124-Mile Byway Offers Stunning Peaks, Beautiful Valleys and Endless Opportunities
The White Pass Scenic Byway is a recreational paradise in the shadow of Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens and Mount Adams. Whether you enjoy wilderness camping, hiking, fishing, snowmobiling or even hang gliding, there are more outdoor recreational opportunities along the byway than anywhere else in the south Cascades region.
In the summertime, campgrounds are buzzing with activity as visitors enjoy the rivers, lakes, forests and trails from their basecamps. Early in the summer, when the high-country trails are still covered in snow, forests and grasslands along the byway are coming to life with wildflowers and wildlife. Early fall can be the best season for hiking, as trails are snow-free, sub-alpine vegetation is beginning to change color, and mosquitoes have called it quits for the year. Later in the fall hunters come to the forest for some of the state’s best deer and elk range. Of course, fish follow their own seasons, and there’s almost always something to be caught. Winter time brings visitors to the byway to enjoy the White Pass Ski Resort, snowmobiling, backcountry skiing and snowshoeing.
The White Pass Scenic Byway is Washington state’s best roadway for wildlife watching opportunities. From low elevation lakes to subalpine ridges, wet west-side forests to the open steppes of eastern Washington, from Mount St. Helens’ blast zone to Mount Rainier’s lush meadows, the White Pass Scenic Byway and its adjacent public lands provide a range of wild habitats you won’t find anywhere else in the state.
The White Pass Scenic Byway is 124 miles long, beginning at Mary’s Corner (3 miles east of I-5 at Exit 68) and the intersection of U.S. Highway 12 and state Route 410 at Naches. The White Pass Scenic Byway passes through small communities, resource lands, river valleys, foothills and alpine county. The region surrounding the byway includes privately-owned residential, agricultural, commercial and forestland properties, as well as state parks, wildlife areas, power projects with associated recreation lands, the Gifford Pinchot and Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forests and Mount Rainier National Park, Mount St. Helens National Monument and Mount Adams Wilderness Area.
Learn more at www.whitepassbyway.com.
1) Lewis and Clark State Park began as a “public camp” for automobile tourists in 1922. Two years later, more than 10,000 people visited the park annually. The old north spur of the Oregon Trail, which extended from the Cowlitz River landing to the city of Tumwater, passed directly through the present park site. When pioneers used this road, ramps had to be built over some of the downed logs (six to nine feet in diameter), since they had no saws capable of cutting the giants. With facilities built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, Lewis and Clark State Park preserves a large tract of lowland old growth forest. Eight miles of hiking trails in the park include an interpretive loop through the heart of old growth forests. The park offers horse trails and a popular campground as well. The park also manages the nearby John R. Jackson Courthouse. Built in 1845, it is the first pioneer house west of the Cascades and north of the Columbia River. The 621-acre camping park is situated in one of the last major stands of old-growth forest in the state. Coniferous trees, streams, wetlands, dense vegetation and wet prairie comprise the park environment.
2) In 1968, when it was built, the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery was the largest salmon hatchery in the world. It is still busy producing nearly 13 million salmon every year. Returning salmon are collected, their eggs harvested, and then kept in a series of pens until they are strong enough for release on their journey to the Pacific. Tacoma Power’s Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery Visitor Center provides one-of-a-kind opportunities for people of all ages to engage in hands-on, engaging ways to understand the life cycle of salmon. Visitors explore the connection between salmon and 5 “Hs” — hatcheries, habitat, high seas, harvest and hydropower. Learn how Tacoma Power sustains natural and hatchery salmon populations in the Cowlitz River while providing fish for harvest — as it generates clean, renewable electricity at the Cowlitz Hydroelectric Project.
3) Endless family fun is available at Mayfield Lake. Enjoy camping in private, forested sites, explore the many hiking trails, and discover the boating, fishing and swimming opportunities at this popular place for outdoor recreation. Formed by Tacoma Power’s Mayfield Dam on the Cowlitz River, 13 mile-long Mayfield Lake is the setting for camping, fishing and a multitude of recreational opportunities, with multiple parks lining its shores. People seeking that classic trip to the lake will fall in love with Mayfield Lake Park. Featuring a day-use area, boat launches, campgrounds, playground, picnic and swimming areas and more — this is the place to be for fun at the lake. Ike Kinswa State Park is a 454-acre camping park with 46,000 feet of freshwater shoreline on the north side of Mayfield Lake. The campsites are forested and available year-round.
