How One Tiny Mountain Town Welcomes PCT Hikers

When long-distance travelers find welcome in one of Washington's smallest communities.

By Taylor McKenzie Gerlach May 16, 2022

The hikers are coming. In mid-June, southbound Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) thru-hikers will begin to filter through Central Washington’s remote mountain towns. There, small businesses whose summer revenues rely on travelers are gearing up for the season, serving hundreds of hikers who undertake the 2,650-mile backpacking trip (you know, like Wild).

During the summer months, White Pass transforms from a cozy ski town to a bare-bones hiking haven, located just off the PCT. To be exact, the hamlet along Highway 12 lies 2,294.9 miles from the trail’s southern terminus at the US-Mexico border and 355.1 miles from the northern terminus, but who’s counting? (The hikers are.) Though it's 20 miles from the better-equipped town of Packwood, White Pass is home to a hotel, a convenience store and gas station hybrid, and a pizza shop.

“It looks like a cement mixing truck made it to the top of this pass and then just gave up and bled out everywhere,” serial thru-hiker and blogger J. Taylor Bell wrote after visiting last season. But it has just enough. Janine Abdallah also stopped in this little patch of civilization last summer on her “walk home” to Southern California for PCT essentials: laundry, a resupply shopping spree, and a good night’s rest off trail.

Though White Pass will see dozens of long haulers during busy August days, the store, Kracker Barrel, is already preparing for the season. “I thought it was the restaurant. It’s not,” Abdallah admits (she's thinking of chain Cracker Barrel). This White Pass establishment boasts package pickup, shelves stocked with fuel, and $5 hot breakfast sandwiches.

Jordan Stark has worked at Kracker Barrel for the past several years and has met hundreds of hikers who pass through each season, some of whom even return as employees in the winter months. To prepare for that impending influx, the team clears out a space in their back room for hiker resupply packages. These boxes are lifelines for thru-hikers, as they include pre-packed essentials like dehydrated food, toiletries, snacks, or even new shoes that hikers’ friends send to outposts ahead of their arrival to avoid expensive and time-consuming trips into towns. Stark says they expect to hold 300 to 400 of these hiker resupply boxes at a time.

Also inside Kracker Barrel, private showers get ready to wash off the trail dirt for $5 per half-hour hot shower. For $10, hikers get all-inclusive laundry with washing, drying, and detergent. Stark is also busy during shoulder season stocking the shelves with hiker favorites like candy bars, tortillas, fuel canisters, cold drinks, and Clif Bars. 

When Abdallah rolled into White Pass last August, she certainly wasn’t looking for one of those chocolate chip bars (“I can’t eat a Clif bar to save my life,” she says after consuming the go-to on trail for weeks on end), but she was in search of a laundry facility and her resupply box. Unfortunately, the latter was missing for several months. But at Kracker Barrel she found the typical box of items left behind by other PCT hikers, and picked up other essentials in the store.

“They have everything a PCT thru-hiker would need…they had a pretty damn good selection,” says Abdallah. Among those hiker necessities, she stocked up on tuna, potatoes, and gummy bears. As a solo hiker hungry for social interaction, she also met up with thru-hikers camping behind the store in a grassy patch reserved for this type of free trailside accommodation. 

A select few looking for more creature comforts take Kracker Barrel’s intermittent shuttle into Packwood to find full-service restaurants and a large grocery store. Trail angels, or those who support thru-hikers with free rides, meals, and essentials, sometimes arrange rides via Facebook into town as well.

Back up on White Pass, Old #3 Wood Fired Pizza across the street will open for weekends in June with offerings like the Tree Hugger Pie with veggies and mushrooms. Jordan Stark expects to see the backpackers all summer, hailing from around the world, along with road trippers and day hikers. Kracker Barrel will serve as pit stop for them all. 

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