This story is featured in the July issue of Seattle magazine. Subscribe here to access the print edition.
Everyone has a post-hike ritual.
Some grab a beer from a local brewery. Others refuel with a shot of espresso. For my wife Kristy and me, the choice is obvious. A hike is not complete without a chocolate peanut butter milkshake from one of the hidden gems near a trailhead in the Cascades.
We often choose our latest hike based on proximity to a familiar restaurant where we can get our ﬁx. We have been known to break pace and start running to ﬁnish the trail to make it to our creamy treats before closing time. As a thru-hiker on the Paciﬁc Crest Trail, Kristy spent many oﬀ days on her ﬁve-month-long hike looking for the perfect milkshake. Here is a partial list of some of our favorite restaurants near popular hiking destinations in Washington to get an excellent milkshake or a tasty bite to eat.
If you are a Seattleite venturing to North Cascades National Park, the quickest way to get there is through Darrington. This town has a long history of logging, and still has a very active role in the industry. As you leave town toward U.S. Route 20, the Burger Barn unassumingly awaits hungry patrons. Perhaps the world’s best chocolate peanut butter milkshake can be found here, along with the logger burger, a mouthwatering two-patty behemoth or a surprisingly good veggie burger.
If you’ve spent a weekend camping, hiking or boating at Baker Lake on the southeast side of Mount Baker, Cascade Burgers is worth the 15-minute round-trip detour on the way back to I-5. Located in the sleepy town of Concrete, Cascade Burgers has an old-style diner interior with the convenience of a drive-thru window. On a recent spring trip here, we sat next to a group of pilots who were all meeting up for a quick bite after landing their small planes at the nearby airport, out for a casual Sunday ﬂight. Our 1-year old approved of the grilled cheese sandwich, and we thought highly of the milkshakes, though we left wishing we had ordered the large instead of the small.
Just before the Bavarian city of Leavenworth, a bright hot-pink sign entices weary travelers. Welcome to the ’59er Diner, a large metal-plated building that is a true diner in every sense. Complete with pictures of Marilyn Monroe covering the bathroom walls, cushy booths to slide in and out of, and a counter to cozy up to, this establishment is a step back in time. What makes it even more special is that this restaurant survived a ﬁre in 2016 that burned the place down, only to reopen just two years later.
There is a large outdoor seating area with tables and chairs, along with several friendly chickens pecking for dropped French fries. The milkshakes are thick and rich, and the onion rings are oh so greasy and delicious. If you’ve had one too many drinks from the modest alcohol oﬀerings or just aren’t quite ready to head home from your summer vacation, the ’59er Diner even oﬀers eight cabins for rest and relaxation.
In the shadow of Mount Rainier sits a dairy lover’s paradise. The milkshakes at Cliff Droppers in Packwood are worth a pilgrimage alone, and the location makes it an easy stop on the way home from the increasingly popular Goat Rocks Wilderness, a hiking oasis just southeast of Mount Rainier National Park. The fence in front of Cliﬀ Droppers is fashioned from old skis, an appropriate touch given its proximity to White Pass Ski Area. In addition to the delicious shakes, Cliﬀ Droppers oﬀers a wide range of burgers with names that pay homage to local allure, such as the Sasquatch burger, Tatoosh burger, and Rainier burger.
This restaurant is true to its name, with a giant red arrow that points visitors to its doors. The Red Arrow Drive-In is in Cle Elum, a great jumping-oﬀ point for hikes on the east side of the Cascades. In operation since 1953, the drive-in has withstood the test of time. I recommend the corn dog or the chicken ﬁngers, but if you are looking to start your hike on a full belly, it even serves a hearty breakfast. The line can be long, so come ready to order the kitchen sink.
I love hiking, don’t get me wrong. I’m partial to the North Cascades, the Enchantments, Glacier Peak Wilderness, the Olympics and the Mountain Loop Highway. What makes the sweating, aching muscles, and sore feet worth it isn’t simply the views or experiencing stunning landscapes. The reward is in the cold, creamy, soft elixir of a milkshake that awaits me at the end of the hike.
The Evergreen State has endless opportunities for outdoor adventures, but what is underrated are the hidden restaurants ready to serve up tasty treats and greasy bites at the end of a long day on the trail.