4) Tiptoe through the tulips… Every spring the DeGoede tulip fields erupt with color — a major attraction for visitors traveling along the byway. DeGoede’s also offers a fantastic, manicured, year-round display garden along with classes and other visitor activities. Stunning displays of brilliant red poinsettias make this attraction a must-see at holiday time. The growing of flowers has been a way of life for four generations in the DeGoede family. It began in Holland in the late 1800’s with great great grandfather John DeGoede and then his son, John Jr. In 1947 his son Henry “Hank” DeGoede came to America and continued growing flowers here. Now his four sons Jack, Tom, Bob, and Dennis continue the family tradition in the lovely Mossyrock Valley.
5) There is no shortage of activities for those seeking outdoor fun at Mossyrock Park. Pack a picnic and experience the fantastic and calming lake views. Take a dip in the swimming area, launch the boat, or let the kids run off energy at the playground. Overnight RV camping makes this a popular destination. Formed by the Tacoma Power’s Mossyrock Dam, the tallest dam in Washington State, Riffe Lake winds for over 20 miles through forested hillsides. With Mossyrock Park on the west end of the lake, the lake is well-equipped with recreational facilities for fun on the water. On the highway at the west end of Riffe Lake, the North Shore Access offers a close-up view of the dam.
6) Seek out the osprey nests and watch bald eagles fly. Look for common loons and western grebes. In early spring watch for the mating dance, when birds walk on water. Swofford Pond is a quiet birder’s paradise. River otters, muskrat, and beavers also make their homes here. Deer and elk frequent the fields surrounding the pond. Popular with anglers, Swofford Pond has both bank fishing and is accessible to small boats with electric motors only. If there’s a body of water anywhere in western Washington that has a little something for every freshwater angler, this 240-acre Lewis County lake just might be it. Whether your preferences lean toward bass, panfish, trout, even catfish, you can find what you’re looking for here. Thousands of legal-sized rainbow and brown trout are stocked here every spring.
7) The Cowlitz River attracts anglers from all over the west coast. Including salmon, steelhead and cutthroat trout fisheries, the Cowlitz has year-round fishing opportunities. Visitors enjoy the spectacular fishing as well as the beautiful setting of the river, with abundant wildlife, healthy forests and majestic peaks rising above the river. Don’t miss fishing near Barrier Dam — a favorite fishing hole among locals. The Cowlitz River is a tributary of the Columbia River. Its tributaries drain a large region including the slopes of Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, and Mount St. Helens. The Cowlitz River is roughly 105 miles long, not including tributaries. Major tributaries of the Cowlitz River include the Cispus River and the Toutle River, which was overtaken by volcanic mudflows (lahars) during the May 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens.
8) In Morton, the historic railroad depot is architecturally distinguished and anchors the community’s revitalized downtown. Built in 1910, the two-story frame building is one of the last of this type of Milwaukee stations in existence today. The advent of the train opened the area to commerce and economic prosperity as well as travel. The Depot offers a focal point for Morton to capture and increase tourist activity. Find the charming Roxy Theater in Morton, a small town nestled in the beautiful Cascade Mountain Foothills. This newly renovated 1930s theatre continues to captivate audiences through song, dance and dialogue. A wide array of professional productions feature action, romance, laughter — and are sure to please. The original theatre was built in the early 1900s by Thomas Hopgood who became Morton’s first mayor. The theater burned down with the rest of the town in 1924 and was rebuilt in 1937. It was a grand place until the advent of television became so popular that the theater went out of business. In 2002, a group of local volunteers began the arduous task of renovation and in 2007 the theatre opened again and now features a wide array of professional productions. The restoration of the small local theatre helped capture and preserve the culture of the small rural community. It has become a focal point for the town and is the pride of its community member.
