Packwood might be just a mile and a half long, but twice a year, during Memorial and Labor Day weekends, they pack their small town with roughly 800 vendors for the Packwood Flea Market. First established in the 1970s, Packwood is the most popular and largest flea market in the Pacific Northwest. Some say it is maybe even the largest west of the Rockies. Cindy Coonts, manager at the HC Lodging-owned Cowlitz River Lodge in Packwood, has been helping with the market for years and gave us the run-down in order to help shoppers make the most of the weekend shopping extravaganza.
“There is nothing you cannot find at the Packwood Flea Market,” says Coonts. “New, used, vintage, junk – you will find what you are looking for and a whole lot more.” In addition to vendors selling items, Coonts says at least 50 food vendors come every year, selling almost every type of food: fair food, Chinese, Thai and barbecue. You name it and you can probably find it. There are also the local restaurants for those wanting to get out of the sun and sit for a bit, but they are very crowded during the entire weekend.
Most vendors open at 8:00 a.m. each day, with all being open by 9:00 a.m. They stay open until dusk. On Monday, the market closes at 12:00 p.m.
There are portable toilets for guests to use, and the Cowlitz River Lodge also provides showers for $10 for guests that may be staying somewhere without access to a shower, such as those camping or staying in a dry RV lot. This price includes towels, soap, shampoo and conditioner.
Tips for Planning Your Trip
“You can’t do the full Packwood Flea Market all in one day and hotels fill up fast,” Coonts says. She explained that before HC Lodging bought the Cowlitz River Lodge, those who had existing reservations would just re-book for the next year at the event, so new people would never have a chance to stay near the market for the weekend. HC Lodging changed that by blocking out those dates until January 1 of every year, when they open up those two weekends for reservations. “We fill up by January 3,” she says. “By the time you get a month away from a market, the closest hotels available will be Yakima and Centralia.”
Roughly 60,000 people attend the Memorial Day sale, and the Labor Day weekend sale sees even more, closer to 80,000. That many people in such a small town means a lot of traffic, and parking spots are hard to come by. “It can take you an hour and a half to drive through town during the Packwood Flea Market. That’s just a mile and a half,” Coonts warns.
While the market is free to shop, you will have to pay for parking. The Cowlitz River Lodge is in a prime location for parking as it is where the vendor tents start. Arrive early because there is limited space to park for non-guests. Crest Trail Lodge, also owned by HC Lodging, has parking (and rooms if you are lucky) as well and is just a bit further away – about a one-mile walk each way to the vendors.
A tip from Coonts is that, while the sale is advertised Friday through Monday, many vendors open on Thursday for “early birds.” If you are looking for something particular or want to be one of the first, it is best to come out Thursday.
Her other tips include wearing good shoes and bringing plenty of your own water. “Packwood ran out of bottled water at the last market,” she warns, “so bring your own. It’s also best to leave your pet at home. It’s hot, it’s crowded and we do not allow people to leave pets in cars.”
“The market grows every year, and it’s really a lot of fun,” Cindy says. “You will find great deals on anything you could want. You won’t regret coming.”
Visit the Packwood Flea Market website for a map of the vendors and more information about planning your trip.