Autumn Along the River: Your Guide to a Wenatchee Family Vacation

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Looks like the rainy season is here to stay, parents. If your fam is itching to get into the sunshine without having to travel too far, head east to Wenatchee. Just over the Cascades, this small town along the mighty Columbia has lots to offer families. From a newly remodeled, surprise-hit museum to secret beaches and farm fun parks, here’s how to make the most of a weekend in Wenatchee with the kids.

Activities Abound

Explore Rocky Reach Discovery Center

After an $8 million renovation, the Rocky Reach Discovery Center, just outside town, is open to the public once again. Be sure to put a trip to this free museum on your can’t-miss list—it’s a surprise hit! Driving through the heavily guarded gates may feel like you’re entering a top secret military base, but the Discovery Center is as family-friendly as it gets. All three floors offer something for the kids. They can watch salmon at the ladders on the lowest level, learn how the dam provides electricity to the valley on the mid-level and see how the valley’s need for electricity has evolved through the decades up top. There’s also an area that focuses on the relationship between the Columbia River and Wenatchee’s Indigenous peoples. Psst..your kids may park themselves in the playroom to fish, complete puzzles or play with magnets for quite a while. Don't say we didn't warn you.

Good to know: The Discovery Center is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, from 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Public tours of the dam are available.

Play at Rocky Reach Park

After a visit to the museum, have lunch and play at Rocky Reach Park. The nature-themed playground has something for everyone. From tube slides and rope climbing cubes to a small climber and circular swing that lets everyone play, your kids will not want to leave. Our suggestion? Pack a picnic and enjoy the afternoon at this hidden gem.

Good to know: Rocky Reach Park closes for the season on Oct. 31, 2021.

5000 State Hwy. 97A
Wenatchee, WA 98801
Online: chelanpud.org/learning-center/rocky-reach-discovery-center

Stroll the Apple Loop Trail

The apple of Wenatchee’s eye is the Apple Loop Trail. Its flat, paved surface and views of the Columbia River make it the ideal spot to walk, bike or scooter with the kids. And while we’re sure there’s no bad season to be on the trail, fall is an exceptionally beautiful time to complete any portion of the 10-mile loop. Kids can frolic in the leaves and hunt for acorns on the ground, and the bronze sculpture art spread out along the trail is equally engaging.

Find Secret Beaches

Along the north end of the trail, by Walla Walla Point Park, you’ll find a secret sandy beach that’s usually pretty deserted. Bring your beach toys and a blanket, or even your sunshade, and plan to play here for a bit. It’s a great spot to watch seaplanes land or build sandcastles when the sun is out.

Good to know: E-bikes along the trail are all the rage. You can rent them at Arlberg Sports Riverfront shop, but get there early—they don’t take reservations.

Insider tip: If you’re looking for a challenge, try hiking Saddle Rock, a two-mile trail just outside of town that serves up the best view around, after a short (but steep) hike. This one is best hiked with big kids or those in backpacks.

Shop Pybus Public Market

Located in an old steel factory, Pybus Public Market is a mini version of Seattle’s Pike Place. It’s got just as much charm as its big city counterpart, without the crowds. In early fall, families can stroll the Wenatchee Valley Farmers Market in the Pybus parking lot on Saturdays, from 8 a.m.-1 p.m. in search of fresh produce, street tacos and all sorts of locally made crafts. Although the market comes to a close at the end of October, you can still catch live music on the indoor stage through November on Friday nights. Inside the market look for small specialty shops and kitschy, artsy shops featuring local artists, too. It’s also the ultimate place to find outdoor dining (with lots of heat lamps) in Wenatchee… but more on that later.

3 N. Worthen St.
Wenatchee, WA
Online: pybuspublicmarket.org

Pick a Pumpkin at Annie’s Fun Farm

In the spirit of all things fall, a trip to the pumpkin patch is in order if you visit Wenatchee in autumn. Annie’s Fun Farm is where local families go to jump on a giant pumpkin, find their way out of a corn maze, sling apples, take a hayride and play in the gigantic dragon bouncy house. Eight dollars will get you in, and you can stay all day, bouncing from one play spot to the next with your pumpkin-hunting crew. They have snacks and drinks available for purchase if your tots need to recharge.

Good to know: Masks aren’t required here, so keep that in mind when making your plans. All of the activities are outside and there’s lots of space.

