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Old Blewett Pass
August 26, 2016

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The Old Blewett Pass Highway was also a part of the Yellowstone Trail from 1925 - 1930 and it is located between Peshastin WA on the north end and the junction of US-97 and SR-970 (Lauderdale Junction) at the south end.

One section of the old highway is a 13 mile spectacular yet harrowing ride with 248 curves on a narrow roadway. With no guardrails you climb along the side of a mountain to the summit at 4061ft.

An old newspaper article from 1916 in the Leavenworth Echo which quoted Mrs. Durban who said to a reporter, "The scenery was simply grand, affording many thrills, as the car glides along with one fender almost scraping the bank, which is perpendicular on one side, and the other fender apparently sticking out over a precipice, making one instinctively lean toward the bank and hold your breath."

The Blewett Highway became part of the Yellowstone Trail in 1925 when the route was changed to follow the Sunset Highway across Washington State. Today's road mostly follows the old alignment except in a few areas.

The route first began as an Indian trail. In the 1870's gold was discovered and miners began to use the trails to travel between mining camps. In 1891 a wagon road was constructed by the miners who donated 1 week of labor a month. 

By 1898 the road was completed from Cle Elum WA to Peshastin WA. Autos began to cross Blewett Pass by the mid teens. In 1922 the road became a part of the Sunset Highway. 

In 1956 the road was upgraded and rerouted over what was then called Swauk Pass. The locals kept referring Swauk Pass as Blewett Pass and in 1995 the name was officially changed to Blewett Pass and the original Blewett Pass was renamed Old Blewett Pass.

Before we drove over the pass, we took a side trip to the Ingalls Creek Trailhead for a 3 mile hike along an abandoned part of the highway. Just before the trailhead we stopped at the old Brender Gas Station which opened in 1926. 

A few years later a campsite was built called Brender's Park which featured rooms for rent in one of the 3 cabins. The deer antlers above one of the cabins has been there since the cabin was built. We met Dean the caretaker who lives in the building. 

He told us some stories about the area. One was about a bigfoot that was spotted here. He also said that the Brender's still own the property. We told him we were going to hike up the old road to the landslide. 

He warned us about the rattlesnakes as they were molting this time of year. You need to see them before they see you. He says the best defense is a shovel.

After we thanked him and said goodbye, we continued on to the Ingalls Creek trailhead. Ingalls Creek was named for Capt. Ben Ingalls who as the legend goes, found gold near here while on a scouting trip for the US Calvary. 

He had to return to his company and did not tell anyone what he'd found. He wanted to return later and mine the gold. When the Captain and his partner were riding through some thick brush on their way to find the gold. 

The Captain accidently snapped back a branch and it hit the Captain's partner which caused his gun to discharge and it ended up killing Capt. Ingalls. The gold was never found.

From the Ingalls Creek trailhead you can hike 16 miles up to the Stuart Mountain range. We took the much shorter route up the old roadbed 1 1/2 miles to where a landslide had destroyed a section of the road. This section is closed to vehicles and is not maintained.

As we walked up the road, the single white line was still very visible. There were many rocks that have fallen onto the road and it looked like an earthquake had happened. There were a few places that gave you excellent views. 

You had to be careful taking photos as not to fall off the cliff. After a 45 minute hike we reached the landslide. I believe it happened in the 1960's You can still see the impact from satellite maps. The hillside collapsed and 1000's of tons of rock slid down into Peshastin Creek and took the highway with it.

After we returned to the car we continued on to the ghost town of Blewett. Gold was discovered in the area in the late 1800's and Blewett grew up as a mining town. The town had a reputation as one of the most disorderly and violent towns in Chelan County. In 1956 the town was torn down to make way for the new highway. Nothing but a historical marker and a place to park is all that remains today.

As we continued toward the summit you can see parts of the old highway still clinging to the side of the mountain. In places it has fallen into the creek and others just a sliver of pavement. 

All the bridges were one lane. They have all been removed but the abutments remain. The town of Blewett is 2 miles south of where we turn off US-97 onto what is now Forest Service Road 7320. 

This is the start of the 13 mile stretch of the Old Blewett Pass road. It is maintained by the US Forest Service. The road is smooth and it is easily passable by a car though it is basically a one lane road.

We continued on and I was wondering what was it like to drive on this road in 1925. It gave me great concern as I rounded each curve. If another car came from the opposite way it would make for a very scary encounter.

As you can't see around most of the curves. We were so grateful we never seen a car the entire 13 miles. Just a pair a bicyclists who were struggling up the 5% grade.

We finally made it to the summit and stopped at the site of the Top O' The Hill Resort and Cafe built in 1920. The resort burned down a few years later. In the 1930's and 40's a restaurant called Stu's Lunch gave travelers a place to rest and get a bite to eat.

The pass wasn't friendly to the automobile. It wasn't uncommon for motorists to have to push their cars over the summit in hot weather due to vacuum problems. Many a traveler burned their brakes descending the pass.

One driver lost his brakes and his 2 daughters jumped out while he rode it to the bottom. Minor injuries resulted. Before the road was paved a motorist tied a log to the back of his car to help slow him down. There were accidents as well.

One accident happened when a car took a curve too wide and crashed head on into a oncoming car. Luckily no one was hurt. Unfortunately there have been accidents that resulted in cars going over the grade and killing travelers.

A few miles south of the summit we stopped at Echo Point the upper most switchback on the south side of the pass. Echo Point offers some excellent views. It was named after the Cle Elum Echo Newspaper because they were influential in boosting the route for travel and tourism. Leona spotted an apple tree on the side of the road. 

They were small and bitter. I wondered if this tree had been accidently planted by a motorist tossing one out the window. While I was taking photos, the bicyclists we passed earlier came down the hill toward us.

As they passed I called out to them "Are you enjoying the ride". They both answered with glee "We are now" as they coasted past us on down the hill. It was 88 degrees out so I'm sure it wasn't pleasant going up. From Echo Point it isn't far to the main highway, 2 more switchbacks and we were down.

All in all the road was clear and passable and there were surprisingly very few potholes. Any car could make this trip easily.

Yellowstone Trail  Sunset Highway


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