White Pass Scenic Byway
- DesignationNational Scenic Byway (2009)
- Intrinsic QualitiesRecreation
- Length119 miles
Majestic is what comes to mind as you travel past lakes, volcanic peaks, tulip fields, and meadows. Hunting, hiking, skiing, boating, wildlife viewing, fishing and camping are just some of the opportunities to be found along the bypass, which includes two of the country’s celebrated peaks – Mount St. Helens and Mount Rainier.
Story of the Byway
The White Pass Byway winds through the forests of Mount St. Helens, Mount Adams and Mount Rainier National Park before ascending to the arid landscape of eastern Washington. While appreciating the beauty, visitors can also get a sense of the difficulty travelers met along this route that climbs over the Cascades.
A portion of the famed Oregon Trail, used by hundreds of pioneers between 1840 and 1860, runs through Toledo, Washington. To get wagons through, ramps were built over downed logs, which measured six to nine feet in diameter, since they had no saws capable of cutting the giants. A bit later, logging became a primary industry. At one point, more than 100 mills were in and around nearby Morton.
The land surrounding Mount St. Helens, which sits west of the smaller Mount Adams, is still showing signs of recovery after the May 1980 eruption that turned 200 square miles of forestland into a lifeless landscape. The blast zone is now a world-renowned area of scientific research into the regeneration of living systems following volcanic disturbance.
If traveling west to east, begin just off of I-5 near Marys Corner to get onto SR-12. You’ll reach Mossyrock in approximately 20 miles and then head around the northern edge of Riffle Lake. The Cowitz River runs along SR-12 as you head toward Packwood just over 44 miles later. You’ll come to the town of Rimrock in Yakima County and its lake in another 34.8 miles. The final leg of the bypass takes you to its end in Naches.
Points of Interest
Cowlitz Trout Hatchery
Release point for summer-run and winter-run steelhead, and sea-run cutthroat; a no-fee boat launch with ADA-compliant fishing platforms; some parking lot camping allowed
DeGoede’s Bulb Farm and Gardens
Offers year-round flora to enjoy, known for its fields of multicolored tulips in the spring; farm chapel and prayer trail
Oak Creek Big Horn Sheep Feeding Station
Also home to an even larger number of Rocky Mountain Elk, on the east side of Mount Rainier, weather-dependent so contacting the wildlife office is recommended
Grove of the Patriarchs Loop
An easy 1.5-mile boardwalk trail that leads through a stand of massive 1,000-year-old Douglas firs, western red cedars and western hemlock up to 50 feet in circumference
The West Side Loop
This journey begins in the mountain community of Morton located on US Highway 12. Stop at the Morton Loggers’ Memorial, recognizing those who gave their life working in the forest industry and the Morton Depot. Travel north on SR 7 to Mineral Lake, which offers rest, relaxation and world-class trout fishing with unbeatable views of Mt. Rainier. Check out the Historic Mineral Lake Lodge and the post office.
Continue to the Nisqually enterance to Mt. Rainier State Park. Notice the wooden entrance arch built in 1922. The Nisqually-Paradise Road continues to the Kautz Creek Bridge at 3.3 miles. This is the site of a massive mudflow which occurred in 1947. The original road through this area now lies 20 feet below the surface. A parking lot will allow you to get out and take a look around. Take a short walk along a fully accessible boardwalk leading to an overlook of the 1947 debris flow and a splendid view of the mountain. Notice the young forest that has undergone a complete succession of re-growth within the past fifty years.
Stretch your legs at Longmire, where you will see your first grand view of the mountain. Visit the Longmire Museum and the National Park Inn, a great place to stop for lunch. Walk along the Trail of Shadows.
As you follow the byway, keep an eye out for many scenic overlooks and waterfalls as you approach Paradise. At 5,400 feet, this area with its glorious views of Mount Rainier is the primary destination for many visitors to the park. The town offers a visitors center and historic inn as well as many trails.
Now descending down the mountain, stop and see Mt. Rainier’s stunning reflection in the crystal waters of Reflection Lake. Its picture-perfect beauty makes it one of the most photographed areas of the park — and you can get there by car. On a peaceful day, the reflection is almost too grand!
Following the White Pass Byway, you will find more historic museums and scenic oversights. Stop at the La Wis Wis Campground, filled with giant trees, and the White Pass Country Historical Museum.
A few miles off the byway, drive to Lake Scanewa and view Cowlitz Falls Dam. A favorite location for anglers and families, the lake is well stocked with rainbow trout and offers a family-friendly area to picnic and play at Bud Allen Park. The route comes to an end as it returns to Morton.
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