Explore the white pass scenic byway
By Mary Kay Nelson | Photos by Mahre Media unless noted.
The White Pass Scenic Byway is an amazing recreational paradise in the shadow of the tri-mountain panorama 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 this byway than anywhere else in the south Cascades region.
In the summertime, campgrounds buzz 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 one of Washington State’s best roadways for wildlife watching opportunities. From low elevation lakes to sub-alpine 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.
You won’t want to miss the Oak Creek Wildlife Area, one of the best locations for watching elk in the entire United States, 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.
The Cowlitz River attracts anglers from all over the west coast, with year-round fishing opportunities including salmon, steelhead, and cutthroat trout fisheries. 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.
Along the byway, you’ll pass 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, Mt. St. Helens National Monument and Mt. Adams Wilderness Area.
Photo of Reflection Lake, Mt. Rainier ©Beautiful Washington
Don’t miss this opportunity to explore Mt. Rainier National Park, 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.
Mt. 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.