South Lewis County is a beautiful place to explore, and a lot of it can be seen with a simple two to four-hour roadtrip from Centralia or Chehalis.
Take Exit 63 from Interstate 5 and head east then west toward Winlock on state Route 505. Once you descend into town, take a right on First Street and find a place to park — you’ll head to the Winlock Historical Museum.
At the museum, you can get a tremendous look into what life was like in a town that relied on the railroad and the logging industry for its sustenance. Various pieces of history are preserved and explained, from logging tools to old photos of townspeople from years past. A recent restoration of the building’s interior makes this very worth the trip. Check their Facebook page for contact information and hours.
While you’re in Winlock, how many chicken sculptures can you find while you’re in town? Drive around for a few blocks and see if you can find them all.
Double back toward Toledo on 505, and this time take note of the views of Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helens on a clear day as you round the corner to go south; you’ll be looping back to a road soon that you’ll be able to drive down and enjoy those views nearly uninhibited for a short time.
Drive into downtown Toledo and stop at the Toledo Community Library, a one-of-a-kind operation that is staffed entirely by volunteers and made possible through donations from the community. There’s a history room in the making there, and it’s worth it to get a great glimpse of what life in Toledo was like, where a ferry once brought people across the Cowlitz. Art Gallery 505 is nearby, showcasing local and Cowlitz Tribe art when open.
Double back on 505 again past Toledo, but this time take Jackson Highway to the north and then Spencer Road to the east. Make a brief stop at St. Francis Xavier Mission, where some of the first settlers to Lewis County called home. The historic church is still used today, and the cemetery behind it bears the names of those who paved the way for future generations.
Back on Spencer Road, travel a mile or two, and there are those views of the mountains again; find a turnout and snap a few photos with a zoom lens! Before long you’ll see a sign for the Cowlitz Trout Hatchery. Head on in if you wish, but the bigger show is about four miles on down the road, where Tacoma Power operates the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery.
Rebuilt in 2010, the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery contains a visitor center with plenty of activities and games for kids to enjoy while at the same time learning about the life cycle of a salmon. Barrier Dam, next to the hatchery, is a popular viewpoint and also laden with anglers during fishing season. The hatchery provides just a small glimpse into how critical the Cowlitz watershed is in for salmon habitat and the ecosystem in general.
Once you leave the hatchery, head up Fuller Road to U.S. Highway 12 at Salkum, where the trip then continues eastward to a popular recreational area. Take a left at state Route 122 to Ike Kinswa State Park and head on into the day-use area, where you can relax, enjoy a picnic or enjoy a walk along the shores of Lake Mayfield and the Tilton River, both part of the Cowlitz watershed.
Once done there, you can return to Chehalis or Centralia by heading west on U.S. Highway 12 and then north on Interstate 5.