a cool vibe, hot coffee, and homemade treats. This vibrant southeast Washington town is full of interesting places to explore and wonderful people to meet.

These suggestions don’t come close to featuring all our local culinary creators. Good reason to come back for seconds!

Grouse Mountain Trail, Umatilla National Forest
Zig Zag Springs Trailhead | Trailhead for Grouse Mountain Trail (Photo Credit: Steve Dildine)

The outdoors are a perhaps the best place to connect with family. There is no Wi-Fi, and isn’t that great? Our son started hiking at mere months old, or should I say sleeping while I packed him around. Now, he is a far superior mountain biker, and I just try to keep up and prove I’m a cool mom!

Pitch or Ditch the Tent

For a special place in the Blues to connect with family and friends, check out Weston Mountain Lodge. Owned by two of the nicest people on the planet, they have poured their heart into creating a magical place to connect with each other and nature. Located just down the hill from Tollgate, the Weston Mountain Lodge is basecamp for many wonderful hikes, a Nordic ski area, Jubilee Lake, and more.

Since our valley is known for wine, there are plenty of hotels. Typically, there are a few busy weekends around spring and fall release, but the off season or during the work week provide convenient lodging opportunities. Of course, if showers and mattresses sound overrated, check out our camping section. Outside of the Lewis & Clark Trail State Park, in-town camping options are scarce.

Buck Mountain Trail, Umatilla National Forest
Buck Mountain Trail (Photo Credit: Gwen Dildine)

Many outdoor adventures start at the crack of dawn. Work and chores can sometimes delay that departure. That isn’t always a bad thing. An evening watching the sunset on the Buck Mountain Trail is a great way to end the day.

Commit to Winter

So now that you are in love, let’s make a commitment. Come back this winter! Did the Horseshoe Prairie Nordic Ski Area pique your interest? The Blue Mountain Land Trust’s Blues Crew is making big things happen—groomed trails, new trails, updated mapping, and even the installation of a warming shelter.

Ski Bluewood also continues to update their facilities, providing many ways to enjoy downhill. Thanks to mother nature, the Blues benefit from fluffy, dry snow and many sunny ski-filled days. That sun also yields bonus days on the bike in the valley. You can wear spandex all year here.

So let me pop the question, are you ready to go Outside Walla Walla?