Mary Ave. & 2130 Grant Rd.
East Wenatchee, WA
Online: facebook.com/annies.funfarm

Pro tip: Indoor activities abound in Wenatchee too. Consider taking the kids rock climbing when you visit. A day pass to the Riverfront Rock Gym gives everyone in the fam a chance to reach new heights. Or try a painting class at Class with a Glass (best for kids ages 7 and up). Drop the kids off or paint alongside your budding artists.

Where to Eat in Town

McGlinn’s Public House
When it comes to eats, let’s just say Wenatchee’s got choices. But the hands-down, place to be on a weekend eve is McGlinn’s Public House. While the ambiance will get you in the door, it’s the fresh, locally sourced meals that will keep you coming back. Casual or upscale, they’ve got you covered, and the kids’ menu is a win too. Go-to’s like mac-n-cheese, spaghetti and burgers, are easy choices to make and the homemade play dough they bring to keep wiggle worms busy after you order doesn’t hurt either.

Pybus Public Market
Lunch or dinner, you can’t go wrong with the restaurants at Pybus Public Market. And when it comes to heated outdoor seating, this is one spot in town that offers plenty. Fill up on tasty tacos and other Latin-inspired dishes at South, or order up an inventive wood-fired pizza that’ll feed the fam at Fire. Top off your meal with a scoop of creamy gelato at Ice as long as everyone cleans their plates!

Wild Huckleberry
If you don’t mind a (usually short) wait, put a trip to the Wild Huckleberry on your menu before heading out of town. The food is everything you’d expect from a restaurant that calls an old house home. Decadent (trust us, the giant cinnamon roll is to share only), oversized and unmistakably homemade, the dishes here are all the comfort you need on a cool fall day. Bring something for the kids to do while you wait, and then sit back and enjoy. Psst…Huck @ Pybus is the same amazing place, sans the charming hillside house.

Orchard Bar + Bites
The newest kid on the block is Orchard Bar + Bites, the restaurant at the just-opened Residence Inn by Marriott. It’s a casual spot, and we’re big fans of the outdoor patio seating with individual table-side heat lamps that make dinning riverside a cinch. The chef is vegan so finding healthy, veg-friendly fare is easy, and although they’re still working on their kids’ menu offerings, there are many kid-approved inventive, but simple options to choose from.

Where to Stay

A Brand New Hotel

The new Residence Inn by Marriott opened in late September, and is a welcome spot for families who want to stay along the Columbia River. There are two room styles to choose from: one-bedroom studio suites or one bedroom, two room suites. Both styles have a living space (the couch is a sleeper sofa—score!), so there’s plenty of space to spread out. And the kitchens come with everything you need to cook meals in the room—including a dishwasher—plus, a Keurig for your morning coffee. TVs in the living space and the bedroom (if you stay in a two room suite) mean parents and kids can settle in for a weekend movie in their own space, and the pet-friendly policy is just another perk. Be prepared to see lots of friendly pooches around the property.

Breakfast is included with your stay, and the continental here has got it all. Scrambles, sausages, waffles, cereals, oatmeal and yogurt—everyone in your crew will surely find something to fill them up for a full day of activity. The toppings bar will delight your Littles (hint: they even have Nutella!) and let them jazz up their breakfast selections, no matter what they choose. 

Good to know: Got an e-vehicle? You can recharge it in the parking lot and wake up to a full battery, ready to roll.

Amazing Amenities

When it comes to amenities, we’ll get to the good part—yes, there is a pool! It’s indoors and heated, so you can swim all year round. The hot tub, just outside, is mostly kid-friendly (ages 6 and up only, please)—a just-right spot to warm up on a cool fall night under the stars. As for other activities, the Apple Loop Trail is right out your backdoor. Hop on the path and head toward Pybus, it’s about a mile away, or play at the Walla Walla Point Park playground that’s right next to the hotel.

Insider tip: Just across the street is the Town Toyota Center where families can catch a Wentachee Wild game or go ice skating during a weekend public skate session.

Residence Inn by Marriott
1229 Walla Walla Ave.
Wenatchee, WA
509-470-3091
Online: marriott.com/hotels/travel/eatri-residence-inn-wenatchee

—photos and story by Allison Sutcliffe

Editor’s note: This trip was arranged by Parsons + Co and paid for by the Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce, but all opinions expressed here belong to the writer.

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