Spacious Campsites at Liberty

This is the second part of a three-part series on all the things to see and do while enjoying a loop RV trip over Washington State’s Snoqualmie, Blewett and Stevens Pass. In the first installment we looked at Snoqualmie Pass. In this installment we will journey over Blewett Pass camping along the way.

Blewett was a small mining town located along Peshastin Creek on the Chelan County side of Blewett Pass. The first mining claims were filed in 1874 with a stamp mill to process the ore constructed in 1878. Soon after the arrival of a post office in 1893, the name Blewett was bestowed on the settlement in honor of Edward Blewett who owned many of the mines in the area.

During its heyday, Blewett boasted a school, saloon and two-story hotel. As with most small mining towns, when the ore ran out the town became deserted. Today there is an interpretive stop along the highway where Blewett was located. You will find the stop at: N47° 25.427 W120°39.555. For those that want to see some of the tangible remains of the old town, cross the highway* to the remains of the old mill at: N47° 25.485 W120° 39.590. From the old mill, hike a short distance upstream along the east side of the creek to see if you can find the original arrastra used to grind ore prior to the construction of the mill. Serious explorers will enjoy lacing up their hiking boots and hiking up the gated road that climbs Culver Gulch where they can view the remains of many abandoned mining operations. Start your hike at the gated forest service road traversing the hill behind the south side of the old mill. Caution: There are open mine adits and shafts in the area.


Old Blewitt Mill

*Use caution when crossing the highway as visibility is limited in both directions.

Liberty is a sleepy little community located on the Kittitas County side of the pass along Williams Creek about a mile and a half off the highway. The town was established in 1873 following the discovery of gold. The town’s claim to fame is being "The oldest mining townsite in the state" and notable for producing rare examples of crystalline gold and the large gold nuggets that were found in the mining district. Today most of the buildings are privately owned and occupied, but visitors are welcome to stop at the interpretive site and enjoy strolling main street imaging what the town may have been like during the gold rush days. Click here for a suggested walking tour of town along with the map listing the names of the buildings and their purpose. You will find the interpretive site just as you enter the west side of town. There is a large designated turn (for RVs and other large vehicles) just across from the interpretive site at: N47° 15.028 W120° 41.553

Other remnants of the gold rush are the large piles of gravel dredge tailings along the west side of the highway downstream from the Liberty turn off. These were formed as a result of a floating bucket gold dredge that operated on Swauk Creek beginning in the 1920’s

Blewett Pass was also named for mining promoter Edward Blewett as was the Blewett townsite as mentioned above. The route over the pass was first used by Indians, their route was then improved into a wagon road in 1891 by miners looking to move supplies to the growing mining districts. In the early 1920’s, the pass was upgraded to a two-lane road with one-lane bridges, with pavement being laid in 1925 and became part of the historic Sunset Highway. By the 1940’s the twisty narrow highway became inadequate to handle traffic and a new straighter and wider route was pushed through over nearby Swauk Pass in 1956. However, locals continued to refer to the highway as Blewett Pass and eventually the Washington State Department of Transportation officially changed the name back to Blewett Pass in 1992. Today, a 13-mile section of the original highway over the “original” pass is maintained by the US Forest Service and is open for touring from April thru September. The original route still contains most of its asphalt, but is not suitable for RVs.

Prospecting: Most of the areas around Liberty and Blewett are still under valid federal mining claims. If you want to try your hand at gold panning, check with the Forest Service beforehand for a legal place to do so. Those that want to check out an old “Gold Mine” are encouraged to visit the Tourist Tunnel located just pass the Liberty turnoff at: N47° 15.028 W120° 41.553. The tunnel is bored into solid rock and is considered safe. There is plenty of room to park the RV while you explore. Be sure to pack a flashlight or two.

Rock Hounding: Near the top of Red Top Mountain, which is primarily formed of basalt, you can hunt for blue agates as well as blue and clear quartz crystals along with various colors of Jasper with red and blue/green being the most common. You can use a pick and shovel to dig into the ground or a hammer and chisel to actually free the goodies out of the basalt.

Hiking: A few of the enjoyable hiking trails you might enjoy while RVing over Blewett Pass include:

- Sculpture Rock Trail #1397 a short easy trail to a scenic rock formation which conveniently departs from the Swauk Campground.
- The Forest Discovery Trail located at the summit of the pass. This easy trail contains 25 interpretive stops with interesting information concerning woodland ecosystems.
- Ingalls Creek Trail which follows the edge of scenic Ingalls Creek deep into the Wenatchee Mountains. Those that enjoy lost treasure legends will want to read up on Captain Ingalls lost gold before departing on the hike.

Off Roading: RVers that bring their Jeep, ATV or off road motorcycle with them have several places to enjoy their pastime. In the Liberty area, off-roaders of all types can spend a day on the Liberty Trails which are located on both sides of the highway. Click here for a map detailing the trails on the west side of the highway. One of the few trails in the Wenatchee National Forest dedicated to ATV use in the area is Shaser Creek.


ATV Fun at Shaser Creek

Geocaching: While geocaches are located at interesting places all over the Blewett Pass area, spending a day finding geocaches along the Old Blewett Highway via bicycle or motorcycle makes for a great adventure.

Authors note: While searching for a geocache along the old highway I noticed several seedling apple trees growing along the shoulder of the road. My grandpa Riker used to haul fruit from Wenatchee to the coast on the old highway and often told stories of all the shifting and braking required to negotiate the curves and steep grades of the old road. As I looked at the apple trees I couldn’t help but wonder if one of these trees was the result of an apple that rolled off the top of a fruit bin as my grandpa went around the corner coming down the pass years ago.

Camping:

The Liberty Campground is a convenient place to stay while exploring the town of Liberty, Liberty Trails or rock hounding on Red Top Mountain. The campground is split in half by Williams Creek. The north side (easy to find) is not big rig friendly, but the south side (not easy to find) has spacious sites suitable for multiple RVs. The campground is managed by the BLM and there are currently no fees required to stay there. You will find the unmarked, narrow entrance to the south half of the campground at: N47° 14.753 W120° 40.848


Liberty Campground

Swauk Campground operated by the Forest Service, is located in a beautiful treed setting just off the Blewett Pass Highway and is easily accessed.

Boondocking (aka dispersed camping) locations are available throughout the forest. Some of the more convenient ones are located at both ends of the paved old Blewett Pass Highway.


Boondocking Campsite at North Entryway

On the south end of the old highway you will find spaces to camp between the new highway and the forest road heading to the north at: N47° 19.913 W120° 40.529

On the north end of the old highway you will find spaces to camp between the new highway and N47° 23.403 W120° 39.516

This concludes this entry on Blewett Pass, in the next installment we will complete our loop trip of the three mountain passes by looking at Stevens Pass.

Dave Helgeson
Author: Dave Helgeson
Dave Helgeson is the MHRV Show Director. He and his wife love to travel across the west in their RV. Dave writes about all things RVing but loves to share destinations and boondocking advice.

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