The newly designated Carbon River Corridor—18 miles of State Route 165 from the town of Buckley to the Carbon River Entrance of Mt. Rainier National Park—may be short in length but it’s long in history, tracing the area’s coal mining, lumber, railroad and immigrant sagas.
The valley was once home to several communities. Places like Arline, Montezuma, Manley Moore and Pittsburg were eventually abandoned. All their structures were dismantled though intrepid visitors can still find remnants of the mining operations that produced each town. However, a few of the valley communities survived, providing a historical and surprisingly culinary day trip.
Buckley, a former lumber town and now a modern community, is the northern gateway to the route. The Foothills Historical Museum with its three galleries of exhibits and the Elk Head Brewing Company’s fourteen beers on tap begin your tour. (If you imbibe, invite your favorite designated driver.)
Five miles south is Wilkeson, once dubbed “the wildest mining town west of Butte, Montana.” Vintage-architecture buffs will appreciate the scenic community’s six sites on the National Register of Historic Places, including Wilkeson Archway, Coke Oven Park, Wilkeson Sandstone Quarry, Holy Trinity Orthodox Church, the Wilkeson School and the Town Hall. Other buildings have earned State Historic Registry status, and the Catholic cemetery on the northern end of town tells the saga of immigrant families who worked in the mines. The town’s website has a walking map, so you can work up an appetite before stopping by The Carlson Block for its locally famous wood-fired sourdough pizza.
Farther up the highway, Carbonado’s main street is lined with houses that were once part of its company-town history. A sobering cemetery monument is dedicated to the local mining disaster where 32 miners perished in 1899. The 1889-era Carbonado Saloon is outfitted with area memorabilia and serves up tasty burgers.
Pause for a photo at the one-way Fairfax Bridge, also designated on the National Historic Register. Its unique steel arch spans 250 feet above the Carbon River.
The route ends at the Carbon River Ranger Station, formerly part of a 100-acre ranch owned by homesteaders John and Yolanda Thompson.
Ten recently erected sandstone plinths, a project of the Wilkinson Historical Society, local communities and Pierce County, provide interpretive signage marking places of interest along the route. The informative Carbon River Corridor website includes an interactive map, historical photos, archived news stories and oral history accounts by the area’s residents. Find out more at carbonrivercorridor.com.