Chinook Pass Scenic Byway

The Chinook Pass Scenic Byway runs from the rolling fields of Enumclaw west of the Cascades to the Naches Valley east of the range. Along the way, this two-lane pass wraps around the northeastern flank of iconic Mount Rainier.

Driving along this byway will give you a first-hand answer to that ubiquitous Washington State question, “Is the Mountain out?” But picture-perfect glimpses of the second tallest peak in the continental United States aren’t all this route has to offer. This is a “boots-on” byway that presents every opportunity to step out of the car into dense forests, alongside rollicking rivers and onto high desert plains. It seems there is a new microclimate every other mile, so bring along extra layers of clothes, a solid pair of shoes, and don’t forget your camera.

At the start of the byway, 14,410-foot-tall Mount Rainier steals the scene and challenges the sky.  Pause in Rainier’s foothills to explore an old-growth forest or snowshoe a placid path. As you travel east, rushing water seems your constant companion, as this road follows routes carved by the White, Greenwater, American and Naches rivers long ago. Finally, the dense Douglas fir forests of the western Cascades will give way to the sparser tamaracks and ponderosa pines of eastern Washington’s foothills. At the byway’s end there are many rewards; miles of horizon, abundant wildlife, farm stands filled with local produce and, usually, warm weather and blue eastern Washington skies.

Before you jump in your car and head out, remember a portion of this route is a seasonally restricted road—plan your trip between late May and late November.

Key points of interest:

  • Crystal Mountain Ski Area & Gondola – During winter, Washington’s largest ski resort, Crystal Mountain, has 2,600 acres of world-class terrain for skiers and snowboarders, along with many slope-side lodging and dining options. A new high-speed gondola allows skiers to make even more runs on those perfect powder days and is open during summer to bring visitors to the summit for breathtaking views of Mt. Rainier.
  • Tipsoo Lake – About 8 miles past the entrance to Sunrise, the byway winds upward along a series of switchbacks to another popular stop and photo-op—Tipsoo Lake. Chances are you have seen this lake, with Mount Rainier reflected in its still waters, even if you’ve never visited. It’s one of the most photographed nature scenes in the United States.