Tag Archives: Cora Lake

Cora Lake

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Continuing our list of amazing hikes and activities to do just outside Mt. Rainier National Park in the beautiful Nisqually Valley, we’re pleased to introduce visitors to Cora Lake.  Cora Lake is a wonderful 1.4 mile hike (roundtrip) that is great for children, provided they are given a sturdy hand to hold during the creek crossings.  From start to finish, hikers will enjoy lush green foliage and the spectacular waterfalls of Big Creek.

To get there, continue driving east on SR 706 from the Mt. Rainier Visitor’s Center in Ashford. After about 3 miles, turn right on Kernahan Road (also which turns into Skate Creek/FR 52), and drive 4.6 miles before taking a right onto FR 84 (this is unmarked – it is one turn after the dirt road with the gate on the right) and keep on it for 4.2 miles before taking a right on FR 8420.  Continue 1.5 miles to the trailhead. Both FR 52 and FR 8420 are in good condition and are drivable for passenger cars, so long as you are wary of the occasional pothole.

Parking is on your right, with the trailhead and a Cora Lake sign to your left.  If the road seems to narrow significantly, you’ve gone too far – turn around and you’ll see the trailhead about 100 yards down on the right.  You’ll begin up a gradual incline with a well-maintained trail, and children and adults alike will enjoy looking for frogs along the way.

After about 10 minutes, you’ll see your first waterfall.  The beauty just gets more spectacular form here on! Continue along Bog Creek and you’ll come to a spectacular waterfall shooting out of the rocks high above, and continuing through lovely pools.  Below these pools is your first creek crossing!  Big Creek is passable by walking on rocks and logs – but beware – the logs are slippery when wet, so it is best to give little ones a hand and let them go near the front.  There is no real danger other than a soggy shoe, so comfortable hiking sandals are a great idea to avoid the wet-foot worries!

You’ll hike up a small hill through a switchback, and keep an eye out for Mt. Rainier peering at you through the trees! The mountain is with you the entire hike, though it is sometimes hard to make out through the denser growth. Notice that you are in a stand of old-growth trees for the latter half of the hike, providing beauty and a sense of calm.

After the switchback, you’ll make your way back across the creek for your second crossing.  The waterfalls at this point are wide and stream steadily over giant rocks, creating a spectacular view.  Keep climbing for another 5-10 minutes until the trail flattens out, and you’re there!

The 30 minute hike will end at the tranquil Cora Lake (elevation 3,800 ft.), where there is plenty of space for hikers to find their own space to picnic, fish, swim, and relax – even on busy weekend days.  From mid-June to mid-July, peer into the shallow water to look for tadpoles and pollywogs.  There are thousands in early summer!   High Rock Lookout (written about previously here: https://mtrainierblog.com/2013/07/09/high-rock-lookout/) is viewable 1,600 feet above, perched on an aptly-named large rock with sheer walls.

If hikers would like to continue their walk, the Big Creek Trail continues to the right of Cora Lake for .6 miles before splitting.  To the left fork, hikers can pick their way across an avalanche slope below the sheer face of High Rock, to enjoy a beautiful view of Mt. Rainier after a half mile.  This route is not recommended for the kiddos! The right fork is the Teely Creek Trail, which makes its way to Granite and Bertha May Lakes.

Both Big Creek and Teely Creek Trails are open to motorcyclists and mountain bikers. Big Creek runs highest from late-May to mid-July, or once the fall rains begin.  After a heavy rain the trail can be muddy and Big Creek difficult to cross, so check your weather conditions.  In late summer into the fall (pre-rainy season), the creek will be lower, and should be a breeze.

High Rock Lookout

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We’re thrilled that the great weather has brought thousands of visitors into Mt. Rainier National Park the last few weeks.  However, long lines to enter the park has people asking about hikes and activities that are available in the Nisqually Valley, just outside the park entrance.  Don’t worry – there are plenty of hikes and activities to enjoy in and around Ashford, where our Visitor’s Center is located.  One such hike is the High Rock Lookout.

High Rock is one of the fire lookouts that was used by the Forest Service in pre-satellite days, so that staff could keep an eye out for smoke, indicating a forest fire.  Since their purpose was to observe large swaths of land, fire lookouts are always located atop high peaks and offer incredible views.  High Rock Lookout is just such a site, and still retains the original 1929 tower, perched at 5,700 feet and offering an incredible view of Mt. Rainier.

To get there, continue driving east on SR 706 from the Mt. Rainier Visitor’s Center in Ashford. After about 3 miles, turn right on Kernahan Road (also which turns into Skate Creek/FS 52), and drive 1.5 miles before taking a right on Osborn road. Immediately, take a left on FR 85 (it is unmarked), and continue 5.8 miles.  When the road forks, take the left fork onto FR 8440 (unmarked) and  continue 4.5 miles to the trailhead on the left.

An slightly longer, but smoother alternate route is to drive east on SR 706, turn right on Kernahan Road (which turns into Skate Creek/FS 52), and drive 4.6 miles before taking a right onto FR 84 (this is unmarked – it is one turn after the dirt road with the gate on the right) and keep on it for 6.8 miles, bearing right onto FR 8440 for the final 2.7 miles to the trailhead (on the right).  This route is recommended for cars lacking 4-wheel drive.

The trail is 1.6 miles each way, but with a hefty 1,400 foot elevation gain. The well-used trail is wide and in great condition, following the spine of the ridge through hemlock and silver fir with wildflowers decorating the trail in the early summer months. The path steepens as it approaches the lookout, and towards the end hikers can choose to either scramble up a steep rock slope with a 600 ft. vertical drop to the right for the most direct route to the lookout, or wind a bit further through the forest and then cut back up along the ridge, approaching the lookout from the west with the cliff to the left.

High Rock sits on a prominent point on Sawtooth Ridge, and is a popular destination for nature photographers. From the lookout, enjoy the amazing view of the south face of Mt. Rainier, the Tatoosh Range, and Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams to the south and east respectively.  Look down at Cora Lake, nestled in the forested valley below, and marvel at the sheer rock faces.

This hike takes on average of three hours round trip, and while the steep incline may intimidate hikers early on, the hike is finished in a short time and the view is well worth the effort. The fire lookout is open during the summer so hikers can go inside and check it out, but folks mostly spread themselves out among the rock, enjoying the sun and the spectacular views.

The view from the top has the most clarity in the early morning or late-afternoon, but the bugs are full-on at dusk and dawn.  even during the day, bugs will keep most hikers moving steadily through the shade.  The path is clear of snow as of early July, and bear grass, Indian paintbrush, and avalanche lilies color the landscape.

While this trail does allow dogs, dogs should be kept on a leash due to the dangerous ledge near parts of the trail.  Similarly, this path is not recommended for young children.  Since there are no public facilities, make sure to bring plenty of water and snacks.

Happy hiking to you and yours!