Driving on Mountain View Road, with the imposing sight of Mount Rainier behind us, we squinted at a group of brown, hairy mammals resting a half-mile away in a valley. We assumed they were alpacas. After all, we were on a scenic drive just south of Enumclaw, a small town in the shadow of Mount Rainier. Wouldn't livestock be the only four-legged residents of this area?
After driving closer, and keeping a safe distance in our car, we realized that we were viewing a magnificent herd of wild elk, with some bulls surpassing the 600-pound mark and sporting 10-point racks. This was not the leisurely semi-rural day trip we had anticipated — and we couldn’t have been happier.
Increasingly, this corner of South King County is attracting day trippers and travelers interested in outdoor adventures, ecotourism and even a foodie experience or two, plus popular Highland Games taking place July 28–30, 2017. Once considered a pleasant stopover to buy groceries prior to a weekend trip to Mount Rainier, Enumclaw offers plenty of reasons to make this a standalone destination. Here are not-to-miss summer adventures for families around Enumclaw.
1. Get your kilt on at the Scottish Highland games
Over the past decade, the Pacific Northwest Scottish Highland Games and Clan Gathering, known informally as the Highland Games, have transformed from a small single-day athletic competition to a weekend-long event featuring a wide range of Scottish heritage competitions and activities. The games take place at the Enumclaw Expo Center (formerly the King County Fairgrounds, 45224 284th Ave. S.E.) Friday–Sunday, July 28–30, 2017. Watch Scottish athletic events such as the caber toss and sheaf toss; watch the precision and showmanship of smartly-dressed pipe and drum bands; taste some haggis (if you dare) or bangers and mash; and see examples of Scottish crafts. Volunteers oversee children's athletic events each day at the Isle O' The Wee Bairns. Note: Tickets are $12–$17 for a one-day pass; kids 5 and under are free; admission free on Friday night. No clan affiliation is required to make this a fun, interactive, educational time.
2. Have an outdoor adventure
To work off any wiggles that have built up, head to Mud Mountain Dam (on Highway 410), a recreational area located about eight miles southeast of Enumclaw. You'll find trails, grassy fields, picnic tables and shelters with grills. Kids will enjoy climbing on the two play structures and — open in the summer — splashing in the wading pool. Hike the short trail to view the dam, a 1948 WPA project on the White River; according to VisitRainier.com, the dam was the largest of its kind in the world when it was created.
3. Fuel up
Hungry families can venture to Kelly’s Mercantile (1444 Cole Street), a restaurant with an eclectic menu ranging from Wagyu beef sliders to margherita pizza flatbread to gnocchi. Proprietor Kelly Bauer is happy to offer several kid-friendly entrées, such as mac and cheese, in smaller portions. Her philosophy is that children should not be relegated to a kids’ menu, and that they will enjoy sampling quality entrées. Don't miss the signature Greek platter, with excellent hummus that is mildly accented with mint and citrus.
4. Scoop up a sweet treat
Find a sweet finish to your meal at Sweet Necessities (1215 Griffin Ave.), best known for its fabulous ice cream and owner Toby Wenham’s caramels and chocolates from Northwest chocolatiers. The shop also carries frozen goodness from Snoqualmie Gourmet Ice Cream — consider topping it with a signature salted caramel sauce. Other popular items for sale include jams, scone mixes, pepper jellies, wines and approximately 100 varieties of loose tea, including black, green, white and oolong.
5. Get cooking
Located in the heart of Enumclaw, The Little Baker (1613 Cole Street) is a kids’ cooking school and party venue that attracts families year round. Owner Shelbi Cole converted a commercial kitchen into an inviting, kid-friendly cooking and baking playground. The kitchen offers drop-off cooking and baking classes for children and teens that range from 90 minutes to three hours. Check the website for upcoming classes.
6. Taste microbrews
While the kids are in cooking class (remember, they're drop-off), parents can venture across the street from The Little Baker to The Historic Mint Alehouse (1608 Cole Street) to sample a few of the 25 beers on tap, hand-crafted cocktails (such as the Toxic Punch, served in a substantial Mason jar) and items from the generous happy-hour menu. Kids can also come along and will enjoy ordering from the kids' menu; kids' meals are served on Frisbees (!).
If you go: More to do around Enumclaw
Nolte State Park, about six miles north of Enumclaw (36921 Veazie Cumberland Road S.E.), offers swimming and fishing opportunities as well as an easy, 1.4 mile loop trail around Deep Lake, the heart of the park. Children's play equipment, covered picnic shelters, barbecues and geocaches are also located inside the park.
Play at Crystal Mountain which offers gondola rides, wildflowers and much more summer fun, and it's just another 50 minutes down 410 from Enumclaw.
Hike to ghost towns in the area around Enumclaw and Black Diamond, once a center for coal mining. Explore the region's mining history at the Black Diamond museum, then hike around Franklin, a former coal-boom town.
Editor's note: This article was originally published in 2015 and updated in July 2017.