It was Day 5, the final day of our trip – and I hadn’t slept much the night before because I was so stoked for the adventures that I knew the day would bring. But that’s okay, because that morning, just as the sun was rising, I was already a half mile into my trail run – it was my favorite time of day, and I was doing one of my favorite things… yep, today was going to be epic.

After my quick 6 mile run, I drove back to Naches to grab a massive coffee from Highway Espresso before heading back to the house to make us all a big ol’ home-cooked breakfast. Because I knew we would be adventuring in the mountains all day, I packed us a massive picnic lunch along with enough snacks to feed an army.

Our first stop as a family on the White Pass Scenic Byway was at the Tieton River Nature Trail (near the Oak Creek Elk Feeding Station off of Highway 12). After crossing the bridge on our bikes, we headed through the elk gate and off down the winding trail, surrounded by sweet smelling sagebrush and breathtaking rocky cliffs. A few miles in and the desert landscape began to turn green again as we climbed further up the trail, following the Tieton river upstream. Ryder let us know he was just about ready for his morning nap, so we turned around to enjoy the fun, flowy trail back downriver to the Subaru.

After some milk and a snack, Ryder was out for the count in the back seat as we drove to Rimrock Lake. Sand, calm waters, blue skies and a perfect picnic spot welcomed us as we parked in a small pullout close to the shore on the south side of the lake. Once Ryder awoke from his slumber, we headed down to the shoreline, ready for some grub, some paddle boarding and to play in the sand, of course! Ryder was in heaven, surrounded by a never-ending playground of water, sand, rocks and sticks – but after a few hours of playing, he once again was all tuckered out so we loaded up and hoped Ryder would get a quick cat nap before we made it to the White Pass Summit.

The Pacific Crest Trail was next on our list of adventures for the day, and once we got to the parking lot, we packed our bag full of snacks and water, loaded the newly refreshed munchkin on my back and started up the trail. The goal was to get to the ridge above Shoe Lake, and we did just that. Gazing out at the Goat Rocks, and looking back at the bowl we had just climbed out of, Andy and I reminisced about past winters, when we had skied from this exact ridge, taking powder turn after powder turn down to the trees below. The White Pass backcountry is not only our favorite place to hike in the summer, but it’s also our favorite place to ski and explore via skis in the winter.

As our day of adventure began to come to a close, we tried to fit every last wonder we could into the few hours of light we had left. Driving down the west side of White Pass, we stopped at a look-out for one last view of the massive, unwavering beauty of Mount Rainier. Then, with the sunset fast approaching, we pulled into the Palisades Viewpoint, an overlook showcasing mature, Douglas-Fir trees growing above giant, moss-covered basalt columns – a truly breathtaking example of natural PNW beauty. And as our week of exploration on the South Cascade Loop came to a close, I grabbed Andy’s hand and smiled… because as amazing as the last few days had been, the greatest part of the trip had been sharing every wonder, every experience with the little nugget snuggled tightly in the crook of Andy’s arm – our son, our lil’ man, our greatest adventure yet.