written by Corinne Whiting | photos by Don Seabrook
At the confluence of two rivers—the Wenatchee and the mighty Columbia—sits a small sun-drenched town. Nestled between rolling foothills and majestic peaks of the Cascades, the hardworking people of Wenatchee make the most of their region’s rich topography and proud past, not to mention the natural beauty in their midst. Year after year, the community combines hard work and deep faith, hoping that—once again—the harvest will provide.
As the self-proclaimed “Apple Capital of the World,” Wenatchee ships and exports more apples than anywhere in the world. Despite the fact that the town can no longer lay claim the title of world’s largest apple producer, Wenatchee is undaunted. “We are all very proud of the history and innovation it has taken for that industry to remain a worldwide leader while still a small town,” said Jerri Barkley, marketing and communications coordinator at Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce.
The region’s crops have diversified to include peaches, cherries and wine, although apple-centric signage around town pays homage to the original star. “The apple culture pervades the area in that not only is it one of our economic drivers, but it is also part of our rich history and everyday life,” said Brianna Shales of Stemilt Growers. “Kids who grow up here understand the importance of agriculture.”
U-Pick orchards, farm stands and fruit-centric shops abound, like the retail store run by Stemilt, a fifth-generation, family-run operation that’s been farming apples, pears and cherries since the early 1900s. Today Stemilt’s retail store is stocked with delectable fresh fruit plus local products, such as Blue Star Coffee from nearby Winthrop, honeys, jams and lotions.
Wenatchee’s unrivaled sweetness extends far beyond the fruit scene. Outdoors enthusiasts engage in activities from hiking and biking to kayaking, canoeing, fishing and paddle boarding. Fall is the perfect time to sip regional varietals at forty-plus area cideries, wineries and or breweries, while skiers feel the pull of 2,000-plus acres at the nearby Mission Ridge Ski Resort. Year-round Pybus Public Market—comparable to a mini-Pike Place—serves as a favorite destination for good eats and a bustling, community vibe.
In Wenatchee, a special allure marks bloom season (late April to early May) and harvest time (September and October). Every spring, the city’s most anticipated event—the Washington State Apple Blossom Festival—enlivens the town, drawing thousands of people to one of the state’s oldest festivals. The two-week extravaganza includes two parades, live entertainment, a food fair (think barbeque, crêpes, funnel cakes and, not surprisingly, caramel apples), as well as a pie eating contest and riverside carnival with rides and games for all ages.
One thing’s for certain: Regardless of when you arrive, Wenatchee can’t wait to share the fruits of its labor.