Tag Archives: hiking

Deadhorse Creek Trail and Moraine Trail

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Paradise area is filled with wildflowers this time of year, and the fields are filled with bright-spotted beauties while the trails are packed with eager photographers and outdoor enthusiasts.  In can be tricky trying to find any solitude at Paradise this time of year, but Deadhorse Creek Trail and the Moraine Trail to the west side of Paradise are good options for getting away from the crowds.

The easiest way to begin is to park in the lower parking lot at Paradise, which is southwest of the Visitor Center.  This 2.5 mile hike is moderate with wide trails that are paved for a portion of the walk. There is a 400 ft elevation gain that takes place mostly within the first .75 mile, with the middle section of the hike flattening out, and the descent on the return.

From the trailhead at the lower parking lot, take the well-marked trail due north, bearing right at the first Y-intersection. If you park in the main Paradise parking lot, head up the stairs to where most of the trails begin and cut hard to your left.  You’ll be paralleling the Visitor Center on the Avalanche Lily Trail and you’ll cross the Alta Vista Trail, and then you’ll come to the T intersection of Deadhorse Creek Trail where you will take a right.

Once you’re on Deadhorse Creek Trail there is no way to go wrong, as there are many other trails that intersect Deadhorse.  You can turn around if you are tired or let your feet guide you towards the glacier, a field of flowers, into the valley, or towards a creek.  If you continue to follow Deadhorse Creek Trail, after about 3/4 of a mile you will have the option to turn left onto the Moraine Trail.

The Moraine Trail is not a loop, but it does take you right down to the “snout” of the Nisqually Glacier. Most visitors skip this option as the trail is unpaved and easy to overlook.  The Moraine Trail is a great place to veer off the more-frequented Deadhorse Creek Trail, dip over a rise and head down into the valley where the Nisqually Glacier sits.  You can find a few rocks to relax upon and soak up the quiet of your own corner of Paradise before retracing your steps on the Moraine Trail and rejoining Deadhorse Creek.  If you choose to turn back now, the round-trip hike would be just under 2.5 miles.   I recommend taking a left on Deadhorse Creek and continuing on a bit higher.

The Deadhorse Creek Trail meets up with the Skyline Trail after a half mile, and you could either take a right on the Skyline Trail to head back towards the Paradise Visitor Center Parking Lot, or you could push on another .2 miles for a spectacular view from the Glacier Vista trail. Either way, once you begin heading down the Skyline Trail you could also opt to switch over to the Alta Vista Trail after a .5 mile.  At this point, head wherever the beauty calls to you or wherever there are less people to mar your view.  All trails had back to the Paradise Visitor Center Parking Lot, or if you cut to the right (west) on the Waterfall Trail or the Avalanche Lily Trail, they will bring you back down to the lower parking lot.

Any path at Paradise is going to provide you with spectacular views and wildflowers through the rest of the month. Prepare to be awed!

Exploring the Stevens Canyon Road

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

In the Rain: Carter Falls and Madcap Falls

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We know how it is; you plan for your trip, you get excited, you see the mountain from the road (almost there!), then, on the day of the trip- snow at paradise, and raining everywhere else. We know, because it happened to us too. It’s always unfortunate when you can’t see the mountain because of weather, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the park and the many other views it has to offer.

When we woke up the day of our hike and checked the weather reports (always important!), we saw that there was a storm warning at paradise, and it was raining cats and dogs everywhere else. Checking the weather beforehand and talking to the rangers at the park helped, and so we changed our plans. Instead of a hike near Paradise, that would put us at snow level, we opted for a lower elevation hike in the trees for partial rain coverage. The perfect trail for that? Carter and Madcap Falls.

The Carter Falls and Madcap Falls trail is a 1.1 mile part of the Wonderland Trail, a 92 mile trail that goes around Mt. Rainier National Park. The trailhead is across from the Cougar Rock Campground, about 8 miles from the park entrance, with parking off the side of the road.

The hike starts by crossing the Nisqually riverbed; including walking across a log bridge- kids should have an adult cross with them to be safe. The cliffs across the river are spotted with long, graceful waterfalls, and if there are no clouds, Mt. Rainier can be seen looking up the river. Once you are on the other side of the river you head up into the trees and start making your way to the falls, with the river on your right. It is an uphill hike, but not a steep one.

Carter Falls is a spectacular waterfall with an 80 ft drop. A nice reward for your hike! Just past Carter Falls, 1/10th of a mile up is Madcap Falls, a smaller set of waterfalls in the Nisqually. Fun Fact: the Nisqually River, which flows from the Nisqually Glacier seen above Paradise to the left, feeds Alder Lake, a large lake you pass if you’re entering the park from the southwest.

