Photo by Ryan Murray
A slice of blackberry pie à la mode is probably the Inn's most famous dish.
Photo by Ryan Murray A slice of blackberry pie à la mode is probably the Inn's most famous dish.

For nearly 100 years, the Copper Creek Inn has welcomed visitors to Mt. Rainier.

Built in the 1920s as a service station with a lunch counter, it grew into notoriety as a “bottle club,” where loggers could bring a bottle of their own liquor and purchase mixers.

Even today, it’s being recognized as a place to be, being named one of Pierce County’s best brunch spots by Travel Tacoma, mentioned in the same breath as Tacoma classics The Cliff House, Stanley & Seafort’s, Gig Harbor’s Green Turtle and Puyallup’s HG Bistro.

Phil Freeman, the owner of Copper Creek inn for 17 years, said the nod was an honor.

“For us to be included in the same conversation as those really great restaurants… well, it’s rarified air,” he said. “We’re the longest continually-operating restaurant in the state of Washington and we’re just the second owners.”

During Prohibition, the first owners kept a still hidden in the walls. Roselea Triggs and her husband, Harry Long, bought the building in 1946. Long soon left Triggs behind with just a few dollars in her pocket. She persevered with the help of local loggers and soon Copper Creek Inn was becoming an institution. Triggs built the log cabin in 1955 and remarried in 1962.

In 2001, Triggs sold the Inn to Catharine Gallagher (and her husband, Freeman).

And while the Inn is rightly known as a brunch destination, nearly everyone who swings by the homey little place on the National Park Highway - just two miles from the Nisqually entrance to the park - knows why they are there.

It’s all about the pie. The restaurant bakes a wild blackberry pie every 45 minutes, and it’s good enough to draw people from Tacoma, 56 miles away.

“About four or five years after Roselea bought the Inn, a local came by with her pies and we’ve been selling them ever since,” Freeman said. “Some days we will sell between 100 and 200 of them.”

Freeman said that the pies and brunch are great, but he swears by the restaurant’s soups.

“We’ve been serving the same stew recipe since the 1940s and it’s as delicious as ever,” he said. “We get compliments from East Coasters about our seafood chowder. It’s full of salmon, trout and halibut. And I’ve never had a restaurant chili as good as ours.”

While Freeman might be biased in his restaurant’s favor, there’s no denying the charm of the location, all rustic wood surrounded by the looming pines of the Mt. Rainier forest. In the near-century the Inn has been open, various works of art have accumulated. Triggs built the driftwood chandelier in the dining area and Hank “Frenchy” Canty collected the driftwood alphabet which hangs outside. Where did the wood come from? Why, Copper Creek of course.

In the dining area, a mural from the legendary Northwest painter Fred Oldfield shows a beautiful vista of Tahoma. Gallagher, one of the owners and a painter, has several of her works on the walls.

“She’s given the artistic eye to everything you see at Copper Creek,” Freeman said. “We’re real proud of what we have up here.”