Just south of Mt Rainier is where Highway 12 can be found, which is an avenue to a world of outdoor adventures in these parts. From Yakima to Olympia there is literally one interesting destination after another, so plenty of quality time can be spent exploring this lengthy tourism corridor. Even the roadside overlooks are worth checking out and most feature views of roaring river rapids or picturesque waterfalls. The water running downhill from the towering volcanic peaks feeds several famous rivers in this region that are tributaries for an even larger ecosystem that spans several states. The Cowlitz River is a good example of one such tributary, because this lengthy waterway meanders past Mt Rainier, Mt Adams and Mount St Helens on the way to the Columbia River, which boasts one of the most extensive fish hatchery ecosystems in the west.
When touring Highway 12 south of Mt Rainier, the signage for the Cowlitz Wildlife Area can be spotted at the east end of Riffe Lake, which is a man made Cowlitz River Reservoir. The wildlife area actually surrounds the mouth of the river, which runs through some deep woods and meadows on the way to the lake. The main attraction in this wildlife area is the Taidnapam Park Boat Launch, which is where small craft can enter the lake or head upstream. Towering forested mountain peaks surround the river basin, so the scenery is a feast for the eyes, especially if doing some boating is in the plans.
The Cowlitz Wildlife Area can be explored on foot and wild herd animals can be seen grazing in the meadow, but the absolute best way to experience this refuge is to set out on a small craft boat. The same can be said about many other wildlife refuges that are located along the mighty rivers out west, so those who strap a kayak to the roof of a vehicle will have plenty of options when planning a trip. In fact, most of the wilderness areas south of Mt Rainier feature river reservoir lakes and watercraft rentals can be found along the highway in this area, so practically anybody can paddle through the majestic wilderness areas. Of course, where there is clean river water fed lakes, fishing will always be the main activity and judging by the number of bass boats floating around, the odds of filling the creel for dinner are pretty good. For this reason, the Cowlitz Wildlife Area is worth checking out, so be sure to keep an eye out for the sign when touring Highway 12!
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