Packwood, Washington

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If you want to stay near Mount Rainier National Park, and you don’t want to camp, you only have a handful of choices.  The tiny lumber town of Packwood, Washington might be your best option.  I chose to stay here twice — during my brief 2-night stay in August, 2011, then again for my weeklong stay, a month later.

The above picture shows you most of the town.  There isn’t even a stoplight to force you to pause as you drive through.  But the necessities are all here, including a grocery store, a handful of restaurants, and several motels.

Packwood is located 33 miles from Paradise, and 42 miles from Sunrise — the two most popular areas of Mount Rainier National Park. During my second stay in Packwood, Stevens Canyon Road was closed for road repairs, but fortunately there is an alternate route to Paradise, the curvy Skate Creek Road, which begins in Packwood. This route puts Paradise 41 miles away, instead of 33.

For my weeklong stay, I chose the Hotel Packwood.  This old hotel was just a year away from celebrating its 100th anniversary.  I don’t think it’s changed much since then.

The Hotel Packwood offers a couple of rooms with bathrooms — but if you really want to save money, and you’re willing to walk across the hall to use the facilities, you can get a small room for $30 a night.

That cheap room is the whole reason I decided to spend a week at Mount Rainier.  If I couldn’t travel cheaply, I was going to stay home.  So when I discovered a place where I could stay for a whole week, for only $210, I jumped at the opportunity.

At the front door, there’s a life-sized sculpture of a bear that greets you.

There’s also a carving of Teddy Roosevelt, one of the hotel’s earliest guests.  Hey, if he gives it a thumbs up, how could I disagree?

The hotel’s lobby is more like a living room — which makes sense, when you realize that the hotel’s owner, Marilyn, lives right behind that door.  After spending a week here, I felt like I was part of her family.  In the mornings, she always wanted to know where I was headed, and in the evenings, she looked forward to a full report of my adventures.

In the far corner, just below the bear-skin rug on the wall, there’s a small refrigerator and a microwave, which allowed me to store a gallon of milk, some drinks, and some fruit.  I was able to eat cereal in the morning, and soup or some other microwavable meal every night, saving me even more money.

I didn’t mind spending some time in the public area…

… since my room (Number 7) was so tiny.  I stood at the door to take this picture.  There was only about a foot between the far side of the bed and the wall, and the foot of the bed and another wall.  On the left, there was a dresser (with a small TV) and a luggage stand.  My large suitcase became a nightstand, since it fit snugly in that corner, between the wall and the bed.

Sure, the room was tight, and moving around with suitcases was a hassle.  The mattress was old and noisy.  But, don’t forget, it’s only $30 a night.

Many of the other rooms are bigger than mine, and they are only slightly more expensive.  Seven of the rooms share two bathrooms — which I’d imagine is the biggest reason someone would consider not staying here.

I was a little concerned about the bathroom situation, so I brought along a can of Lysol spray.  It wasn’t necessary, since the bathrooms are stocked with cleaning wipes, and everything always looked clean.  There are piles of clean towels and washcloths in the bathroom, so you can grab one and use it when you need it (rather than trying to remember to bring one from your bedroom).  The bathrooms are also stocked with hotel-sized bars of soap, and some guests have left behind bottles of shampoo and conditioner.  There is a shower (not a bathtub) in each bathroom, and the bathrooms are private (you can lock the door).

I never had to wait to use a restroom.  But of course, the hotel wasn’t crowded during my stay (in fact, I think I was the only one there, one of the nights), so it’s possible a line could form during the most crowded nights.

After a week here, I felt a little sad as I turned in my key.  No, I don’t have any idea why the key to Room 7 is on a Jigglypuff Pokemon keychain, but it did make it difficult to lose, so I’m not complaining.

Interested in staying at the Hotel Packwood?  Check out its website, then give Marilyn a call.
During my August two-night stay in Packwood, I stayed up the street at the Cowlitz River Lodge.  It’s more like a conventional motel, with rooms that open to the parking lot.  The rooms are what you’d expect for a basic, but clean motel, and it has bathrooms in the rooms.  The price at the Cowlitz River Lodge was much higher — around $80 a night.  You can check prices here, and at other motels in town, by using the Booking.com search box on this page.

Drivelapse Video

Since I spent a lot of time driving in and out of Packwood, it became the start or endpoint of several Drivelapse videos.   Here’s the drive from Sunrise to Packwood…

… from Paradise to Packwood via Stevens Canyon Road…

… and Packwood to Naches, via US 12 (towards Yakima):

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