Reaching Packwood gives you access to the south side of Mount Rainier, the north side of Mount St. Helens, Goat Rocks Wilderness, the Pacific Crest Trail, and more.
To get there from Seattle, catch Sound Transit's Seattle Express (SE 594) at Second and Union in downtown Seattle at 6:08AM, reaching the SR 512 Park & Ride at 7:00. Catch Olympia Express (OE 601 at 7:05, or OE 603 at 7:10), with either bus reaching downtown Olympia shortly before 8:00. Note the Greyhound Station as you pass it. You've got until 9:40 when the next Greyhound leaves for Centralia (you may want to buy your ticket now). For breakfast I heartily recommend Otto's, across from the Olympia Transit Center (at the end of the line for the Oly Express).
That 9:40 Grey Dog reaches downtown Centralia at 10:10. Catch Twin Transit (any 30-series bus: 31, 32, 31A, 32A) from there heading east on Mellen Street, reaching Lewis County Mall in about 30 minutes. You will want to wait a while before heading to the mall, as it's really small, has no resaurants or food service of any kind, and there's really not much to do there. Leaving downtown Centralia by 11:30 or 11:45 will get you to the mall in plenty of time.
Lewis County Mountain Transit (LCMT, hereafter) leaves the mall at 12:35 (ask your previous driver where to wait), and reaches Packwood at about 2:30.
There are three runs of LCMT Monday through Friday. The last one-~leaves the mall at 5:37PM, reaching Packwood at about 7:30PM (leaving you no time to reach the woods, but there is a rivate, fee campground at the edge of town). Catching that last run would mean leaving Seattle at about 1:OOPM.
On the return trip, catch LCMT in Packwood at the Senior Center Monday through Friday at lO:lOAM, reaching the Greyhound Station directly at 12:02, in plenty of time for the 12:45 to Olympia. You'll either catch the Oly Express (OE 620) at 1:15, if you're lucky, or at 3:45, if otherwise. SE 594 leaves the SR 512 Park & Ride every half hour until 9:30.
Catching the 3:04PM LCMT from Packwood will enable you to make your connections with Twin Transit and with Greyhound, but you won't reach Olympia until after the Oly Express has stopped running, so you'd have to continue on with the Grey Dog all the way to Tacoma (where you can pick up the SE 594 back to Seattle).
From Packwood, lots of camping and backpacking options are possible, including the following ...
Vanson Meadow Deadmans Lake Loop
On the way from Centralia to Packwood on LCMT, and about 5 miles east of the town of Morton, Highway 12 almost touches the east end of Riffe Lake. Get off there (the 12:35 LCMT is scheduled to pass Morton at about 1:45. Inform your driver what you're trying to do).
Take the bridge across the corner of the lake and continue south along the shore road, crossing the Cowlitz River in about two miles. Take a right once across, then the next two lefts to get on Road 2750, which will take you to the trailhead, just inside the boundary of Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.
This loop mostly hugs ridges, from which nice views of the blown out north side of St. Helens can be had. A handful of tiny lakes beckon, as well as sidetrips to Vanson Peak and nearby meadows.
A ridge trail through the heart of the Tatoosh Wilderness, just south of Mount Rainier, offers great closeup views of Rainier, as well as St. Helens and Adams. Leaving the LCMT in Packwood, cross the bridge over the Cowlitz River and turn right onto Cannon Road, which becomes Road No. 5290. Follow this road past the gate as it heads uphill, remaining on 5290 when it forks, soon reaching the trailhead. The trail starts off steeply, gaining 1800 feet in two miles. Gaining the ridge, the trail passes through lots of alpine meadows, and at five miles, a spur trail climbs to a high lookout. Take the camera. At seven miles, another spur trail drops down the other side of the ridge to a pair of lakes, inviting you to stay a while.
From the Packwood Ranger Station, walk east on Road No. 1260, reaching the parking lot and trailhead at about six miles. The trail itself gains little elevation between the trailhead and Lake Packwood, so expect little in the way of solitude. Better to continue on Trail 78 around the north side of the lake, climbing to the seclusion of Mosquito Lake or Lost Lake. Or you could follow Trail 81 along Packwood's shore and up the creek that feeds it, eventually reaching the Packwood Saddle and Elk Pass, and a nearby intersection with the Pacific Crest Trail. Walk among the glaciers of Goat Rocks. Several possible loop trips can be made of it.
Backbone Ridge to Rainier
Walk Highway 12 five miles past Packwood. On the left side of the highway, look for and take Road No. 1270, following it about two miles to the Backbone Lake Trail (No. 164). Somewhere along this trail would be a logical place to find a campsite for the night, perhaps near Backbone Lake. In the morning, press on to the upper end of this trail, meeting the Stevens Canyon Road at 2.6 miles. Walk five miles to the northwest (left) along this well paved, welltraveled road to an intersection with the famed Wonderland Trail. Only about one mile east is the Nickel Creek Camp.
Grove of the Patriarchs
An island in the middle of the Ohanapecosh River, blessed with a grove of western red cedars and Douglasfirs, with dozens of them more than twentyfive feet in circumference. A holy place. Camp off the island, up Olallie Creek, or along the Eastside Trail. But spend a few hours in the grove.
To get there, follow the directions for the previous hike (Backbone Ridge to Rainier) until you reach Stevens Canyon Road, at which point you'll go right (northeast) about five miles until the road intersects first the Olallie Creek Trail, then the Eastside Trail, which you'll go left (north) on, about half a mile to the bridge to the island and the big trees.
Alternatively, you could reach the grove by making a loop trip of the previous trip (Backbone Ridge). Do so by continuing past Nickel Creek Camp and dropping back downhill on the Olallie Creek Trail.
Another alternative would be to follow Highway 12 from Packwood eight miles to where it meets Highway 123 (Cayuse Pass Highway), which you'll take another six miles to the Stevens Canyon Entrance. Either you'll get lucky and get a lift, or you can camp at the campgrounds of La Wis Wis or Ohanapecosh.
Other options from the Packwood Hub: Laughingwater Creek Trail, Rainier's Wonderland Trail, Burton Meadows, Coal Creek Mountain, Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument.
Updated May 2000