The Good Life at Packwood White Pass
Of course I am prejudiced. Having lived in the city for a long time I knew what I was getting into.
In July of 2010 I moved lock stock and barrel to the small town of Packwood in south central Washington State, just outside the entrance to Mt. Rainier National Park. My new job was to be manager of the Chateau Timberline Hotel, then being taken over by my company Sunspot Resorts.
The entire area has a population of just about 1,000 smiling people. And my new abode is located about 4 miles East. Drive another 10 miles and you find the newly expanded ski resort of White Pass. It has always been a wonderful but hidden destination for winter outdoor sports. Now with 700 acres of new terrain and 500 additional vertical feet the secret is out.
All around town the mountains jut skyward making visitors feel like they are in the deep valleys of the Swiss alps. Mount Rainier seemingly hangs over the town as a constant companion. Most morning I am greeted by an elk herd that frequents my front lawn. There is something about their calm countenance that makes me smile.
In summer the weather can be sunny and hot. Outdoor and backroad activities are constant. In winter snow comes sporadically to the valley and always to White Pass.
Packwood is located at the intersection of US Highway 12 and Gifford Pinchot National Forest Road 52 called Skate Creek. Driving up and over that road to the village of Ashford is a trip back into time. Deep forest, high mountain bogs and almost no traffic.
Packwood is located between Mount Rainier National Park to the north and Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument to the south. Tatoosh Wilderness, Goat Rocks Wilderness, and William O. Douglas Wilderness are to the north, southeast, and northeast respectively, all surrounded by the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.
The town is situation in the upper Cowlitz river valley, just downstream of the confluence of the Clear and Muddy forks of the Cowlitz. It was first established as Sulphur Springs but later renamed in honor of William Packwood, a Virginian pioneer and explorer of Oregon and Washington.
Along with James Longmire, the two were assigned by the Washington Territorial Legislature to chart a pass over the Cascade Mountains, after several delegates to the first legislative session were killed going over the mountains elsewhere.
Perhaps the best part of living in Packwood is that its not Seattle, not Portland and not even Olympia or Yakima. The highway provides a steady but sometimes slow stream of travelers most of whom stop in Packwood for gasoline or meals.
In the Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends the town hosts the largest flea markets in the Northwest, a big boost for tourism and the local merchants. (PackwoodFleamarkets.com)). The affair is a curious blend of unorganized chaos and confusion with vendors setting up so densely on the highway that traffic can be backed up for miles.
Packwood is unincorporated and has no mayor or city council. The local Destination Packwood tourism group (DestinationPackwood.com) promotes the area but even they don't oversee the markets which disappear as fast as they arrived on the last day. It may be the Northwest's last true unorganized festival.
Of course Packwood is served by all the technology you might like from hundreds of cable TV channels to high speed Internet. But much of that seems superfluous to me now as I oversee the hotel and settle into the kind of laid back and in touch life style that I have longed for over the years.
It could happen elsewhere I suppose, but for guests who want to get close to nature, enjoy the seasons and yet be an easy driving distance from the major metropolitan areas, Packwood is a favorite spot. And now its one of mine. I can't imagine living anywhere else.
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