Gateway to Mount Rainier National Park
Geared for fun and relaxation in the mountains
Home of two international climbing companies
On the Road to Rainier Scenic Byway, Ashford is closest to the main entrance of Mount Rainier National Park. From Highway 7 in Elbe, take Highway 706, and in seven miles you’ll arrive in Ashford. Highway 706 ends at the park six miles beyond Ashford.
Mount Rainier Visitor Association & Visitor Center serves the areas of Ashford, Elbe, and Mineral. The Visitor Center is on the left soon after entering Ashford.
This quaint mountain hamlet is home to an abundance of lodging choices for those visiting the national park and attractions outside the park. MRVA’s website provides detailed information on accommodations, dining, area activities, and events.
Ashford Creek Pottery is one of this community’s singular charms with a wide selection of pottery, jewelry, photography, music, and cards, all by area artists. Books by regional authors include signed and first-edition copies. A museum upstairs features an impressive collection of Pacific Northwest art.
Mount Rainier National Park is the magnet of our Road to Rainier Scenic Byway, and the pull of this active volcano can’t be overstated. The Mountain, as it’s known, rises 14,410 feet and is the most prominent icon in Washington. More glaciers are here than on any peak in the contiguous US.
You can spend hours or weeks hiking the Mountain’s numerous trails. Massive old-growth trees thrive in the park’s lower forests. In summer, vast wildflower meadows higher up show why Paradise has its name. Wildlife can be seen throughout the park. Visitors enjoy winter sports when the Mountain is blanketed with several feet of snow.
For overnight stays, the park has two historic lodges (Longmire, Paradise) as well as camping and overnight backpacking (with permits). An informative visitor center is at Paradise. The park’s roads generally stay open year-round from this main entrance, although some park facilities close in winter.
Mountaineering in Ashford means going for the summit of Mount Rainier, trekking routes high above the hiking trails used by most park visitors. Two international climbing companies have headquarters here:
Both guide services were begun by world-renowned mountain climbers who are locals, RMI’s Lou Whittaker & IMG’s Eric Simonson. Both offer guided ascents of Mount Rainier as well as climbing expeditions to the highest peaks everywhere on the planet.
A summit attempt is exhilarating but carries the dangers of high altitude, unpredictable weather, avalanche hazards, and treacherous terrain. It is strongly recommended you use a guide company whose expert leaders know the Mountain and know best how to make an unparalleled climbing adventure a safe one.
Mount Tahoma Trails Association is North America’s most extensive hut-to-hut system charging no fee. MTTA has 50 miles of trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, including 20 miles of groomed trails. Overnight backpackers can stay in three huts and one yurt open to day users as rest stops. In summer, MTTA’s South District trails are open for hiking and mountain biking. (Mount Tahoma is from a name the Nisqually used for the Mountain.)
Ashford County Park provides a playground, restrooms, hiking trails, and an outdoor amphitheater during its seasonal operation. It is on the left as you enter town from the west.
Horse trails and Sahara Horse Camp are west of Ashford and run by WA State’s Dept. of Natural Resources.
Recycled Spirits of Iron – Ex Nihilo Sculpture Park is a testament to the imagination of artist Dan Klennert. Wander among his brilliant creations from recycled iron at 22410 State Road 706, on the right a few miles before Ashford.
Also in Ashford you’ll find restaurants, spas, outdoor stores, a general store, convenience store with gas and propane, a tavern, and post office, along with numerous lodging options.
Ashford’s setting is a green river valley bordered by mountains. The Nisqually is a glacial river that begins as ice on Mount Rainier and ends in salt water at Puget Sound near Olympia. The valley made a natural choice for the Nisqually people who hunted, fished, and foraged all along the river for millennia.
In 1885, James B. Kernahan and his wife became the valley’s first homesteaders. Soon after, Yale University botany professor O. D. Allen and his family moved here. Allen and his sons created the first scientific record of flora on Mount Rainier, and they were instrumental in the park’s early operation. W. A. Ashford and his family settled here in 1888, and he filed for a township named Ashford. The family home, called the Ashford Mansion and built in 1903, is on Mount Tahoma Canyon Rd. It is not open to the public.
The logging community of National once stood near the west end of Ashford. The Pacific National Lumber Co. started the town. In its heyday in the early 20th century, 300 people lived in National, all of them in some way dependent on the huge trees logged and milled there. The company was out of business by mid-century, many of the old-growth forests gone. There’s little sign now that National ever existed. The old bunkhouse was moved and renovated to become part of Whittaker’s Historic Bunkhouse Motel. Its fir floor still shows grooves made by the loggers’ caulk boots.