Great American Road Trip: Part 2

Lake Chelan & Gifford Pinchot National Forest

July 17–20

After driving 6+ hours each day for a week, I was ready for a break from the road. I was blessed with the chance not only to spend some down time relaxing, but to do so with friends and at an incredible place — Lake Chelan, WA. Lake Chelan is the third deepest state in the United States and the 26th deepest lake in the world. We rented a big house on the side of the lake with a dock looking into the crystal clear water. We spent our two days and two nights at the house grilling, eating, drinking, slip & sliding, swimming, free-soloing the giant rock walls along the lake edge, and just generally enjoying the company of friends from both Germany and Seattle. With the air temperatures in the 90s (32+ C), the lake provided a nice refreshing way to cool off and have fun. Our short stay at the lake came to an end, and we all grabbed ice cream then headed our separate ways before reuniting two days later for our friends’ wedding in Portland. I was headed out into the wild.

Our lake house and the rock wall. Photo courtesy hometogo.com

Gifford Pinchot National Forest

From Chelan, I headed south toward the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. The first part of the drive follow the Columbia River southward, before skirting across the souteast reaches of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. In Yakima, I picked up US-12, which just west of Naches becomes the White Pass Scenic Byway. This winding road goes westward following theTieton River upstream to Rimrock Lake, then continues over White Pass with stunning views of Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Saint Helens. There are also several state forest campgrounds along this stretch of road, where one can find a place to camp for the night at a range of prices.

I opted for a free camping spot just off the highway and before crossing through the tunnel near the Rimrock Lake dam. While I could hear the occasional car/truck driving on the highway, the rushing river nearby provided nice views and drowned out most of the road noise.

My campsite for the evening.

The next morning, I drove further west along Rimrock Lake, then heading up the mountain to White Pass. The road twists and turns along the edge of the mountain until reaching White Pass. Here there is a little gas station, lodge, ski resort, and access to the Pacific Crest Trail.

View of Rimrock Lake from up the mountain.

From this point, it the road starts descending down toward Packwood, winding through the pine trees. There are a few different viewpoints, where you can stop to see both Mount Rainier and Mount Saint Helens. I never managed to see Mount Adams, but to be fair I wasn’t particularly looking for it either.

Mount Saint Helens (left) and Mount Rainier (right) from the scenic byway overlooks

When I arrived in Randle, I turned south on National Forest Road 25 toward the Mt. Saint Helens Windy Ridge Viewing area. This road is a VERY windy road that is not maintained in the winter, so there are occasionally some rough spots in the road an lots of very tight turns. Even though I was only traveling 44 miles on the road, it took over an hour and a half to reach the Pine Creek Visitor Center on the south side of the mountain. If you like winding mountain roads, then it is a joy to drive through the old growth forests.

Ape Caves

My goal in visiting Mt. Saint Helens this time was to visit the Ape Caves, a series of underground lava caves that were bored out from the moving lava and have been preserved underground. This hike is completely in the dark and requires occasionally scaling 6–8 ft rock walls in order to make it through. I had never seen any geological features like these, so the various striations visible in the rock were quite fascinating. Turning off your headlamp in the middle of the cave gives you a real sense of how dark it really is down there.

View of the Ape Caves captured by Nathan Yan (instagram)

Had I given myself more time, I would have also gone to check out some of the hiking on this southern side of the mountain. I guess that will have to wait until my next visit!