193 miles (summer) or 243 miles (winter) E of Seattle, 53 miles N of Chelan

Driving into Winthrop, you may think you've stumbled onto a movie set. A covered wooden sidewalk lines the town's main street, which is lined with weather-beaten, false-fronted buildings. You half expect desperadoes to be shooting it out with local law men, but this isn't a movie set -- it's the real Winthrop.

Well, not exactly the real Winthrop. Back in 1972, when the North Cascades Scenic Highway opened, Winthrop needed a way to stop a few of the cars that started crossing the mountains on the new highway. Someone suggested that the town cash in on its Wild West heritage and put up some old-fashioned cow-town false fronts (based on old photos of the town). This rewriting of history worked and now Winthrop gets plenty of cars to stop. In fact, it has become a destination in its own right, known for its cross-country skiing in winter and mountain biking, hiking, and horseback riding in summer.

Winthrop and the Methow River Valley in which it is located really do have a Wild West history. Until 1883, there were no white settlers in this picturesque valley. The only inhabitants were Native Americans who annually migrated into the valley to harvest camas bulbs and fish for salmon. The Native Americans felt it was just too cold to live in the Methow Valley, but when the first white settlers showed up, they refused to listen to the Native Americans' weather reports and built their drafty log cabins anyway. Gold was discovered in the late 1800s and fueled a short-lived boom, but it was apple-growing that kept the valley alive until the advent of tourism in the 1970s.

Why an Old West theme town? Possibly because Owen Wister, author of The Virginian, a Western novel that became a popular television series, was inspired to write his novel after coming to Winthrop to visit his former Harvard University roommate who ran a trading post here. You won't find trading posts anymore, but you will find two of the finest mountain lodges in the state.