Hiking is great in that it isn’t necessarily a fair-weather sport. As long as you are prepared, i.e. a waterproof coat, gloves, appropriate shoes, etc., you can still go out in the rain. Wildlife is still out and about, but there are fewer crowds. Check out other good hikes in bad weather in our previous blog ‘Don’t Let the Rain Stop You.’ If you do go out in bad weather, make sure you know the conditions beforehand, you’re prepared, and safe.

Don’t Let the Rain Stop You

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

You’ve got an adventure all planned to one of the most beautiful places in the world, and now it’s raining.  Sigh.  What is there to do at Mt. Rainier without all of those spectacular mountain views?  Lucky for you – there is plenty that Mt. Rainier still has to offer, even with grey skies and some drizzle. Mt. Rainier is home to old growth forests, plenty of animals, and wildflowers and waterfalls abound, even in the rain.  Here are some ideas to make sure that you still have a fantastic time on the mountain.

Heading through the Nisqually Entrance on the Southwest corner of the park, begin by winding your way up to 6.5 miles miles East to Longmire.  Stop and check out the Longmire Museum, open year-round. The museum is open 9-5 July 1st – Sept 2nd,  with its historical collection on the early history of Longmire, and exhibits and an information booth.  Operating hours are limited outside of peak season, so check here to plan your visit.

Leaving Longmire and continuing east for four miles, you’ll drive right over Christine Falls. This is a beautiful two-tiered smaller waterfall that shoots ecstatically from a slot canyon in the rocks.  You can take great photos from the road, or walk five minutes below the falls for a view of the second tier of the waterfall, framed by the beautiful reinforced concrete/rock bridge you just drove over on SR 706.

Hope back in your car heading east, and you’ll soon come to a large parking lot on your right.  Pull on over, and welcome to Narada Falls! Narada Falls is a family favorite, because all family members get to cross the reinforced concrete/rock bridge that crosses over the first tier of the waterfall on the way to the restrooms, and a short 5-minute walk gives the visitor a fantastic view of the entire two-tiered 188 foot waterfall.  The mists from the falls at the viewpoint can get you a bit damp – but you won’t even notice if it is already raining and you are wearing your rain jacket! Here there are restroom facilities and picnic tables as well.

Once at Paradise, take a look around to see if the clouds will clear to give you a view of the Tatoosh Range, or if you can catch a glimpse of the mountain.  If Rainier is not out, don’t despair! Head to the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center, open June 15th – September 1st, 9 am – 7 pm daily. There are interactive displays, videos, ranger talks, photos, climbing relics, a gift shop, and wonderful area to get warm and spread out your family’s picnic lunch and rest for a bit before heading out for more fun.

This time of year (August), the wildflowers are in full bloom as well.  A walk around the Paradise area in the mist is still beautiful. The yellow-green grasses, blue-green sub-alpine trees, and the pinks, yellows, purples and whites of the flowers pop against the grey. The animals are often out in the rain as well, so keep an eye out for marmots, deer, mountain goats, and even black bear – particularly at dawn and dusk.

On your way back down, about a half mile after you cross over Christine Falls, you’ll see a parking lot for Comet Falls on your right-hand side. If you have appropriate weather gear and it isn’t raining too hard, the is a 2-3 hour hike round-trip to Comet Falls (3.8 miles total) is mostly protected by trees.  You’ll cross above Christine Falls after . 7 miles on a beautiful little log bridge, and you can continue on to Comet Falls if your feet are still feeling dry and comfortable. If the weather clear, Von Trump Park  and its fields of wildflowers and mountain views is an additional mile after Comet Falls, making your total round-trip hike 5.8 miles.

A few of the lower hikes in and around Longmire offer some great hikes for rainy days as well. Twin Firs, Trail of Shadows, Lower Kautz, Rampart Ridge Loop Trail, Eagle Peak, and Carter and Madcap Falls are all great wet weather hikes as well.  Look them up on the NPS website, or stop by our Visitor Center for additional information.

Enjoy the rain!

Lake George and Gobbler’s Knob

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

While hoards of tourists are streaming to Paradise to get their wildflower fill for the summer, it is a great time to find a hike with a view and get in some quiet trail time in the forests of the park.  Let others fight for parking! Lake George and Gobbler’s Knob Lookout are great destinations and are moderate hikes (.9 miles from the trail head to Lake George, and another 1.6 miles to Gobbler’s Knob Lookout), and there are very few people on the trail.

“What?!” you say.  “A lake, a fire lookout, and a moderate-level hike accessible to the family that can be enjoyed in relative solitude at Mt. Rainier?  How can this be?!”

I’m so glad you asked!  The Lake George/Gobbler’s Knob trailhead are on the Westside Road, which is the very first left you can make when entering the park from the Nisqually entrance.  However, there is a catch.  Continual flooding of the Westside Road has shut down public vehicle access for nearly 15 years.  The road is gated off after the first 3 miles, and is only accessible for work vehicles.

