|Highway 12 West of
Yakima, WA and over
mountains, and snow.
Worth a Detour
|WHITE PASS SCENIC BYWAY
In May 2010, I visited Yakima for the first time. I went there to take the state real estate exam, since all the
Seattle area testing sites were booked up. I had reached Yakima the day before the test by the quickest
route over highways I-90 and 97. That was a pretty drive in itself. The next day I decided to return home by
a new route I had never tried: highway 12 west of Yakima over White Pass and then up the east side of
Mount Rainier National Park. In the morning I passed the real estate exam (yeah!), so that put me in a good
mood for the drive.
My main interest in this route was Mount Rainier, but I found plenty of beautiful attractions on the route
leading up to White Pass. My first stop was along the Naches River - where a big crowd of people were
fishing. On the opposite shore stood imposing volcanic cliffs of upright pillars. Later in the day, I read that
volcanic pillars of this sort mark the edge of an advance of erupting lava. The Palisades near Mount
Rainier were thought to have been blocked by a glacier. These equally impressive cliffs at Naches had no
such interpretive information along the road.
At the next attraction, I left highway 12 for the loop road around beautiful Rimrock Lake. Here I stopped at a
bridge over the Tieton River. This gave me the best view of the lake. A flock of little birds were wheeling
around - perhaps they were nesting under the bridge. I scrambled down the hard-baked muddy bank to
have a look at the river. If I were a kid, I would have played here all day with the rocks, sticks, and mud.
But I had to move on, so back to the car...
After the lake, highway 12 climbs up towards the pass and gives views like the marvellous one above. I
stopped next at Clear Creek Falls - a roadside overlook down a steep canyon with a dramatic waterfall.
Further up the road I slammed on the brakes and hopped out to photograph Dog Lake. This lake was
almost completely covered in ice and snow - a surprising discovery in May. This lake was evidently melting
and feeding the waterfall I had just left.
At the top of White Pass, the entire landscape was snow covered and some kids were playing in the snow
on sleds. A little store here is open for snacks and a restroom break.
A few miles beyond the pass, you reach a magnificent viewpoint of Mount Rainier. I stopped here for a
picnic and observed as other people drove up and reacted to the view. The driver of a big rig stopped in a
hurry, hopped out of his cab, hooted and hollered in astonishment at the view, and took several photos.
Another group in a station wagon with dirty windows paused briefly, didn't even roll down the windows, and
drove quickly on. I recommend lingering at this spot.
Near the junction with highway 123, pull of the highway for the Palisades Viewpoint. The palisades are the
upright volcanic pillars I mentioned earlier. The difference here was a layer of soil and forest topping the
pillars versus the bare cliffs back towards Yakima.
At highway 123, I left the White Pass Scenic Byway on highway 12 to drive north along the east side of
Mount Rainier. I hadn't seen the eastern side of the park before and I had in mind to visit the Grove of the
Patriarchs (old growth trees), but the park was still covered in snow and all the attractions were closed. I'll
save the Patriarchs for a future trip.
Official White Pass Scenic Byway Website
Naches Valley Chamber of Commerce Map
by Bob Kelly