Naches Pass

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Naches Pass
Elevation 4,928 ft (1,502 m)[1]
Location Washington, United States
Range Cascades
Coordinates 47°05′13″N 121°22′46″W / 47.08694°N 121.37944°W / 47.08694; -121.37944Coordinates: 47°05′13″N 121°22′46″W / 47.08694°N 121.37944°W / 47.08694; -121.37944[1]

Naches Pass (elevation 4,928 feet (1,502 m)) is a mountain pass of the Cascade Range in the U.S. state of Washington. It is located about 50 miles (80 km) east of Tacoma and about 50 miles (80 km) northwest of Yakima, near the headwaters of tributary streams of the Naches River on the east and the Greenwater River on the west. The boundaries of Pierce, King, Kittitas, and Yakima counties come together precisely at Naches Pass. The pass lies on the boundary between the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie and Wenatchee national forests, about 10 miles (16 km) northeast of Mount Rainier National Park. In the 1850s the pass was used by pioneers as a wagon road over the mountains.


Naches Trail was an ancient Native American pass through the Cascade Mountains, connecting the various Salish people on the west side (Nisqually & Puyallup) to the Yakama people on the east side of the mountains. The principal items of trade were fish and horses.

The initial modern record of this pass is found in early summer of 1841, when Lieutenant Charles Wilkes of the United States Exploring Expedition directed Lieutenant Robert E. Johnson to proceed east over the Cascades via the Naches Pass. The expedition followed an existing Indian trail around the northern flank of Mount Rainier and over the pass. They proceeded to Fort Colville and Fort Okanogan east of the mountains.[2]

In 1850, M.T. Simmons, an early American settler on Puget Sound, led a group to prepare a road over Naches Pass, but the heavy forest and steep ridges made the effort difficult and the attempt failed.[2]

Settlements in the Puget Sound area were slow to develop in part due to the lack of wagon roads. Emigrants using the Oregon Trail who wished to reach Puget Sound had to first travel to Portland then up the Cowlitz River and overland to the southern end of Puget Sound. One of the first tasks taken up by Washington Territory when it was separated from Oregon Territory was to build a wagon road over the Cascades.

In 1853 Captain George B. McClellan was put in charge of surveying and building the wagon road, as well as searching for possible passes appropriate for railroads. McClellan considered Naches Pass impracticable for a railroad, but supported building a wagon road over Naches. The road was to be finished in time for a wagon train led by James Longmire, which was to arrive at Fort Walla Walla in August 1853.

As it became clear that McClellan would not finish the road on time, the people of the Puget Sound area took it upon themselves to finish it. Two teams were organized and worked on the road during the summer of 1853. One team, led by Edward J. Allen, worked east from the Puyallup valley to Naches Pass. A second team was to work west, finishing the road between Yakima and the pass, but this team, having heard a false report that no wagon train was coming after all, quit working.

James Longmire's wagon train arrived at Fort Walla Walla in August, with plans to continue to Puget Sound. Persuaded to take the new "People's Road" over Naches Pass, they followed McClellan's road up the Yakima and Naches rivers to the mountains, arriving on September 15, only to discover that the road ended and only a rough Indian trail continued. They pressed on, cutting a road as they went, and reached Naches Pass in early October. Before reaching the road built by Allen's team, Longmire's party encountered severe difficulties in descending the precipitous western slopes, but finally reached Fort Steilacoom in mid-October.[3]

Another wagon train crossed the pass only three weeks later following the Longmire route. The Naches wagon road was established, but it never became popular. In addition to grades almost impossible for wagons, it required over 60 crossings of the Naches River east of the pass.[4]

In 1854 and 1855, Lieutenant Arnold was detailed to complete the road.[2] But by this time the Puget Sound War and Yakima War preoccupied settlers and prevented the use of Naches Pass. In addition, McClellan's replacement, Lieutenant Abiel Tinkham, reported on the superiority of Snoqualmie Pass in early 1854. Due to these factors, and the poor road quality, the Naches Pass route fell into disuse.[5] A proposed road through the pass was added to the state highway system in 1943, and is still in state statutes as State Route 168, but has never been built.


  1. ^ a b "Naches Pass". Geographic Names Information System, U.S. Geological Survey. 
  2. ^ a b c Mount Rainier: Its Human History Associations, National Park Service
  3. ^ Information on the 1853 road and Longmire's wagon train from: Dorpat, Paul; Genevieve McCoy (1998). Building Washington: A History of Washington State Public Works. Tartu Publications. pp. 65–66, 70. ISBN 0-9614357-9-8. 
  4. ^ Dorpat, Paul; Genevieve McCoy (1998). Building Washington: A History of Washington State Public Works. Tartu Publications. p. 66. ISBN 0-9614357-9-8. 
  5. ^ Dorpat, Paul; Genevieve McCoy (1998). Building Washington: A History of Washington State Public Works. Tartu Publications. p. 70. ISBN 0-9614357-9-8. 

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