Wilkeson, A Scrappy Former Mining Town That Comes to Life Each Spring
Wilkeson is a delight. This tiny town with a population of 499 would barely be a blip on the visitor map if it weren’t for family-owned businesses that brought Wilkeson’s downtown back to life, and made it a must-stop location on the way to Mount Rainier’s Carbon River entrance.
Note: The Carbon River entrance in the summer of 2024 is expected to get increased traffic, as it's the only entrance to the national park that isn't restricted to timed-entry reservations. For more things to do around that entrance and in that recreation area, please visit Experience Carbon Canyon.
Visitors enter town on Highway 165. Look for the unmissable sandstone-and-wood arch that spans the road, announcing Wilkeson as the gateway to the Carbon Glacier. The arch was built in 1925 with locally mined sandstone, designed to look like the entrance arches to Mount Rainier National Park. It’s one of several structures in town on the National Register of Historic Places. Wilkeson is rich in coal and sandstone mining history.
Blink and you’ll miss the two-block downtown area. Don’t let its diminutive size deter you. Wilkeson punches above its weight, packing an authentic, historic experience in a small amount of space. In warmer months visitors will find it a gateway to outdoor adventures or a fun day trip from Tacoma. Wilkeson stands as a serene haven for travelers seeking a unique blend of natural beauty, small-town charm, and a gateway to outdoor adventures. However, even in the spring, fall, and winter, Wilkeson is the gateway to outdoor adventure in the Mount Rainier area, and a top-tier place to grab a hot pre- or post-hike meal.
Note several of the businesses in Wilkeson are seasonal and open back up in the spring and hibernate for the winter. Dates are weather dependent.
Where To Eat in Wilkeson
There are four places to grab a bite to eat in Wilkeson, each unique. With a population of just 499, it’s a testament to these spots that the town has become a destination for foodies, and is well worth the drive.
Open seasonally Nomad Coffee is so good people drive for miles just to grab a cup o’ joe here. Owners Jeff and Felisha Ford have created a special community hang out. They share their love of specialty coffee which they lovingly roast in a zero emissions roaster. House made pastries are offered including Felisha’s empanadas from her Argentinian family’s recipes. Her chimichurri sauce is incredibly delectable, and the family recipe is so secret even Jeff doesn’t know it. Seasonal hours.
Simple Goodness Sisters Soda Shop
The Simple Goodness Soda Shop is a completely unique concept. This family friendly bar is a farm to table café, an ice cream parlor and tasting room housed in an old-fashioned styled soda shop. The Simple Goodness sisters are famed for their syrups handcrafted from farm fresh ingredients many from their own farm. Enjoy gooey panini sandwiches and snack boards or indulge in rich made to order milkshakes or ice cream sundaes. Their syrups are liberally used in many of their offerings and especially the craft cocktails. Yes, adults can enjoy a cocktail at this family friendly soda shop. The big, outdoor dining yard is both pet and family friendly with plenty of games to enjoy the space. Pro tip: After a spring or fall hike on a chilly day, nothing warms you faster than a grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup. Seasonal hours.
The Carlson Block
The Carlson Block is known for its wood fired pizza that the Seattle Times named the “best Pizza in Washington State”. It has a cult following with many visitors coming to the area to hike just so they can enjoy this pizza after. Owners Ian and Ashley Galbraith along with their daughter Cleo live on the second floor of this historic building which they lovingly restored. Ian is a trained chef honing his skills at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. His culinary chops shine with his flavorful pizza crust that tastes so good you could eat it plain. Open year round but hours are limited in the winter months so call ahead to verify the hours.
The Pick and Shovel Saloon and Restaurant
The Pick and Shovel Saloon and Restaurant is your classic small-town joint. Known for hand cut fries, burgers with homemade buns, and the giant nachos platter. Try the Famous House Burger with peanut butter added. It is legendary. Check their Facebook page for events. Open year round.
Where To Stay
Minutes from the Carbon Glacier entrance to Mt. Rainier, you'll find the turn-of-the-century, two-story Miners House. Or just a short drive away in Carbonado is the charming Carbon Country’s Shady Rest Bed and Breakfast. This is an authentic country home that hosts Shelley and Mark Wright share with their guests. Both are very knowledgeable about the local area and can recommend the perfect hike. Shelley sends off her guests each morning with a three-course breakfast. She’s been known to pack a picnic breakfast for those heading out early.
What To Do In Wilkeson
When you arrive in Wilkeson, park by the Wilkeson Town Hall which has plenty of parking. It is across the street from the downtown historic buildings. Plan to explore on foot as everything is within walking distance. Walking tour map of Wilkeson historic buildings. Here are a few highlights.
Wilkeson Town Hall
Before you head out on a walking tour explore the interpretive exhibits near the Wilkeson Town Hall. Learn about the Wilkeson Sandstone Quary and the Miners Memorial. The town hall was built in 1923 out of Wilkeson sandstone and was once a community home before the town purchased it in the 1950s.
Wilkeson Elementary School
The Wilkeson Elementary School is still a functioning elementary school so you can only view the outside of the building. What a structure it is, built in 1912 with locally quarried sandstone, it is arguably one of the most beautiful school in the state.
Just outside the town itself, there are dozens of hiking trails that pack plenty of fun and epic scenery into not just the summer months with dry dirt under your feet, but also the muddy months and the snowy months. We recommend Melmont Ghost Town hike, Foothills Trail (former railroad line, so it’s flat and easy), and everything actually inside Mt. Rainier National Park (when Carbon River Road is open in the summer).
Another place Wilkeson outdoes itself is around celebrations. The Simple Goodness Sisters go all-out decorating for their Holiday Hootenany each December, and the Wilkeson National Handcar Races are a sight to behold, with teams pumping old-timey railroad handcars (think Bugs Bunny) in a race accompanied by the usual parade, food vendors, music, and other events.