9) Take a day to play — Taidnapam Park offers all the things that make camping fun. A beautiful natural setting, the lake itself, and a few comforts of home. Or just relax for the afternoon watching for bald eagles and osprey overhead. Be on the lookout for native plants such as Oregon grape, salal, red flowering current and sword fern. The wheelchair-accessible fishing bridge is a unique location for youngsters to catch their first fish. The name “Taidnapam” is derived from the Indian tribe that once inhabited the area. A favorite place for anglers and families, Lake Scanewa, created by Lewis County PUD’s Cowlitz Falls Dam, is well stocked with rainbow trout. With two parks along its shores — one campground and one day-use park — plenty of recreational opportunities exist. The Day Use Park is situated at the east end of Lake Scanewa where the Cispus and Cowlitz Rivers meet. The park is also just a few short miles from the Leonard “Bud” Allen Park/Cowlitz Falls Campground and provides a perfect backdrop for picture-taking. Lake Scanewa was created with the completion of the 140-foot high concrete-gravity Cowlitz Falls Dam by Lewis County PUD and Bonneville Power in 1994. The Dam is the uppermost of four dams on the Cowlitz River, located about 13 miles downstream from the town of Randle in east Lewis County. The Reservoir covers 610 acres and inundates 10.5 miles of the Cowlitz River and 1.5 miles of the Cispus River.
10) Turning the corner into Randle, stately Mount Adams makes its appearance, rising high above the nearer foothills. This is the most impressive view of Mount Adams along the byway, the easternmost of the region’s three volcanoes. Access to the Mount Adams Wilderness Area is along the byway in Randle on FS Road 23 or from Packwood on FS Road 21. Mount Adams is a prominent landmark on the District, with the summit at 12,276 feet elevation. The Mount Adams Wilderness area features a great diversity of habitats and features, from old growth to second growth forest, wetland areas, low and high elevation meadows, glaciers, and low and high elevation lakes. It was discovered by Lewis and Clark in 1805, and also has a rich history of Native Americans in the area who composed many legends about this mountain and the many surrounding peaks in the Central Cascades. The area is well known for recreation including hiking, backpacking, mountain climbing, snowmobiling and equestrian sports. It is off the beaten track and is considered a remote area, relatively undisturbed by overuse.
11) For a great opportunity to learn about the area’s wildlife and its habitats, explore the Woods Creek Trail. Meandering through five different habitats, it is an excellent hike for children, and presents many opportunities for bird watching and plant identification. Bring along a plant identification book and study all the different varieties of vegetation along the path. Woods Creek Watchable Wildlife area offers a barrier-free, interpretive 1.5-mile trail through old-growth forest past several active beaver ponds. This figure-eight loop hike is an excellent one for small children with adult supervision. The four-foot-wide gravel tread heads east from the parking area through dense second-growth forest. Fir, bigleaf maple, and red cedar trees furnish the canopy. Beneath these big, moss-hung trees grows vine maple. Ferns and moss cover the ground. Soon after leaving the trailhead you will want to stop and read the first interpretive sign about deer tracks, some of which you may have already seen along the trail. Foxglove and blackberries line the creek. The Old Growth Loop climbs gently making a couple of switchbacks as it enters the larger trees of the old growth forest.
12) The Gifford Pinchot National Forest was one of the first of its kind. Hiking, camping, wildlife watching, mountain biking, and more, attract thousands of visitors each year to the byway. From easy family hikes to challenging backcountry mountain bike riding, there are dozens of access options along the byway. Included as part of the Mount Rainier Forest Reserve in 1897, this area was set aside as the Columbia National Forest in 1908. It was renamed the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in 1949. Whether you seek solitude, social activity, creative inspiration, wildlife, forest products or scenic beauty, you can find it in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. The Gifford Pinchot National Forest now encompasses 1,312,000 acres and includes the 110,000-acre Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument established by Congress in 1982.
13) Windy Ridge is one of the best places to get an overview of the area devastated by the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. The landscape is littered with sand and gray rocks from that event. Deposits of the debris avalanche are visible to the west. These include the lower parts of The Spillover, where the debris avalanche traveled up over Johnston Ridge and into the South Coldwater area. The blast stripped most of the vegetation and some soil from many of the older bedrock surfaces, revealing to geologists and visitors previously hidden chapters in the geologic history of the area. Rockfalls from the crater walls stir up ash clouds that curl over the edges of the crater rim, especially in late summer. A faint bluish-white volcanic gas plume is often visible rising from the Lava Dome, and sometimes fumaroles or clusters of fumaroles can be seen there. This area is accessed from the byway at Randle on the FS Road 25. Limited visitor information is available during the summer season at Cascade Peaks Visitor Station.
