If you decide to spend a week in the Mount Rainier area, after a few days you’ll probably need an escape to civilization. Maybe your snacks will run low, or you’ll just develop the compelling urge to walk around a Walmart. No matter what the reason, Yakima is only a couple of hours away from Packwood, and as a bonus, you get to drive a scenic road along the way.
Aside from my need to stock up on supplies (Packwood has a grocery store, but it’s expensive), I wanted to escape the rain that had plagued the first three days of my week at the mountain. I knew that eastern Washington was notoriously dry, while the west coast stayed soggy throughout most of the year. So, I hit the road, traveling east on US 12.
This section of road is known as the White Pass Scenic Byway. Before you leave Packwood, you can probably grab a “tear sheet” map that lists all of the attractions along the route.
Because of the rain and road construction, I didn’t make a lot of stops as I passed over White Pass (elevation 4,500 feet/1372 meters). I did, however, turn off the highway to see Clear Creek Falls. This impressive waterfall plunges 228 feet into a canyon beside the road. You might not even notice it if you’re headed east, but westbound traffic will probably see it from the highway.
A parking/picnic/rest area at the falls is the beginning of a short trail that runs along the canyon’s rim, and if you take it all the way (no more than a five-minute walk), you’ll find a good, clear view of Clear Creek Falls. During my visit, clouds were billowing through the canyon, and the waterfall would appear and disappear as they passed.
[tmt_info =””]If you’re hoping to do some snow skiing, you’ll want to stop at the top of White Pass. The White Pass Ski Area offers a 2,000-foot vertical drop, and six chair lifts, including two high-speed quads. The area gets an average of 350 inches of snow every winter.[/tmt_info]
As you drop down from White Pass, an amazing thing happens. Right before your eyes, you’re passing from a lush, rainy evergreen forest into a desert. It happens so fast, it’s hard to believe.
As you come down, Rimrock Lake appears in the distance, and before long, you’re driving along its northern shoreline. The lake has been here since 1925, when the Tieton Dam was built as part of an irrigation project. The lake is about six miles long, and a mile wide…
… and once you’ve passed it, US-12 continues to run alongside the Tieton River.
A few more miles down the road, and it’s hard to imagine that you were in an evergreen forest, less than an hour earlier!
US 12 meets Washington 410 near Naches, Washington. From here, 410 heads north, then west towards Mount Rainier National Park, crossing over Chinook Pass. If you’re making the trip out-and-back to Yakima, 410 allows you to make a nice loop.
About four miles east of the junction, you can turn off US 12 for a quick drive through Naches, Washington.
The Naches Spire serves as a tiny welcome center, at the side of Naches Avenue. The town’s historic train depot is across the street. A bit further…
… and you’ll pass through the small downtown area. Yes, that’s a flashing yellow light at the big intersection of Naches Avenue and 2nd Street. Go a block further, then hang a left, and you’ll be on Old Naches Highway, which loops back to US 12.
If you stay on US 12, you’ll pass a few gas stations and other businesses, as well as the Laredo Drive-in (which I didn’t eat at, but I did admire their neon sign).
[tmt_info =””]Along this stretch of US 12, you’ll pass one fruit stand after another. [/tmt_info]
Here’s the time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive from Packwood to Naches, via US 12…