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.