Road Trip on the Chinook Scenic Byway - Visit Rainier

Road Trip on the Chinook Scenic Byway

With so many route options for exploring the Chinook Scenic Byway, which runs along Highway 410, our out-and-back decision may seem a little uninspired. With a trim schedule and full agenda, we made the trip in 24 hours stopping every 10 – 20 miles to enjoy one its many features.

To say we are well acquainted with Mud Mountain Dam would be an understatement. This recreation area is a favorite summer stop for our family. With two large play areas, plenty of picnic tables, hiking trails, and a wading pool, this parental sanity saver offers something for everyone.

Just up the road Federation Forest also offers plenty of opportunities for cooped up travelers to get out and move. The 619-acre area features multiple trails and picnic spots for travelers. The Catherine Montgomery Interpretive Center offers as much information on the local fauna and flora as visitors can handle. Unfortunately for us, the center was closed for renovations with no re-open date supplied on the door.

Silver Creek Visitor Information Center offered maps, coffee and valuable conversation with a Forest Service employee. Smokey Bear’s middle name is not “The” for example.

To our dismay, the top of the pass was socked in with fog that afternoon. With my restless companion sacked out in the back seat, I decide to make tracks toward Naches. A strong westerly kept skies bright and crisp as we rolled into the friendly, arid town. FRUIT, in red lettering on white buildings, was a color scheme familiar to this former CWU student. After a walk through town, we stopped at the westernmost fruit stand. Yard art, ski equipment and “fresh oysters” were advertised. We settled on donut peaches and a honey stick for the road. On the proprietor’s recommendation, we decided to try the fish dinner at Gold Creek Restaurant that night.

En route we drove through the Cottonwood campground, the easternmost campground on 410 in the Wenatchee National Forest. The site featured spots along the Naches River with few residents. Next stop: Gold Creek. The long, red establishment features a newly renovated bar with a big screen TV for watching the game and a wide selection of beer and solid pub fare. A quieter, more family-friendly restaurant sits next door, where folks can have a quiet conversation and enjoy the animals around the waterfall and feeders. The fish and chips lived up to their reputation, and my 6-year-old was quite satisfied with her mac and cheese and applesauce.

After dinner, we ventured up the road to check out a few other campgrounds and found them completely full. We headed back down to Cottonwood and set up camp. $16 for a riverfront site, potable water, and a latrine felt like a good deal.

We enjoyed a chilly breakfast at our picnic table before making an early departure to the Boulder Caves.  At a brisk 39 degrees, we made our way up the 1.5 mile RT trail. We were surprised and delighted to find that the trail allows visitors to walk through the cave, home to a seasonal colony of Townsend bats, with a headlamp or flashlight. This provided just enough spooky factor for the kid and made it our favorite stop on the Byway.

The morning sun filtered through thick, red smoke courtesy of eastern Washington fires. We pulled over to capture a few photos of Fife’s Peak, impressive in spite of the haze and continued west. Just shy of the summit a  yearling black bear ambled across the road in front of us, stopping to give us the once-over before continuing into the forest near Sheep Lake.

Mt. Rainier had a mirage-like quality to it when viewed from Tipsoo Lake. After taking a couple of photos we headed down the pass, satisfied with the stops we’d made along the way.

Future plans will include the Chinook Scenic Byway in a loop trip, with visits to Bumping Lake and Goose Prairie. With so many scenic stops, this educational, active road trip has strong family appeal.