14) Named after the goats that inhabit the area, the rocky terrain of the Goat Rocks Wilderness is actually part of an ancient volcano, eroded over time. Today this area offers hiking, wildlife watching, camping, and rock climbing for the outdoor enthusiast. Access this area on Johnson Creek Road (FS 21) near Packwood. The Goat Rocks Wilderness is a portion of the volcanic Cascade Mountain Range in southwestern Washington located between Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams. The Goat Rocks are remnants of a large volcano, extinct for some two million years. Glaciation and erosion have worn away at the terrain here, leaving moderate summits on both sides of the crest of the Cascades. The elevation in the Goat Rocks ranges from 3,000 feet to 8,201 feet at Gilbert Peak. Much of the 120-mile trail system stays on the ridges at or above timberline. The Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail (PCT) wanders north-south through the middle of the Wilderness for 31.1 miles, past 7,930-foot Old Snowy Mountain, where glaciers persist. Approximately 14 other trails climb to eventually join the PCT.
15) Capturing and preserving the history of the Upper Cowlitz Valley from Kosmos to White Pass, the White Pass Country Historical Society offers educational programs, interpretive discussions as well as exhibits and displays featuring the fascinating area history. Find the museum in the former Packwood Elementary School. Winter Hours: Saturdays Noon – 4 p.m., or by appointment Summer Hours: Saturdays Noon – 5 p.m.; Sundays 1-3 p.m. Also located in the former Packwood Elementary School, stop in for friendly hospitality and information on the Packwood area and beyond. Find brochures, maps and fliers detailing local and regional recreational activities and events. Find information about the neighboring Gifford Pinchot National Forest provided by the local Cowlitz Valley Ranger Station.
16) Skate Creek is located between Mount Rainier National Park to the north and Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument to the south. Tatoosh Wilderness, Goat Rocks Wilderness, and William O. Douglas Wilderness are to the north, southeast, and northeast respectively, with the Gifford Pinchot National Forest as a buffer in all directions. Meandering along picturesque Skate Creek to the mountain community of Ashford, this scenic drive winds through forests blanketed in rich green mosses and a multitude of waterfalls, both big and small. This paved, but primitive road continues to be a well-kept secret offering beauty and serenity for those ready to explore. See waterfalls meander along the roadside as you experience the beauty and serenity of this little gem. The fall colors are absolutely spectacular. Skate Creek is a favorite among campers and fishing enthusiasts. In the winter, Skate Creek area offers many different trails of adventure. Trail/Road 52 is an ungroomed and moderately traveled, easy 12.9 mile trail used by cross-country skiers, snowshoers, and snowmobilers. Elevation ranges from 1,600 to 2,560 feet. To find the trail turn off of Highway 12 at Packwood, onto Forest Road 52 to Skate Creek Sno-Park Jct. 52/47
17) La Wis Wis Campgrounds is a great place to get back to nature. This well-developed campground offers wooded campsites, day-use facilities, short nature hikes and more. Situated at the confluence of the Ohanapecosh and the Clear Fork of the Cowlitz River, La Wis Wis lends itself to fishing or just watching the water go by. And don’t miss the giants — giant trees that is! This area is nicely situated in a beautiful forest setting. The fishing here is second to none.
18) Mount Rainier National Park is the crown jewel of Washington and the granddaddy of the Cascades. At nearly three miles high, it towers higher than any other mountain in the state and holds the title as the second highest peak in the contiguous 48 states. Since 1899, this natural wonder has been showcased in the 365-square-mile Mount Rainier National Park. Mount Rainier is surrounded by deep valleys, cascading waterfalls, dramatic wildflower meadows, awe-inspiring old growth forest and 26 glaciers. Whether photographing the meadows, climbing to the summit, trekking along the trails, or just admiring the view, over one million visitors come to the park each year to experience the magic on the mountain. From the Byway, the Stevens Canyon Entrance to Mt. Rainier National Park offers access to the popular Ohanapecosh Campground and Visitor Center. On your way to the mountain, wander among the towering giants and witness trees thousands of years old at the Grove of the Patriarchs. Explore Box Canyon from this popular road into the park.
