Packwood Washington is an ideal year-round small town destination for outdoor enthusiasts, and strangely enough, bargain hunters. Nestled in the Big Bottom Valley, and located only seven miles from the base of majestic Mt. Rainier, Packwood is surrounded by the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Packwood is the heart of Washington State volcano country. Located on Highway 12, just two hours from Seattle, it is centrally located between Mt. Rainier, Mt. Saint Helens and Mt. Adams. Packwood’s population is about 1500 in the winter and around 3000 in the summer.
Logging town no more
Once primarily a logging town, Packwood has emerged as an outdoor adventurer’s travel destination, and a summer home getaway, for people of all ages. Nature surrounds you in Packwood and the wildlife is abundant. Bald eagles soar above, the fish are plentiful in the Cowlitz River, and the herds of Elk are a sight that you will not soon forget. There is a small airport in the heart of town if you choose to fly in.
The number of activities in this town is remarkable. Whether your interests are winter or summer based there is an amazing array to choose from. Winter offerings include cross country and downhill skiing and snowboarding at nearby White Pass Ski Resort. Mt. Rainier has spectacular winter trails for cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and hiking. Snowmobile riding is a favorite pastime in the area and there are many trails to satisfy even the most experienced. There is also a Christmas bazaar, uphill snowmobile climb, and winter carnival.
Sprinkled throughout the year are a hot rod show and run, art exhibitions, music festivals, auctions, and several community BBQs. Mix these activities in with hiking for every level of fitness, horseback riding, swimming, boating, and water sports and your trip can be jam-packed with activities, or you can go a few minutes out of town and be alone with nature. There are many wilderness lakes and streams, as well as major recreation lakes nearby. The hunting and fishing is unbeatable in the area, and licenses are required in most cases. Be sure to check what is required in the rules and regulations of Washington State.
The town hosts two summertime swap meets, with the one on Labor Day weekend being the largest in the state. The other is on Memorial Day weekend and both attract tens of thousands of people. They come from all over to attend, and the variety of food and goods is astounding. During these two weekends there are vintage airplane rides offered at the airport that provide an unparalleled scenic view of the area. Be aware though that lodging accommodations and camping areas that take reservations fill up almost a year in advance. First-come, first-serve campgrounds are usually at capacity a week in advance.
For some visitors golfing is a requirement and the Packwood area has several golf courses available that are open year-round. Packwood itself has two golf courses and other courses are nearby in Randall and Glenoma. Golfing here can be quite an experience at times. The elk and deer enjoy the courses at night and sometimes forget to leave during the day. In the winter the greens are cordoned off to keep them out.
Amenities in town
The town itself has many shops, restaurants, and gas stations. There is the local market, a thrift shop, several antique stores, gift shops, a hardware store, and of course, when visiting anywhere near Seattle, two coffee shops, both with very good products. There is even a tea room here. The elementary school closed after the logging industry tanked and now houses a county sheriff sub-station and the White Pass Country Historical Society Museum.
No trip to Packwood is complete without visiting the famous and historic Blue Spruce Saloon and Diner. In the heyday of the logging industry, this was the watering hole for loggers from far and wide. The atmosphere evokes days gone by and the food is not only good, but served in logger appetite quantities. The Blue Spruce is open to those under 21 until 9 pm daily.
Mt. Rainier National Park
Be sure to plan time to explore Mt. Rainier National Park. There are many activities and sightseeing opportunities. Hiking and camping are available as well. The beauty and majesty of this mountain is breathtaking. Locals fondly say that “the mountain is out” on clear days and they never tire of the sight of the snow and glacier covered 14,410 foot volcano. A day or overnight camping trip to Mt. Saint Helens is well worth it. The power of nature is still visible today from the May 1980 eruption of the volcano. Nature’s most destructive fury is mixed with the most delicate of nature’s resiliency as the area slowly comes back to life.
There are many camp grounds, public and private, and numerous RV parks, some of which are open year-round. Reservations are necessary at some campgrounds, as they fill up fast, although most state campgrounds are first-come, first-serve. If you are feeling particularly lucky, there are primitive camping sites along Skate Creek Road. These fill up fast in the summer and during hunting season. This road does close at times due to heavy snowfall.
Lodging is plentiful and comes in a wide variety, from modern hotels, with spas and Wi-Fi connections; bed and breakfasts; mountain style lodges; to nice older motels where children stay free and pets are more than welcome. Vacation rental homes are available year-round and can be found either online, in the White Pass Shopper newspaper, or by contacting local real estate companies.
Check road conditions
When planning a trip to Packwood be sure to check the Washington State DOT website for current road and mountain pass conditions, as well as roadwork delays. Cayuse and Chinook passes, as well as the Paradise entrance to Mt. Rainier generally close for the winter. White Pass rarely closes for any length of time, although chains and/or traction tires can be required. Skate Creek Road (Forest Service Road 52), just past Elbe off of State Route 706, near the Ashford entrance to Mt. Rainier, makes a beautiful summertime shortcut to Packwood, but from mid-fall to late spring can be a treacherous drive and is at times closed. You can avoid all mountain driving by taking Highway 12 from Interstate 5.