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On the way to Mt. Rainier: Elbe, Wash.

Those who remember my discussion of Mount Rainier National Park here last October already know that this is one of my favorite NPS sites. If one approaches the park from the west via WA 7 and 706, the small community of Elbe (population 30) can be found at the junction of the two highways.

Originally settled by German-speaking Lutherans, their historic 1906 “Little White Church” (the operative word here is “little”) in the center of town is a National Historic Landmark that is open to sightseers. Immediately adjacent, however, is the depot for the Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad, the attraction that brings most of Elbe’s visitors. In fact, the entire town, situated on the east end of Alder Lake, has a railroad atmosphere, with a bar, restaurant and sleeping accommodations available in a series of retired train cars, although these are not really suitable for most tour groups. Even the bell in the church steeple was removed from an old locomotive!

As the longest continuously-operated steam tourist railroad in the Pacific Northwest, the Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad offers excursions on restored vintage coaches and open cars, pulled by one of several historic steam logging locomotives. Although holiday trips (Easter, Mother’s Day, Halloween and the Christmas season) are offered, their regular schedule runs from Memorial Day through October, with multiple departures on Saturdays and Sundays, plus additional Thursday and Friday trips during the peak summer months.

Regular excursions are attractively priced, run about two hours (just about the right length) and are quite scenic. The train travels through a succession of lush green forests and meadows, alongside mountain streams and across rivers on wooden trestles. A 20-minute stop is made at Mineral Lake, where special summertime barbecues are also served at an all-weather dining area on Fridays and Saturdays during July and August.  On clear days, Mt. Rainier can be viewed from the train en route.

The trip to Mineral Lake on the Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad

The Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad engineer explains the unusual vertical cylinders of the historic Willamette steam engine

Over the river and through the woods on the Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad