Washington’s Volcanoes region is characterized by Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens and Mount Adams and the outdoor explorer's haven that encircles them. Head to these small Washington towns, where proud locals are eager to point you to adventures in Mt. Rainier National Park and beyond.
Read the other articles in our series about Washington small towns, organized by region (in no particular order): Metro Seattle, North Cascades, The Islands, Peninsulas & Coast, The Gorge, North Central, Wine Country, Northeast and Southeast.
This rural town, nestled in Mount Rainier’s foothills, is wild. Visitors of all ages can spend the day on a wildlife tram tour or ziplining through the trees at Northwest Trek Wildlife Park.
SECRET GNOME VILLAGE
A happy little colony of gnomes resides off 410 deep in Federation Forest. Stop between mileposts 40 and 41, amble to the info kiosk and take the far right trail west, paralleling the White River. Stop 25 minutes or so later for thimbles of imaginary tea, but don’t miss the hidden doors tucked into logs, gnome jails and whatever else may have mysteriously popped up among the moss.
Many small towns have risen up around the necessities — flour, gas and hammers — but in Ashford, the essentials are more like crampons, ice axes and climbing harnesses. The former logging town is the gateway to Mount Rainier’s Paradise entrance, the base camp for mountain guide organizations, and home to Whittaker’s Motel & Historic Bunkhouse. Nearby Copper Creek Inn has epic pie.
If you’re not a logger or a nature lover, it’s the two-decades-old flea markets — on Labor and Memorial Day weekends — that attract tens of thousands of people to this hamlet, dramatically sandwiched between Mount St. Helens and Mount Rainier.
History reigns supreme in this old railroad town. Its historic district is full of brick buildings, antique malls and coffee shops where locals say hello to passersby. Also here are a Vintage Motorcycle Museum, full of original and restored pre-1916 bikes, and the Chehalis-Centralia Railroad & Museum, which features a glimpse into the past and offers 12- or 18-mile rides with a 1916 vintage steam locomotive on weekends.
Located at the junction of the Cowlitz and Columbia rivers, this port city is home to Lake Sacajawea Park and its 3.5 miles of walking trails, 17 parks, several bridges, numerous buildings on the National Register of Historic Places and the Nutty Narrows Bridge — one of three in town designed and built strictly for scurrying squirrels.
Come for the small-town atmosphere, but don’t miss the nearby Ape Caves. The more than 2-mile underground lava tube is the nation’s third largest features an 8-foot-tall lava fall and is easy to explore with headlamps.
Five developed areas welcome guests to this national park. In the southwest, Paradise offers lush meadows, glacial overlooks, and the circa-1916 Paradise Inn. In summer, visitors can shuttle from Longmire to Paradise, then hike the Wonderland Trail back. In the northwest, Carbon River is open year-round and happens to have a rain forest climate. In the northeast, Sunrise offers sweeping views of other ranges, while Ohanapecosh features old-growth forests and hot springs.
—Julie H. Case.
Photo credit: Lake Sacajawea Park, Flickr/J. Stephen Conn