When people not from the area think of the Palouse, oftentimes two things come to mind: Washington State Cougar football and golden wheat fields. And while it’s true, we do have both of those wonderful things, the Palouse is something of a hidden gem in Washington with one of the most unique landscapes in the northwest and plenty of other reasons to visit too.
The area known as The Palouse spans several counties, and the central hub is Whitman County, where towns like Pullman, Colfax, Palouse and Uniontown are located.
While Whitman County is one of the smallest in the state in terms of population — less than 50,000 residents county-wide — it’s an agricultural powerhouse not only for Washington, but the nation. It is the top wheat producing county and second highest barley producer in the entire United States.
The farmers responsible for this mass production have the fertile hills of the Palouse to thank, whose unique beauty bring the olive gardens and vineyards of Tuscany to mind.
While the golds and yellows of the fields during fall harvest often get the most attention on the Palouse, the most beautiful season might actually be late spring and early summer when the entire region transforms into an overwhelming abundance of lush greenery, blooming wildflowers, and old Douglas firs and ponderosa pines standing at the edges of fields here and there among the hills. Throw in the occasional yellow fields of canola and mustard to contrast with the green of the wheat and barley, and spring paints a truly magical painting across the Palouse.
One of the best places to take in the beauty of the Palouse is from Kamiak Butte, situated between the towns of Pullman and Palouse.
Kamiak Butte juts up from the hills it’s surrounded by, like a pirate’s ship floating in a gently chopping sea, towering tamaracks and ponderosa pines serving as the mast. Rising to an elevation of 3,600 feet, the butte is a county-maintained park, with miles of well-groomed hiking trails, a campground and picnic area and bathroom facilities.
The trails take off from the thickly forested shady north side of the butte and climb to the ridgeline where hikers can revel in 180° views, and even some 360° views if you find the right spot, of the entire Palouse.
On a clear day one can catch glimpses of the Blue Mountains to the south, the towns of Pullman and Moscow, Steptoe Butte to the north, and Moscow Mountain and Idaho’s expansive Rocky Mountains stretching out to the east.
A hike to the summit and back typically only takes the average hiker a few hours, and folks are sure to find good food, beer, wine, and more in nearby Pullman or Palouse.
If you head toward the small town of Palouse to the north, there are two wise stops to make. The quaint and quirky Palouse Caboose is a great spot to grab breakfast, lunch, or dinner, with liquor, beer and wine options as well.
The Congress, with their funky Pacific Northwest atmosphere, is just down the street, where pizza is king, with local beer and wine options, as well as a full service cocktail bar.
Pullman Dining and Nightlife
If you venture south toward Pullman there are a few more options, especially for those looking for nightlife. The growing college town is lively just about every night of the week, with everything from sports bars and breweries to dance clubs and fine dining.
The Lumberyard is one of the newest locales in Pullman and a must-stop if you’re either in Pullman for the first time or haven’t been there since your college days. Its unique location and atmosphere is reason enough to check it out, but the great food and drink options will keep you around for a while.
It’s located in the original location of the long-since relocated Pullman Building Supply quonset on the banks of the South Fork of the Palouse River, and features a full service bar and a grub hall, with options like burgers, sandwiches, mac and cheese, chicken and waffles, grain bowls and ice cream.
Valhalla Bar and Grill, located in Pullman’s historic College Hill district, is a great spot to catch the game and mingle with college students. The “hole-in-the-wall” style bar The Coug is just down the street, a staple of any gameday experience in Pullman.
If you’re looking for something a little less rowdy head downtown to Paradise Creek Brewery, located in the old retired Post Office, for a great burger and locally brewed craft beer. After that, check out Esti Bravo off Main Street to dance off the calories from that burger and beer, and enjoy city-style cocktails in a moody and eclectic environment.
Looking for fine dining instead of that burger? Black Cypress, located downstairs from Etsi Bravo in the same building, is Pullman’s premier fine dining restaurant that does not disappoint.
Lastly, any trip to Pullman requires a stop at Pullman’s oldest drinking establishment, Rico’s Pub. Established in 1909 and a survivor of the prohibition era, Rico’s is the best place in Pullman to find live music while you soak in the rustic, college town vibe where books line the walls, gargoyle statues lurk here and there and a professor or two are sure to be seen enjoying some post-grading libations.
So, if you’re looking for a road trip this spring, maybe somewhere off the beaten path, find that winding highway leading into the wheat fields, and give the Palouse a chance to capture your heart, too.