Yakama-Cowlitz Trail

This sign sits in my garage in West Seattle, a gift I don’t quite know what to do with.  It was given to me by the folks at the White Pass Country Museum in Packwood, Washington, when I was researching the Yakama-Cowlitz Trail.  I suspect one reason it was “surplus” was the spelling of the name Yakima–which is the spelling for the city but not for the people.  It was also a nudge–finish that article on the trail!  So I did.

This summer’s issue of Columbia, published by the Washington State Historical Society, features my article on the Yakama-Cowlitz Trail to Cowlitz Pass, a trail taken for thousands of years by people from both sides of the Cascade Mountains.  Cowlitz Pass stands just southeast of Mount Rainier, on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Mount Rainier visible from Cowlitz Pass

During the winters some Yakama people lived in the Tieton and Naches River valleys on the east side of the Cascade Crest.  The Cowlitz lived in the Big Bottom of the Cowlitz River on the west. In the summer months, the Yakama came up what is now Indian Creek from the east side; the Upper Cowlitz or Taytnapam came up Summit Creek from the west side.  They hunted deer and mountain goats, gathered huckleberries, and socialized.

Gradually, through intermarriage, the Taytnapam acquired some characteristics of the Yakama, in language and dress.  In years after American settlement, they continued to cross the pass to visit relatives.

I found out about this trail through the writings of archaeologist David Rice, the work of Gifford Pinchot anthropologist Rick McClure, and the advocacy of Ray Paolella for the William O. Douglas Heritage Trail.  As a youth, Douglas hiked up to Cowlitz Pass and spent time with the sheepherders there.

Efforts are afoot to map some 23 miles of this historic trail.  The last four miles from the west are Forest Service trail #44 which begins from the Soda Springs campground where the real sign is posted.  It’s a wonderful day hike or backpack, but beware of mosquitoes until late summer.

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3 thoughts on “Yakama-Cowlitz Trail

  • February 3, 2022 at 9:54 am

    Hi Judy,. Do you know how the Eatonville area was connected to the Yakama-Cowlitz Trail? Local history says Indian Henry (So-To-Lick) lived on the Mashel Prairie and Indian Henry Hunting Grounds up at Rainier is named for him. He guided John Muir and other notables and reportedly had 3 Yakama wives so likely traversed the pass frequently.

    • April 18, 2022 at 9:21 am

      Yes, the Eatonville area was Sotulick’s home as you say at Mashel Prairie. He is buried in a small cemetery near the new Nisqually State Park. Relationships between Sotulick and the first settlers in the area were intertwined and mutually beneficial. Sotulick led groups up the Nisqually River to the southwestern flanks of Mt. Rainier.

      I don’t know the connection between the Eatonville area and the trail to Cowlitz Pass, but it is quite plausible that there was a connection through the Ohanepecosh area,leading to the Blue Hole at La Wis Wis campground, the confluence of the Ohanepecosh and the Clear Fork of the Cowlitz River, which was on the Yakama-Cowlitz trail. Skate Creek is a possible connection. Thanks for raising this question. Much of my knowledge of the trail comes from Rick McClure, retired anthropologist with the Gifford Pinchot NF. I will make some inquiries.

      • April 20, 2022 at 10:25 am

        Here is some more information about a possible connection between Eatonville and Cowlitz Pass from Rick McClure. “There was a trail from the Nisqually River through Bear Prairie, over Skate Mountain, and down Skate Creek to the village of chawachas near the confluence of Skate Creek and the Cowlitz River, near today’s Packwood. I did a technical report and evaluation of the Skate Creek Trail for the Forest Service back in the 1980s. There are some interesting first-person accounts of exploring parties over that route in one of the Olympia newspapers in the period 1859-1861. These parties had Nisqually guides, but they do not give their names.”


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