This scenic drives is an outdoor enthusiasts’ playground with its generous supply of campgrounds, hiking trails, restaurants, lodges, places to fish or rock climb and all-terrain roads for those who prefer to get to the high country by other means. This is the kind of country that makes you wonder whether beauty is a place or a state of mind. Or both.
From Packwood we continued east on the White Pass Scenic Byway, US 12 to White Pass. Since traffic was light we paused at the handsome wood trailhead sign for the Cascade Crest Trail just below White Pass. If you are new to this region you might not know that the Pacific Crest Trail was originally called the Cascade Crest Trail as much of that trail followed ridge-lines along the crest of the Cascades as the Pacific Crest Trail does today.
First we stopped at the Cracker Barrel at White Pass, an opportunity to top off your gas tank if need be. Inside we found friendly cashiers, coffee, snacks, maps and recreational information handy for drivers, hikers and winter recreationists. Forgot your wildflower field guide? The Cracker Barrel also carries up-to-date field guides.
At 2.5 miles below White Pass we stopped at the Clear Creek Falls Overlook with restrooms, an interpretive trail and waterfall views. Waterfalls are notoriously tricky to photograph – if you are interested in capturing this waterfall on camera, best to photograph on a cloudy day and with a slow shutter speed to soften the flow of the water. A high shutter speed will create an entirely different effect; experiment, it’s fun!
The interpretive trail starts near the restrooms and skirts cliffs above the South Fork of Clear Creek with views of the waterfall (though you cannot view the base of the waterfall from there). On our recent visit, beargrass was in bloom and the air was fragrant with their sweet scent. We walked to the west end of the interpretive trail where interpretive signs display information about the peregrine falcons that nest in the surrounding cliffs and their nearby hack site.
When you hear the word “hack” computers may come to mind but when it comes to falcons, hacking has a completely different meaning (we had to look it up too!). The word “peregrine” comes from a Latin word that translates to “traveler” and can these raptors ever travel. They can dive up to 200 miles per hour and capture their prey in mid-air. Peregrine falcons mate for life unless one is replaced by a stronger bird or dies. They nest on ledges, small shallow caves and even tall buildings.
Hacking is the controlled release of falcons (raised in captivity) often in plywood boxes attached to cliffs or high buildings. Hacking is important because their populations were decimated in the 1940s-1960s due to the use of pesticides (DDT). Today their populations are recovering.
At 6.5 miles from White Pass is the Sand Ridge Trail just off US 12 via Forest Service Road No. 488.
In about 7.6 miles below White Pass we entered the Clear Lake Recreation Area and stopped at the Day Use Area via Forest Service Road 1200, passing several campgrounds on our way.
The Clear Lake Day Use Area provides a picnic shelter, boat launch, picnic grounds, restrooms and a stretch of the Great Washington State Birding Trail. The trail features blinds for closer views of the birds and interpretive signs. There is also an old flagpole and traces of concrete foundations from an army rest camp dating back to World War II. We spotted the flagpole but no concrete. The islands near the shoreline are off limits to the public though fishing is allowed (visit the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife for rules and regulations).
We’d planned to hike to the Round Mountain Lookout Trail No. 1144 off (Forest Service Road No. 1200-530). The four-mile gravel road is in good shape and manageable for passenger cars but watch for two deep dips and falling rocks. Though narrow and winding the road provides several turn-outs.
Finding the Round Mountain trailhead can be a little confusing as the road to Round Mountain on the Green Trails map is designated Road No. 830 whereas forest service road-signs off Road 1200 are numbered 1220-530. Go by the road number posted on the road signs, not the map.
After parking at the Round Mountain trailhead we met local hikers returning from the trail who said the north side of Round Mountain was still under snow. By early July the trail should be clear of snow.
Back on Road No. 1200 you’ll pass more campgrounds and forest service roads en route to Naches. Explore these campgrounds and forest service roads as you desire but it’s helpful if you obtain the appropriate maps before you set out. We also bypassed several forest service roads that access multiple-use trails such as Forest Service Road 1205 (right) that provides access to the Pinegrass Area 3.
As we continued we enjoyed views of Rimrock Lake and Kloochman Rock but bypassed Road No. Road 1000 to Grey Camp Campground and Conrad Meadows. We had to cherry-pick our stops given there were so many!
We left Road No. 1200 to visit the Peninsula Recreation Area where we found a boat launch, a campground and the Tieton Emergency Air Strip. This is a beautiful site with a clean facility and a marshy shoreline at Rimrock Lake ideal for bird-watching.
Goose Egg Mountain rises above the lake. Apparently, there is no official trail to Goose Egg Rock or Kloochman Rock. These rock formations are better suited for off-trail exploration and/or scrambling/climbing, not hiking. Without climbing experience and route-finding skills don’t try to find your way to the top.
After bypassing Milk Creek Road No. 2000 we found ourselves back on the byway.
We peeked at the Wild Rose Day Use Area with a picnic table, a path to the Tieton River and restroom. We passed Willows Campground (right) and about this time we needed to switch maps from the Green Trails No. 304 (Rimrock) to Green Trails No. 305 (Tieton). If you continue into Naches you’ll find restaurants, taverns, camping supplies and fruit stands. You can also drive back to the west side by way of State Route 410 though we opted for the byway.
By the time we approached Trout Lodge on US 12 with rental cabins and a restaurant, we were hungry. There we stopped to share a delicious blackberry cobbler before we continued our journey. Trout Lodge is open year-round and looks like a sweet place to stay.
Ignoring several more intriguing forest service roads our next stop was the Windy Point Campground (operated by Hoodoo Concessionaire) at milepost 178 with a $5 day-use fee. Given the $5 day-use fee, we didn’t stop though it looks like an attractive place to camp. We also bypassed the well-signed Bear Canyon trailhead (left), managed by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) as we’d used up our hiking time.
We’d recently hiked the Tieton River Trail so knew we were getting close to the nearby Royal Columns climbing area and another trailhead for the Tieton River Trail. This trailhead is indicated by a Quonset hut. If you start from the Quonset trailhead rather than the Oak Creek Wildlife Area you’ll cross the river on a suspension bridge which might make some hikers uncomfortable as it is several feet above the river.
Additional Information: A Northwest Forest Pass is required at trailheads. The maps you will need for this area are Green Trails No. 304 (Rimrock) and Green Trails No. 305 (Tieton). For further information on roads, trails, rules, and regulations contact the Naches Ranger District – call 509-653-1400.
For additional information regarding fishing rules and regulations visit the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website at www.wdfw.wa.gov.
By Karen Sykes for the White Pass Scenic Byway