Pilot’s paradise: Washington State’s Okanogan County
Do you like to fly for fun? Are you looking for a new adventure? Here is a trip that will thrill you, your passengers, and be remembered for a lifetime.
Consider an air tour of Okanogan County. It is the largest county in Washington and bigger than the state of Connecticut.
When the Washington Pilots Association go to the Northwest Aviation Conference at Puyallup every year, we have a booth displaying Okanogan and Ferry County flying and recreational opportunities, plus we give out apples grown in our area. People are amazed! They don’t know where Okanogan County is. They don’t realize we have seven paved airstrips, huge recreational opportunities, and some unique opportunities for pilots.
Let me suggest a great trip…
Start by planning your flight from wherever you base to Pangborn Memorial Airport (KEAT) in Wenatchee. When you get here, promise to ignore your GPS and use only the sectional and my suggestions. Slow down and enjoy flying like it used to be.
Follow the Columbia River north. You will pass Lake Chelan Airport (S10) on the North side. This is a wonderful strip with gas. About two miles further, note the beautiful private strip on the right side of the river for River View Airpark Airport (WT03).
Continue following the river until you get to Anderson Field (S97) in Brewster. This is where the Okanogan River flows into the Columbia.
S97 where the Okanogan River comes into the Columbia
Brewster is the first of seven paved airports in Okanogan County. If you have the time, consider landing at each of them. Not many pilots have done this.
If not, just turn left (north) and follow the Okanogan River. You are in for a real delight. Flying up the Okanogan you will see fields, orchards, lakes, foothills, mountains, and delightful natural beauty. Emergency landing opportunities are plentiful. There are many private ranch strips along the way, too. See how many you can count.
You will pass Monse. Check out all the radar dishes on the left! I don’t know what they do, but they sure look impressive. Then you will see Malott, and shortly thereafter, the Okanogan Legion Airport (S35).
If you stop here you will find a very nice courtesy car and you can visit Okanogan and Omak, which are side by side communities. Okanogan is the county seat for Okanogan County. A good place to eat in Omak is the Bread Line Café. This is a bakery and restaurant that will delight your pallet.
Omak, which is adjacent to Okanogan, has a beautiful airport, with fuel (pictured above). Unfortunately it has no rental cars and is not really close to town. Omak is the home of the Omak Stampede and the famous Suicide Race.
Continue north, following the river, passing towns like Riverside, Keystone, and Tonasket. Give some thought to landing at Tonasket. It is a wonderful airport and has an airport car, which is an old police vehicle. It looks pretty rough, but no one will pull you over.
Tonasket Municipal Airport (W01)
Interesting antique stores and restaurants are in this town, which is filled with friendly people. By the way, this is the seat of the Washington Pilot’s Association for the Okanogan and Ferry County chapter. A good fly-in is held at the Tonasket Municipal Airport (W01) on Father’s Day weekend every year. It is a lot of fun with a great barbecue on Saturday night and pancake breakfast on Sunday.
Okangan River as it winds into Lake Osoyoos
Follow the river about 15 miles further north and you will arrive at Dorothy Scott Airport (0S7) in Oroville. This is one of the fastest growing areas in Okanogan County. The wine producing interest from Canada is spreading south.
The river you have been following slows down to a meander as it comes into its source, Osoyoos Lake. Bring your passport if you want; land here and rent a car to visit more than 100 vineyards and wine shops in this beautiful area on both sides of the lake.
Now, turn 180° and head back downriver, but go a little west of Omak. Climb to about 4,000 feet. You will go over the foothills northwest of Omak and see numerous beautiful hidden lakes that are the color you would expect at a south sea island. Check out the green valleys that beckon you to follow them to the west.
When you get back to Omak, head west to Methow Valley State Airport (S52), home to the Winthrop Smoke Jumper’s Base. You will now need to climb to about 6,500 to get over the hills, but you will see lots of lakes, mountains, ranches, and you might even see the Loup Loup Ski Area.
Winthrop Smoke Jumper Base
If you are planning this as a weekend trip, as you descend into the Methow (silent h) River Valley you will have to make a decision on where to stop and stay.
S52 is a 5,000-foot state airport, which has self-service fuel, provided by a local dentist. He is maintaining three airplanes, one jet, and two helicopters. He obviously needs your help. But, his fuel prices are reasonable. Parking is free on the west side of the field, as it is everywhere in the county, but there is no courtesy car here. However, almost every lodging establishment in town will you pick up at the airport if you register and/or call in advance.
Once you get to lodging you can walk to almost anything you want to do. You might want to call Dan and Sally Kuperberg, (509-996-3107) who own the Chewuch Inn. He is a member of the Washington Pilots Association and easy to know and like. If they are full, call Rich and Dolly Stahl at the Methow River Lodge and Cabins (509-996-4348).
The Smoke Jumpers often provide a tour of their facilities, if they aren’t too busy fighting fires.
At Twisp Municipal Airport (2S0), home of the majority of the general aviation aircraft in the area, you can use a courtesy car. Here again, most accommodations will pick you up if you call in advance. Try Sandy and Bill Moody (509-997-5970), who operate a bed and breakfast. Bill has worked with the Smoke Jumpers for more years than I have been flying and has wonderful tales to tell.
Twisp Municipal Airport
From their place you can go to many venues in Twisp that will remind you of your time growing up. Visit the Twisp River Pub. If possible, attend a play at the Merc Playhouse. Go to the Saturday morning market. Interesting things are happening every weekend at Twisp and Winthrop.
All that is left is a short trip down the Methow River Valley to Pateros where you turn right down the Columbia and return home.
In my Maule this round trip (not including the flight from Wenatchee and back) took about 1.5 hours. I hope you enjoy it.
Don Fitzpatrick, Jr. is a private pilot who flies a tricycle Maule. He lives in the Mazama area and has landed his Maule at every public airport in Washington State.