Weaving through the forests surrounding Mount Rainier, Mount Saint Helens and Mount Adams, US Highway 12 leaves those who drive it in awe with the stunning beauty, incredible scenery and a lifetime of recreational activities. Most who adventure along this 119-mile stretch of pavement find themselves overwhelmed by the vast array of wilderness adventures around every corner, resigned to follow the signs for the area’s main attractions. While this is an excellent way to get to know the highway and the must-see destinations along the paved road, there are a handful of hidden gems waiting to be discovered.
Washington’s White Pass, from Mary’s Corner and Naches, is full of adventure and beauty, and it’s likely to be the source for some of your favorite memories in the Cascade Mountains. This summer, once the snow has melted, pack up the car and discover new favorite places on this stunning scenic byway.
Grove of the Patriarchs and Silver Falls
Just off the highway to the north, 5.4 miles to be exact, one of Mount Rainier National Park’s overlooked destinations is waiting for your discovery. Known as the Ohanapecosh region of the park, two stunning hiking adventures can be found. The first is the short, family-friendly Grove of the Patriarchs trek, letting you discover an ancient forest after crossing a suspension bridge. The second is in the same area and leads to the breathtaking and always scenic Silver Falls, one of Lewis County’s most picturesque waterfalls. Reached along a three-mile loop trail, both of these hikes should be experienced in the same day.
Woods Creek Wildlife Area
Located near Packwood, this often-overlooked, family-friendly hike is a perfect place to get outside and stretch your legs as you explore all of the incredible stops along the White Pass Scenic Highway. At just 2.2 miles in length, the well-marked and easy-to-follow loops are best seen May through October, when wildflowers are blooming in every direction and birds, beaver, elk, deer and other native animals are active. The wildlife area is just south of Randle on Highway 131, making it a hidden picnic destination for families of all ages.
Juniper Ridge Trail
Need an adventure that offers views of the Cascade Range from ridge lines, wildflowers galore and is just six miles round trip? The Juniper Ridge Trail is one of the more secret trails in the White Pass region, and is a hike that will immediately become a new favorite. Climbing steeply for the first two miles, the trail soon gives way to breathtaking views of Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, Mount Saint Helens and even Mount Hood, giving you world-class views just a few miles south of Randle. The trail is dog friendly, but might be a bit tough for those with small children or those unaccustomed to gaining 1,900 feet of elevation over three miles. You’ll sweat, you’ll smile and you’ll be blown away by the experiences on this overlooked trail.
Snowgrass Flat Trail to Goat Lake
Some of us crave a hiking destination that will change our lives for the better. For those who explore around White Pass, that destination for incredible adventures is found in the Goat Rocks Wilderness. Known as one of the greatest wildflower meadows in the state, this trail is a classic trek that needs to be experienced. While miles of hiking can be found, the trek that gives you the most bang for your buck is the Snowgrass Flat Trail to Goat Lake Loop. As a 13-mile loop, this can be either an overnight or a long day trip, best seen starting out counterclockwise toward Snowgrass Flats. Surrounded by the volcanos of the Cascades, you’ll want to frequent this trail again and again.
While the best views of the greater White Pass region are found off trail, the White Pass Scenic Byway has four viewpoints that need to be stopped at and explored. Starting at Randle and moving east, the four viewpoints help show visitors to the region the best of the best, all from the side of the road. Educational, beautiful and accessible, these viewpoints offer some of the most iconic vistas in the region. The first is the Mount Adams Viewpoint, which gives great views of the aforementioned summit. To the east, the Palisades Viewpoint gives incredible views of dramatic volcanic rock formations, forming the backdrop of a steep valley. Complete with information signs and a short walkway, this is a must stop. Farther along the road, you’ll reach the breathtaking views found at the Rainier Viewpoint before coming down the mountains and meeting up with the picturesque waters found near Tieton Dam.
Burgers at Cliff Droppers
When on a road trip through this beautiful section of Washington State, a delicious burger must be consumed by all. At Cliff Droppers, the family-friendly, ski-bum atmosphere pairs perfectly with the easy deliciousness found in iconic hamburgers like the Sasquatch Burger. Ideal for hikers after a long day, perfect for curing the hungry moods of road-weary travelers and hitting the spot of modern day adventurers, Cliff Droppers is in the running for the best food stop on all of Highway 12.
The Mountain Goat Coffee Company
To be best fueled for a day of exploring, consider a stop at the Mountain Goat Coffee Company in Packwood. Locals love it, tourists adore it, and everyone rants and raves about their tasty java and mouthwatering baked goods. Yet, despite the amazing reputation, this classic stop along the White Pass Scenic Byway is still passed by far too often. With free Wi-Fi and indoor seating, this is your perfect stop to upload a day’s worth of adventures to social media and brag about your day to your entire list of contacts.