By Cary Ordway
One of the most beautiful, scenic parts of Washington State is the drive on Interstate 90 as it leaves the foothills just east of the Seattle metro area and slowly climbs to the summit of Snoqualmie Pass and then further east through the high country that eventually opens to the meadows and spectacular mountain views of Kittitas County.
This area has always been an outdoorsman’s paradise as anglers and hunters have found rich rewards in the woods, streams and backcountry areas that seem so far removed from every-day civilization. The area also has quite an Old West history with the coal mines that once thrived near Cle Elum, and nowhere is that more evident than in the historic town of Roslyn, perhaps best known to TV viewers as the filming location for “Northern Exposure,” popular in the early 90’s.
So it’s no surprise — considering the many recreational and historical attractions — that a big new resort has been built on some of the best and most scenic land in this area. Just a few miles from Cle Elum, Suncadia Resort has blossomed into a world-class combination of lodgings, resort-style amenities and vacation homes, all carefully positioned and built to preserve the natural appeal of the forests and mountain views that have attracted campers and outdoor recreationists for many decades.
Opening in 2005 with just a small inn and a golf course, Suncadia has since expanded to the point that hundreds of lodging units and a full array of recreational activities are now available for resort guests.
We remember camping at nearby Salmon la Sac in the 70’s — back when we were a lot younger, and when a night sleeping on hard ground was an acceptable cost for being in the Great Outdoors. Plentiful hiking trails are nearby, along with rivers such as the Yakima, where we have spent many summer days inner-tubing. We’ve also been fortunate enough to experience a horse-packing trip high up on Teanaway Ridge, just a short drive east of Suncadia Resort. If you want a vacation mecca that offers a different thrill in every direction, this part of Washington State certainly fills the bill.
Now, of course, you don’t have to “rough it” to enjoy an outdoor vacation in this region — Suncadia is about as close to roughing it as a trip to a major spa resort. The resort has done a remarkable job integrating a major lodge, a cozy inn, a recreation complex and hundreds of upscale homes that have neighborhoods just like you would see in suburbia.
While at Suncadia, we stayed at the Inn at Suncadia, the smaller, more intimate of the two major lodge-style buildings. Each of the 18 rooms has a cozy, yet relatively spacious feel with views of the golf course and an overall Northwest motif. Our room, decorated in neutral beige tones, was furnished with a king bed, a table and two lounge chairs, a desk and elegant paintings on the walls. A fireplace and moderate size television were built into the corner of the main room. Our balcony was a great place to sit and watch the golfers practicing their swings, while golf carts lined up on the paved path to take groups of players out on the course. The other lodging option is The Lodge at Suncadia, a 254-room facility built near a ledge that offers unsurpassed views of the nearby Cascade Mountain range. Several rental homes also are available.
We couldn’t wait to rent some bikes and explore the property — although, at 6,400 acres, it wasn’t likely we would get to see it all. We walked through the inn’s spectacular lobby area with its towering stone fireplace, elaborate chandeliers and top-to-bottom view windows and noticed that the interior design of the inn, like other Suncadia buildings, is really first-rate. We then strolled across the street to the Swim and Fitness Center where dozens of new bikes were available for rent. While there, we took a quick look at the indoor and outdoor swimming pools, the modern fitness center and, if you can believe it, a tube-style waterslide that is sure to be a hit with the kids in the family. The Glade Spring Spa was under construction during our visit, but that promises to be a major draw in the future.
We took a couple of hours to ride the paved bike paths to many parts of the Suncadia property and were impressed with how natural the entire setting is. There may be 3,000 residences and potential homes in the immediate area, but great pains have been taken to leave the development feeling natural. In some ways it was reminiscent of the national park accommodations you see at Yellowstone or Mt. Rainier, where priority is always given to the natural beauty — buildings are added to the scene as subtly as possible.
We stopped by one of the vacation homes for sale at Suncadia and quickly realized most of them would be beyond our price range. But these big, spacious, well-designed homes do indeed attract upscale Seattle residents who either want a high-quality vacation home just 80 miles from the city, or have chosen to move to where they can have wilderness without giving up their usual amenities.
We followed the bike paths further, across meadows, on and off bridges, through lots of turns and slight changes in altitude until we reached the Lodge at Suncadia and got a chance to check out Portals, the restaurant where we would later enjoy a spectacular meal of “artisan” fare — prepared entirely from fresh local ingredients — with one of the best dining views we’ve ever encountered anywhere. When you’re seated by the window in Portals, it’s a little like dining on the edge of a cliff with vast forests and ribbons of water visible below and, in the distance, the usually snow-capped Cascade Mountain range.
If you explore the lodge a little bit, you’ll notice that Suncadia has plaques on various walls with photos and short bios of the founding fathers of Cle Elum, and the people who worked in the local coal mines. In all of the years we had camped in the area, we never realized that underneath this land there still is an extensive series of tunnels once used to mine the area’s coal.
Another restaurant we enjoyed at Suncadia was the Gas Lamp Grille, perched high above Suncadia’s golf course. It’s a great place for a lunch of gourmet sandwiches or salads as you sit on the deck with yet another picture-postcard view of the forests and what, for players, has to be a golf wonderland.
Soon it was time to end our Suncadia getaway, but not without a stop in Roslyn, the small coal-mining town just a couple of miles north of Suncadia. The town’s historic buildings give the true feeling of a Wild West town, and folks from far and wide have been known to show up at the Brick Tavern just to experience an Old West bar with real spittoons. There’s a micro-brewery in town, several shops to explore and some down-home restaurants with old-fashioned cooking. Roslyn’s worth a visit even if you’re just passing through on Interstate 90 which, by the way, is only about four miles down the road.