Stand on top of the Space Needle and look west: That’s the Olympics. Face east for a statewide string of peaks: That’s the Cascades. And that’s it, right? Nope.
The Kettle River Range is tucked into the northeast corner of the state, forgotten because it lacks the glaciers, proximity, and dramatic height of the cool kids out west. But the Kettle also lacks the crowds—Colville National Forest gets 20 percent of the annual visitors per acre that ply Mount Rainier, and most of those are using the 49 North ski resort. Solitude is easy to come by in these older, rounder mountains, says Franklin Pemberton of the Forest Service: “I like to be away from people, and I don’t have to be a multiday thru-hiker or have crampons and glacier equipment to do it.”
Mountain bike routes and the 43-mile Kettle Crest National Recreation Trail cross rolling hills and acres of pine, cedar, and larch. Because this is a national forest, not a national park, there are fewer rules: Camp almost anywhere you’re not squashing the flora, and let your dog run free. Just don’t forget that this area has retained almost all the wildlife that was here before the West was settled: wolves, caribou, moose, even grizzly bears. “It’s definitely a little bit more wild up here,” says Pemberton.