It’s hard to imagine that you could ever get tired of traveling through Stephens Canyon, east of Paradise in Mount Rainier National Park. Stephens Canyon Road isn’t just beautiful, it’s also the quickest link between Paradise and the nearby town of Packwood, where I had chosen to stay. I was able to drive through it on my first visit to Mount Rainier in August of 2011, but by September the road had been shut down for road work, and I had to find an alternate route. Fortunately, there is another way to get from Packwood into the park: Skate Creek Road.
Also known as Forest Road 52, Skate Creek Road begins at the Shell station, at the biggest intersection in Packwood (no, it doesn’t even have a blinking light). It arrives at State Route 706, near Ashford and the Nisqually Entrance to the park, 23 miles later. It’s rough in places, and becomes quite monotonous if you end up driving it multiple times — which I did. Here is a time-lapse version of one of those drives:
… overlooking the Packwood area, and the mountains to the south.
There are several spots where you can pull off and enjoy the view, as well as camp in this area. In fact, you’ll see camping spots everywhere, along the side of Skate Creek Road, many of which are at the edge of Skate Creek.
After the first five miles, the road becomes very curvy and “dippy” — these surprising dips are hard to see from a distance, and can give your car’s suspension a workout. Take it slowly from mile 5 to 10, then you can speed up again. The remainder of the drive is smooth and easy.
Unfortunately, the final nine miles of Skate Creek Road seem like a big waste of time. On this final stretch, the road meets up with the Nisqually River, and parallels it, running west. Near the end, it turns north, crosses the river, and ends at Route 706. If you’re heading into the park, you’ll make a right turn, and for the next nine miles you’ll be headed east, once again running parallel to the Nisqually River, and Skate Creek Road. Unfortunately, there isn’t a bridge that could eliminate this 18-mile detour.