Update: Chinook Pass opens May 23, 2014. Expect Winter driving conditions check WSDOT
This road trip is a 3 1/2 hour circle drive from the Yakima Valley over three scenic mountain passes, White Pass Scenic Byway Hwy 12, Cayuse Pass Hwy 123, Chinook Pass Hwy 410. Expect the most spectacular scenery in Washington State. The Cascade Mountain Range is a relatively young mountain range of basalt rock, steep and forested. High meadows and passes in the mountain range are at 5,000 and 6,000 feet.
Description of the driving tour: You will be driving White Pass Scenic Byway first, Cayuse Pass, and then the Chinook Pass Scenic Byway. There are endless alternative side trips and activities, including hiking, climbing, photography, and camping, as well as short walks to scenic attractions. Starting in Yakima, on I-82 West, to Hwy 12 west, 20 miles following the Naches or “White Pass” to the junction of Hwy.12 and Hwy. 410.
McIlrath Fruit Stand at the intersection of Hwy 12 and Old Naches Hwy and offers a variety of valley farm fresh fruit and produce. In approximately 10 miles reach the town of Naches. Thompsons Farm Market offers local farm fresh produce, their own family farm grown tree ripened fruit and gifts, wine and wine tasting.
At the junction of Hwy 12 and Hwy 410, turn left onto White Pass Hwy 12. Immediately on your left, view the spectacular Tieton extruded rock formations known as Royal Columns, popular with rock climbers. There is hiking and mountain biking trail called the Tieton Nature Trail. On your right (north) is the Oak Creek Game Range, a very large wildlife management area operated by the State Department of Wildlife. This is an attraction during winter months when large numbers of elk are feed and an interpretative center with information on the local wildlife.
Proceeding up Hwy. 12, view volcanic rock formations, a rapid change in vegetation from sagebrush to the alpine firs at the summit.
Bordering the road on the south is the Tieton River, is a major rafting attraction during the month of September, when large amount of water is released from the dam at Rimrock Lake to irrigate the vineyards and orchards in the Yakima Valley. This release of water is called The Tieton River Flip Flop by the locals.
Rimrock Lake, behind the Rimrock Dam is a summer recreation area with boat launches, beaches, camping and cabins.The Rimrock Dam, built in 1925 to serve the Yakima-Tieton Irrigation Project, was the largest earth-filled dam in the world at that time.
Once over the summit at White Pass, look south for a spectacular view of the Goat Rocks, and a scenic viewpoint for Mt. Rainier. The highway descends along the bank of the deep cleft Clear Fork of the Cowlitz River, originating at the Cowlitz Glacier on Mt Rainier.
At about 61 miles from the junction of Hwy 12 and 410 there is a viewpoint for The Palisades, a spectacular showing of tall rock columns. Look for the signs announcing this viewpoint on the downhill (left) side of the road. There is a nice pull off from the highway here with picnic tables. In 2.5 miles, turn right from White Pass Hwy 12 onto Hwy.123, Cayuse Pass and the Ohanapecosh Campground. Vegetation is thick, near rain forest ecosystem with very large trees. Going straight, instead of turning onto Hwy 123 takes you to the city of Packwood with groceries, restaurants, gas and lodging at the Crest Trail Lodge.
Ohanepecosh Campground and Visitor Center, a Mt. Rainier National Park campground is a favorite because of its large trees and location along the Ohanepecosh River. Pronounced like, “Oh Hannah by gosh”. There is a visitor’s center with detailed information on Mt.Rainer and the park.
Continue on Highway 123 for 11 miles to the junction with Hwy. 410. Turn right to Chinook Pass. The Chinook Pass Scenic Byway is generally open by Memorial Day, and usually remains open through October. . The steep highway jumps rapidly up the switchbacks as you quickly enter a zone of sub-alpine vegetation. Peak flower blooms are in late July and August. It is 3 miles to Tipso Lake parking area and another 1/2 mile to the parking area on the east side just past the footbridge, which is part of the Pacific Crest Trail. There are many hiking options in this area. One short trip offering beautiful photo opportunities is the Naches Peak Loop Trail at the top of Chinook Pass. Further down the Chinook Scenic Byway closer to the hamlet of Cliffdell is the Boulder Cave Hike.Note: Boulder Cave is closed until 2015
At milepost 108.6 there is a new section of road due to a massive landslide which covered the highway and altered the course of the Naches River. Looking north one can see the scar the landslide on the hill. Further down the road is the Woodshed Restaurant at Eagle Rock Resort , offering breakfast, lunch, dinner, a lounge, and camping.
At the junction of Hwy 410 and Hwy 12, continue straight toward the cities of Naches and Yakima.
For more information on Hikes along this route:
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