Tag Archives: Cowlitz River

Exploring the Stevens Canyon Road

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Thousands of visitors come to Mt. Rainier each year, and expect to see spectacular views. Sometimes hiking just isn’t on the menu, but that’s okay, you don’t have to hike a couple of miles to get to some great views, they’re just right off the road! The Stevens Canyon Road is perfect for those who don’t mind a little time in the car to explore some great views.

Running from Ohanapecosh to just below Paradise, the Stevens Canyon has a myriad of stopping points and jaw dropping views. Coming from the Nisqually Gate, the road is past Longmire and to the right; it can also be accessed from the Paradise Valley Loop Road.

Inspiration Point is one of the first stops you can’t resist taking a picture. The pullout shows off a beautiful spread out view of Mt. Rainier and her lower valleys. A can’t-miss photo to bring home with you!

Once you leave Inspiration Point heading east, you’re going to drive by Reflection Lake. It’s a true gem- right off the side of the road! On clear days, the image of the mountain is perfectly reflected, giving this lake its appropriate name. The Lakes Trail going up to Paradise has trailheads here, as well as a shorter hike around Reflection Lake called the High Lakes Trail, a 2.4 mile hike that takes you to Faraway Rock overlooking Reflection Lake and Lake Louise.

The first half of the Stevens Canyon Road follows the Wonderland Trail, until Box Canyon where the road goes South and the Wonderland to the North. There are great hikes off this road, including Pinnacle Peak, the Bench and Snow Lakes (one of the earliest trails for wildflowers), and Lakes Trail.

As you’re driving along enjoying the beautiful scenery, don’t forget to stop at Box Canyon! Trust me, it is well worth your time. Box Canyon used to be covered by the Cowlitz glacier, now over 2 miles away! The glaciers recession polished the rocks underneath, leaving them smooth and its runoff carved a canyon over 118 ft deep! A short ½ mile walk on the left side of road takes you to a pedestrian bridge over the canyon where you can marvel at the effects of the glacier. This trail is flat and great for small children, older adults, and strollers- though you’ll want to keep a close eye on the kiddos crossing the bridge! To the right of the road are bathrooms and some info boards telling the story of the glacier.

Continuing on towards Ohanapecosh you’ll drive by the Grove of the Patriarchs- another must see! It’s quite a name, Grove of the Patriarchs, but it couldn’t be more fitting. This short 1.1 mile loop will take you over a suspension bridge and onto a boardwalk traveling through monstrous trees. This is an old growth forest with trees 1,000 years’ old and up to 300 feet high!  You can’t help but be in awe of these ancient giants.

Across the street from the Grove of the Patriarchs, ½ a mile from the road is Silver Falls. You can watch the Ohanapecosh River cascade down from the bridge just below the falls or the viewpoint next to it. Definitely bring the camera for this one! Silver Falls can also be accessed from the Ohanapecosh Campground (Loop B, a 2.7 mile loop hike), or from Route 123 (0.6 miles total, 1.6 miles north from the Ohanapecosh Campground, park on the left side of the road).

The Stevens Canyon Road can be enjoyed by visitors of all ages and abilities. It hosts a variety of stunning views and breathtaking landscapes. This road does close during the winter as it could get dangerous with snow. Remember to always stay on trails, especially around rivers, waterfalls, and steep cliffs, as accidents do happen and fences and railings are for your protection as well as the forests.

Paddling around Rainier

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Are you looking for other outdoor recreation for you and your family around Mt. Rainier?  A paddle on the Nisqually or Cowlitz River could be just the ticket.

The Nisqually river runs out of the park right alongside SW entrance, and through Ashford, WA. The Nisqually is recommended for more experienced paddlers, and not recommended for canoes.  The drop-in is at Skate Creek/USFS-52, where the bridge crosses over the Nisqually.  The drop in is about 5 minutes fro the Visitor Center, and the take-out is about 6 minutes away, so make sure to drop by for a visit! This run is about 11 miles, paralleling SR 706 until the takeout where Hwy 7 crosses the Nisqually in Elbe, just before Alder Lake.  A Class II and III run, this is a fast-paced run (3 hours or less) that carves through narrow slot canyons at the three-mile mark.  Scouting this section of the river is recommended, or kayaking/paddling with someone who is familiar with the river.  As the run progresses, it opens up for a few miles, allowing a few glimpses of Mt. Rainier and her glory, before passing under Hwy 7 and gently folding into Alder Lake.

To get to the Cowlitz river from our Visitor Center in Ashford, drive east on SR 706 for 3 miles,a and take a right on NSFS-52. You’ll cross over the aforementioned  drop-in for the Nisqually run, and travel on this beautiful scenic road for 22 miles before arriving in Packwood. There is camping along Skate Creek as well, though camping spots are generally taken early on weekends.

Kayaks and canoes frequent the Cowlitz in a few different sections, depending on the experience of the paddler. One put-in is at La Wis Wis campground, just a few miles east of Packwood.  There is 7.5 miles of Class II water, and the take-out is under the Packwood bridge (where USFS-52 crosses over the Cowlitz).  This run is best run at high water, April through mid-July.  It is possibly to run later in the summer/fall, but you may have to portage your vessel over shallow areas. Not recommended for young children.

A personal favorite is to put-in at the Packwood bridge (NF-52 crossing over the Cowlitz), and do the 11 mile float down to the bridge where Hwy 12 crosses over the Cowlitz.  This stretch is a fun one since the water runs at a steady pace and keeps you moving.  The run takes about 3 hours non-stop, but the mountain views are spectacular if you look back over your shoulder, and the fishing and river beaches are definitely worth pulling over for. Plan for 5-6 hours and take your time.  This section of the river is also Class II, but you’ll have to keep an eye out for sweepers (logs and log jams that can be dangerous if not avoided).  This section is not recommended for young children.

If one is looking for a family-friendly paddle, you can put in at the aforementioned bridge between Packwood and Randle where Hwy 12 crosses over Cowlitz, and float 9-10 miles until the 131 crosses over the river, just a quarter mile of Hwy 12 in Randle. This section is slow and winding, so make sure to plan by bringing plenty of water, and sunscreen.  The float takes plus or minus 5 hours non-stop, but longer if you take significant or frequent breaks. This is a great one for families, and there are plenty of spaces to camp for those that want to take it easy and make it a two-day adventure. Bring your fishing pole for this section as well!

While both rivers are accessible and gorgeous, paddlers should always take precaution.  Always paddle with a friend, scout areas that are unknown, and check your gear.  Remember that these are glacial waters and even the best swimmers will have a challenge fighting the cold if you do roll, and always wear your life jacket.  Be safe out there!