19) A major winter ski destination, White Pass also offers some hiking in the summer, and a pleasant stop along the roadway in a high mountain environment. The driest powder in the Washington Cascades, White Pass has a 6,000 foot summit and a 1,500 foot vertical drop. It averages over 300 inches of snow each year. White Pass is a kicked-back, family oriented and slightly off the beaten path ski area that is lauded by both the hard-core skier/rider and the skiing or snowboarding family. The Nordic Center features groomed trails for snowshoeing and cross country skiing in addition to the downhill alpine slopes on the south side. Recently White Pass Ski Resort added a family friendly tubing area for all to enjoy.
20) Stretching from Canada to Mexico, Pacific Crest Trail runs along Washington’s Cascade Mountains cutting through multiple mountain passes, as well as running through Mt. Rainier National Park, the North Cascades National Park and also passing many alpine lakes along its way. Enjoy an afternoon exploring part of this spectacular trail system, or gear up for days on the trail experiencing some of the county’s most dramatic scenery. The Washington PCT starts with a lengthy climb out of the Columbia River gorge and into the Indian Heaven Wilderness, a lake-blessed land abounding with huckleberries. Next, the trail rounds Mt. Adams (elev. 12,276′) and heads into the rugged Goat Rocks Wilderness (where scenery is similar to that of the High Sierra) to traverse the Packwood Glacier. The PCT crosses Highway 12 along the White Pass Scenic Byway encountering dozens of lakes in the William O. Douglas Wilderness. Between White Pass and Highway 410 at Chinook Pass, the trail skirts many more lakes as it approaches the towering monarch of the Cascades, Mt. Rainier (elev. 14,410′).
21) East-side Lakes: Covering 41 acres, Leech Lake is a high-elevation, fly-fishing-only lake that is quite popular with anglers fishing brook trout during the summer months. A boat launch is located on its shores. Use of motors is prohibited. During the winter the lake is frozen over and is the central portion of popular snowshoeing and cross country ski trails. Sitting at 3,400 feet elevation, Dog Lake offers an abundance of outdoor recreation. From camping and wilderness hiking to boating and fishing for native rainbow trout, this area is ready for the outdoor enthusiast. Sitting next to the roadside of the byway, this small lake calls for a stop to rest and relax at the halfway point on the journey on the byway.
Located right next to Rimrock Lake, smaller Clear Lake is another popular fishing destination and is also a good watchable wildlife location. Like Rimrock, Clear Lake is a good place to view bald eagles, osprey, and elk. Located one mile west of Rimrock Lake and 5.7 miles east of White Pass, this reservoir at 3,615 feet (265 acres) holds rainbows and has a public boat launch. The best fishing area is the west arm – take Rd 1200, Tieton River Road, off Highway 12. Primary facilities at Clear Lake Day Use site include parking, picnicking, fishing (including a barrier free fishing dock), access to the lake for swimming and a short nature trail.
The highest elevation large-lake along the byway, Rimrock Lake offers recreation, camping, and fantastic views of the surrounding foothills. Anglers enjoy time spent fishing for rainbow trout and kokanee. A popular roadside view, see Tieton Dam, built in 1901 forming Rimrock Lake, a popular place for water play. Besides its scenic value, the dramatic volcanic geology of the Tieton River is one of Washington State’s better rock climbing destinations. Climbers come from throughout Oregon and Washington to test themselves on over 300 different routes.
22) One of the best locations for watching elk in the entire United States, Oak Creek is truly a sight to behold. In winter, elk congregate at the Oak Creek feeding station in herds by the hundreds. Visitors see the elk up close as they jostle for position at the hay drop stations. Other wildlife viewing includes bighorn sheep, woodpeckers, raptors, and a variety of songbirds. Primarily recognized as elk herd winter range, Oak Creek is a sparsely timbered area in the grassy foothills with diversified habitat that benefits other wildlife as well. A supplemental winter feeding program maintains the Yakima elk herd on department lands during the winter; up to 1,200 elk, including about 90 branched-antlered bulls, can be seen at feeding times. Recognized primarily as winter range for elk, its multipurpose acreage insures permanent populations of fish, elk, deer, bear, chukar, partridge, quail, grouse, and hundreds of other species. In addition, the wildlife area preserves many miles of streambank access for fishermen.