Travel | Outings + Activities | South Sound

Enumclaw Day Trip: Small Town in the Shadow of Mount Rainier

Just 45 miles southeast of Seattle, find Highland Games, ice cream, microbrews, Mud Mountain Dam and more

Mount Rainier, from Enumclaw. Flickr CC, Nicholas Doumani

Driving on Mountain View Road, with the imposing sight of Mount Rainier behind us, we squinted as we noticed a group of brown, hairy mammals resting approximately 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 resident 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. 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. 

Courtesy Highland Games Enumclaw
Courtesy Highland Games Enumclaw

1. Get your kilt on at the Scottish Highland games

Over the past decade, the Scottish Highland Games has transformed from a small single-day athletic competition to a weekend-long event featuring a wide range of Scottish heritage competitions and activities. This year, it takes place at the Enumclaw Expo Center (formerly the King County Fairgrounds, 45224 284th Ave. S.E.) from Friday evening, July 29, through Sunday, July 31. Watch Scottish athletic events and herding; dance to live pipe and drum bands; eat haggis, bangers and mash; see examples of Scottish crafts. Volunteers oversee the 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. 

Little Baker. Photo credit: Darrell Scattergood
Little Baker. Photo credit: Darrell Scattergood

2. 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-in cooking and baking classes for children and teens that range from 90 minutes to three hours. Upcoming classes include a summer cooking class on Fridays, Aug. 12 and Aug. 19; or a back-to-school snacks class on Aug. 25 and 26. Classes start at $35 per child. 

3. Taste microbrews

While the kids are in cooking class (remember, it's 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 (!).

Hungry families can also venture to Kelly’s Mercantile (1444 Cole Street), a restaurant/wine and espresso bar 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. 

Sweet Necessities
Sweet Necessities. Photo credit: Darrell Scattergood

4. Scoop up a sweet treat

Next door to The Historic Mint Alehouse, find a sweet finish to your meal at Sweet Necessities (1215 Griffin Ave.), which is known for its fabulous ice cream, owner Toby Wenham’s handmade 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. Have an outdoor adventure

To work off all that gastronomic action, head to Mud Mountain Dam (Highway 410), a recreational area located about 8 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, the dam was the largest of its kind in the world when it was created.  

Mud Mountain Dam

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.  

If you go: More to do around Enumclaw

Play at Crystal MountainCrystal offers gondola rides, wildflowers and much more summer fun, and it's just another 50 minutes down 410 from Enumclaw.

Hike into history. The area around Enumclaw and Black Diamond was 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. 

Stay. If you're interested in making a weekend of it, check out the lodging and camping recommendations on the Highland Games site. 


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