Roadtrippin’ the Palouse – A Wanderer’s Guide to the Rolling Hills of Eastern Washington

This was Days 16-20 of a fabulous Fall road trip a couple of years ago. This leg was Seattle to Ellensburg to Pullman, Washington — 289 miles. If you fly, Spokane is the closest airport.

Holiday Inn Express, Pullman, $121/night with a AAA discount + $20/night pet fee. Nice, recently-renovated hotel. Big room; lots of green space to walk the dog, and they don’t mind if you leave the dog in the room (they even give you a tag for the door that says Do Not Disturb/Dog Napping) (love that!). Located close to Washington State University, so be sure to book in advance on football game weekends. This is football country!

I’d wanted to visit The Palouse, famous for its photogenic landscapes, for years and finally made it part of my long roadtrip home (the move from California back to my home state, Missouri).  Most photographers visit in the spring when the rolling hills of eastern Washington are like green velvet, but I think Fall in The Palouse is absolutely gorgeous, in a whole other beautiful way. I was there towards the end of October, long after the wheat harvest, and I used Pullman as my headquarters and spent 4 days wandering aimlessly around The Palouse, which I highly recommend. If your time is more restricted there are lots of local photographers there who offer photo tours, but I really enjoy wandering.

Fair warning: I include a LOT of highway shots from behind the wheel. I do it to remember the journey, and hopefully share the thrill of discovery. You can discover the beautiful red barn when I do, resting peacefully just off the highway in a beautiful field, or perched precariously near the highway curve because it was there long before the highway interrupted.


Holiday Inn Express, $121/night + $20 pet fee
Nice and very clean. Not a lot of places to walk the dog, but walking distance to some fast-food restaurants.

Map from

Map from

I left Seattle on a rainy day (imagine that!), and stopped in Ellensburg for the night before attacking The Palouse. On the eastern slope of the Cascade Mountain Range of Washington, down in the Kittitas Valley sits the historic town of Ellensburg, beautifully restored and filled with dozens of small businesses.


It’s a cool old town with a historic downtown. I was surprised to learn, from the local bookstore owner, that Ellensburg has become a tech target. They’re buying there and commuting to Seattle, driving up real estate prices and property taxes. It’s only 107 miles along the I-90, but that translates to a 4-hour drive because of the mountains and the Snoqualmie Pass, so it’s not for people who have to commute every day.

Loved the western/cowboy vibe.

Pearl Street Books & Gifts

Adorable local business that’s been in the Bradshaw family for years. An independent bookstore specializing in children’s books, fiction, and non-fiction. Pearl Street Books & Gifts also carries many lines of distinctive greeting cards, including the work of local photographers and artists. This is where I found one of my favorite books about the Palouse, Northwest Drylands by John Clement, an amazing local photographer who’s been documenting the beauty of the area since 1970.




Here’s the area I explored…



Steptoe Butte State Park

This is a must-see spot in The Palouse and is famous to photographers. As the highest point in the region, the views are spectacular.  If you want dramatic photos, try to visit early in the morning or just before sunset when the low light accentuates the rolling hills.

From the website:

High above the Palouse Hills on the eastern edge of Washington, Steptoe Butte offers unparalleled views of a truly unique landscape. The warm quartzite bluff stands out against soft hills of green and mauve, an occasional barn dotting the landscape. Colors seem to shift and change in the light.
The butte contains some of the oldest rock in the Pacific Northwest, and it marks the border of the original North American Continent.
Steptoe has, over time, been a wagon road, a hotel site and an observatory location. In addition to inspiring vistas, the 3,612-foot summit displays several interpretive panels that pay homage to its distinctive geology. This day-use park is a must-visit on a leisurely drive through eastern Washington.

You’ll need a $10 Discover Pass for day use.

The road to the top of the hill is a bit precarious, barely wider than 2 cars and with no guard rails, and a dangerously seductive view. There are several places to pull over for photos, though, so don’t be tempted to stop in the middle of the road. Be sure to honk before you go around a blind curve. I had the whole road to myself when I visited – only ran into one other car at the top of the butte.


But the view on the way up, and from the top, is worth it…


The flatlands around Steptoe…


Dahmen Barn and Uniontown

I wish I lived close enough to the Artisans at the Dahmen Barn to attend events there. It’s a fun, quirky place to photograph, but it would be even more fun to go to a concert of local artists there, and see exhibits from local photographers.


The beautiful barn, built in 1935 for the Dahmen family, currently houses an art gallery and a store filled with goods from local artists, plus an event space. But it’s the iconic wheel fence that draws attention.

Says Junette Dahmen in a history of the wheel fence, “Every wheel has a story from the smallest to the biggest. There are wheels from every kind of machine, an antique baby buggy, threshing machines, push-binder wheels, sidewinder or delivery rakes, old hay rakes and gears of every kind, large and small.” Today the fence exhibits over 1000 wheels. 






This is Lewis & Clark country, as is most of the territory from Missouri to Washington. On the way to Pomeroy, you travel through Lewiston, Idaho and Clarkston, Washington, separated by the Snake River, and accessed by the Spiral Highway.


Here’s the spirit of The Palouse…really cool yard art (between Lewiston and Pomeroy)…


Pomeroy has historic buildings, a creative spirit, and friendly businesspeople. But, sadly, both of the businesses I visited, Wild Country and Madre’s Restaurant, are now out of business. It sucks that small towns can’t support small businesses.




Lots of personality…








“The Monster” — an abandoned grain elevator alongside U.S. Highway 195, the Palouse Scenic Byway, just south of Pullman. I passed by this relic almost every day I was in the area, and could never resist shooting.







TRAVEL TIP:  Sometimes you have to take the road less traveled, just to see what you find. Even if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Just don’t do it after a rainstorm, if you don’t have 4-wheel drive.










2 thoughts on “Roadtrippin’ the Palouse – A Wanderer’s Guide to the Rolling Hills of Eastern Washington

  1. Debra Bearden says:

    I LOVE how you document your adventures! Your photography is off the charts!

    On Mon, Feb 18, 2019 at 8:14 PM obsessive hobbyist wrote:

    > obsessive hobbyist posted: “This was Days 16-20 of a fabulous Fall road > trip a couple of years ago. This leg was Seattle to Ellensburg to Pullman, > Washington — 289 miles. If you fly, Spokane is the closest airport. > Holiday Inn Express, Pullman, $121/night with a AAA discount + $20” >


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