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Tacoma to Mount Rainier National Park

  • Distance: 55 miles
  • Routes: SR 7, SR 706
  • Estimated Driving Time: 1.5 hours

Dominated by majestic Mt. Rainier at every turn, this All-American Road traces the historic Naches Trail trading route between Enumclaw and the Naches Valley.

It offers, in rapid succession, views of intense urban activity, of farming on fertile valleys and stump lands, and of logging and lumbering in the shadow of the imposing mountain. Particularly on weekends, automobiles laden with skis, wool clothing, and other winter-sports equipment whiz along the highway, transporting parties from Tacoma, Seattle, and other Puget Sound cities to the alpine playland.

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Lying along the protected waters of Puget Sound and Commencement Bay, into which the Puyallup River drains, is about midway between Seattle to the north and Olympia to the southwest. Commencement Bay, a fine natural harbor on the Sound, is recognized as one of the country’s leading ports. Few cities may boast a more beautiful setting. To the west is the sweep of Puget Sound with wooded bluffs rising from...

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The tour descends into park-like terrain as it approaches Parkland, a trading center for farmers and for students from Pacific Lutheran Academy. First settled in the 1850s, many families here are of Scandinavian descent. Throughout this area scattered clumps of coniferous trees and small lakes once lent a park-like appearance to the landscape.

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Pacific Lutheran University

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Old Main

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Ward T. Smith/Bjug Harstad House

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Parkland Lutheran Children’s Home

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Emma Smith DeVoe House

Mile: 51

Brookdale is a roadside group of dwellings and small stores. Regarded as an extension of Parkland in the 1940s, today it is a suburb of Tacoma as well as an independent village. In the 1940s the flat prairie country around it was thinly forested with scrub oak and Douglas fir. It was a former stop on the street car lines of the Tacoma Railway and Power Company. Thomas Hall platted...

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The First Military Road built in the State of Washington, marked by a large cobblestone pyramid erected by the Washington State Historical Society. This road was built from Steilacoom to Walla Walla across Naches Pass by the “people of the northern Oregon,” after they had become exasperated by the slow progress made by the Federal Government. The first wagon train to cross the northern Cascades traveled on this road, which...

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Mile: 50

One of the earliest settlements in Pierce County. The Hudson’s Bay Company’s Nisqually Journal of Occurrences for April 26, 1849, records the entry, “Two plows sent to Spannuch and one to Muck.” When or why the name was modified is unknown. By the 1940s, the town had a post office, stores, taverns, and a creamery. Most of the business structures were false-fronted with high windows. A few modern structures mingle...

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Leroy Sanders House

Crossing a branch of Muck Creek, in the 1940s the highway wound through a dreary area of stumps. Amid the black chaos of old logging waste and the scrubby brush of new growth are magnificent stands of Scotch broom. The highway, winding in great loops, then drops into a shallow valley. It was named Douglas River by Puget's Sound Agricultural Company, a subsidiary of Hudson's Bay Company, when these fur...

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Mile: 41

Beginning a descent into Ohop Valley, the road passes Ohop Bob’s Inn, which perches on the precipitous slope of an abrupt hill and overlooks the fertile valley far below. Mount Rainier towers above the landscape. Crossing the Ohop Creek Bridge, the highway winds upward through a mass of heavy firs, then descends rapidly to the floor of the valley. The Valley, a 10,000 year old marshland environment, is currently undergoing...

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Jacobson Barn

The Pack Demonstration Forest was established in 1926 on 2,000 acres of land donated by Charles Lathrop Pack to the University of Washington. The Forestry School of the University, had accommodations and facilities for 42 students, and was in session here during spring and summer quarters. The curriculum included surveying, erosion control, forestry and conservation, laboratory work in entomology, and a field trip to the Wind River Nursery. The Charles...

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Mile: 27

Perched on a sheer cliff more than 400 feet above the Nisqually River, which tumbles and froths through a 20-foot channel below. A lodge, a village store, and a gas station cling tenaciously to the slope beside the highway, trees hiding the canyon from view. Here is the city of Tacoma’s hydroelectric plant below the reservoir, from which four penstocks carry water to the battery of huge turbines in the...

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Mile: 26

Southeast of La Grande the highway climbs rapidly into rugged country, skirting the canyon rim and often scratching into great rocky cliffs. So precipitous are the walls that in places solid rock had to be blasted away for the entire width of the roadbed. These abrupt and rocky cliffs are tinged brown and orange. Turnouts are provided at points of unusual scenic beauty; far below, the railroad winds in a...

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Mile: 25

The community of Alder on the Nisqually River above Alder Dam was relocated after World War Two from its original site which was inundated by Alder Lake. There were large groves of Alder trees in the neighborhood when the community was founded in the 1880s. The place was platted for development on December 18, 1905 by Martin Hotes from the southern part of his homestead. The original community, since flooded,...

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On the bank of the Nisqually River, was another gathering place for the mountain folk. Settled by German homesteaders in the early 1880s. The town with its tiny church, log tavern, a store, a service station, and a brilliant-hued railroad depot, peers up at the denuded mountain range and forested peaks. In the 1940s, trucks laden with fuel wood stopped at Elbe on their way to Puget Sound cities. In...

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Elbe Evangelical Church

Mile: 17

The tour continues across a broad benchland, bordered on either side by the Bald Hills, favorite haunt in the 1920s of moonshiners before the repeal of the Volstead Law (National Prohibition Act). Occasionally the Nisqually River is seen curling along the base of logged-off and burned foothills. Lonely farms, dropped in small cleared areas among blackened stumps, struggle for existence. Tobaton Creek rises west of Clear Lake and flows through...

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Mile: 1

In the 1940s the town was the site of a large lumber mill. The great red buildings of the mill, its rusted stacks belched black smoke and white steam. Crowded close together and fronting crooked, planked streets were tiny box-like cottages, painted in the same red as the mill. The lumber company dominated every phase of the town’s activity, and no one who did not gain his living through the...

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Mile: 6

The terminal of the Tacoma Eastern Railroad. Built along both sides of the highway on the side of a mountain, it overlooks a valley and the roofs of National’s mill and close-grouped cottages. Some of the employees of the mill live in Ashford, and other mill hands frequently drive the short distance to find relaxation in the Ashford tavern. Ashford has lost much of its importance as a log-shipping center,...

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Points of Interest
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Peter L. and Emma Hershey Homestead

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Ashford House

Mile: 8

In the highway cuts and in the lower levels are remnants of small glacial formations, while the higher elevations disclose evidences of the Tertiary period. Few places afford a better opportunity to study the slow processes of nature over tens of thousands of years. In the dim past, Mount Rainier grew from successive volcanic eruptions, andesite and basalt in fragmentary condition forming the bulk of the deposits. Erosion through the...

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Mile: 10

Marked by a huge arch of logs spanning the highway. Two campgrounds provide full accommodations, campsites, and tent cabins. Visitors register and obtain permits at the booth which is connected by a common roof to the caretaker’s cottage of peeled logs. This 368-square-mile national park commemorates the grandeur of Mount Rainier, the highest peak in Washington at an elevation of 14,410 ft. (4,392 m.) and one of the most active...

Learn more about Nisqually Entrance to Mount Rainier National Park

Mile: 14

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