“Wait a minute,” you say.  “Then how do we get there?  How far is it from the gate to the trailhead?”

Don’t throw in the towel yet! Park your car alongside the Westside Road at the gate. The trailhead for Lake George/Gobbler’s Knob is approximately 4 miles from the gate on your lefthand side, and is impossible to miss.  Many people choose to make a visit to Lake George/Gobbler’s Knob an overnight or even two-night experience, and hike in the 4 miles to the trailhead.  There are campsites (even a group campsite) available at Lake George, and the 4.9 mile hike from the gate to the lake is relatively easy, though hikers will be packing in on a gradual incline the entire hike.  Gobbler’s Knob can then be done as an afternoon hike once the backpacks are dropped off and camp is set up, or the next morning before packing up camp. Heading out is easy, as hikers enjoy a gradual descent that is gentle on the knees.

“But didn’t you say this is a moderate hike? One where my family and I can hike 5 miles roundtrip and relax lakeside, as well as at an old fire lookout?! 13 miles and 5 miles are quite different. We were really looking for a day hike”

Settle down sassypants! You’re absolutely right.  13-miles is a different cup-of-tea than a 5-mile  hike.  But lucky for us, there are other ways to utilize the Westside Road. Does your family bike? Grab your bikes, helmets, and day packs, and enjoy a 4-mile bike to the trailhead and a .9 mile walk to Lake George. The roundtrip 8-mile bike ride and 1.8 mile hike to and from Lake George can be done easily in 2-2.5 hours, and the drive from Ashford (where the visitor Center is located) to the Westside Road gate is just over 20 minutes.  This bike and hike can be done in as little as an afternoon, and Gobblers Knob is a strongly recommended addition.

The 4-mile bike ride from the Westside gate to the trailhead is all uphill on the way in, so get an early start to beat the heat.  Mountain bikes are recommended for the gravel road, and make sure to carry an extra tube and a pump.  There is a bike rack at the trailhead, which you’ll pull up to on your left.

The hike to Lake George is easy, wide, and pleasant.  Even young children who may have freeloaded in a seat on mom or dad’s bike can make their way along this path, and the hike is short enough to feel like a cool-down for your uphill bike ride. Mt. Rainier will show her face within the first .4 miles of hiking, so make sure to peer westward through the trees to enjoy your mountain views.  Once arrived at Lake George, you can picnic with your family in shady quiet and soak in the beauty of the blue-green lake. Make sure to check out the historic log patrol cabin (it was originally built as a horse barn) that sits on the northeast end of the lake, built in 1934.

Once everyone is rested and has snacked at Lake George, continue on the trail another 1.6 miles to the Gobbler’s Knob.  Gobbler’s Knob is one of four fire lookouts within the park boundaries that are historically maintained, with stunning views of the mountain. The trail to Gobblers Knob begins by following the bank of Lake George before taking a few mellow switchbacks.  Hikers are then treated to a pleasant respite from elevation gain as the trail flattens out alongside a pond and makes its way across a small valley, before the ascent begins again and the path meanders its way up in a few more agreeable switchbacks.

After 1.2 miles the trail intersects with Goat Lake Trail, which heads outside the park and into NSFS land.  (This is another route to Lake George and Gobblers Knob – this junction can be reached after 4 miles of hiking, beginning at the trailhead outside the park for Lake Christine). You only have .4 miles left to go! This last section of trail will fly by, as the trail opens up to fields of wildflowers to your left, and then curves up and behind the huge rock outcropping on which the lookout sits.

Mt. Rainier, who has been showing her face through the trees throughout your hike, is now out in all of her glory.  You’ll scramble up the rocks alongside the lookout and settle on your own private boulder throne, or perhaps climb up the lookout stairs and lean your back against the historic 1933 building while soaking in the beauty of the mountain.  Rainier is huge from Gobblers Knob (5,485 ft.), and there she provides you with a panorama that is arguably one of the best in the park.  You can see Mt. Wow to the south and Mt. Ararat to the east, and on a clear day you can see Mt. St. Helens gray and yawning in the distance.

Have a snack.  Relax.  Soak in Rainier in peace and quiet – you and your companions may be the only visitors! The 1.6 mile return to Lake George is a moderate descent where walking sticks come in handy but the path is generally very kind.  From Lake George, the .9 miles back to the trailhead and your awaiting bike will take you 20 minutes max. The 4-mile bike ride to your parked vehicle is all downhill and also takes less than 20 minutes.  If you’re really cruising, you can get from Gobbler’s Knob to your car in a little over an hour.

The secret is out.  Grab a friend or your family, load up those bikes and get out there!

Indian Bar

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Oh Indian Bar.  To be clear, this hike is not for the weak or weary.  This hike is a hard stretch of the Wonderland, with 14.5 miles round-trip and a 2,900 foot elevation gain on the way in (800 on the way out). Is it worth it?  Absolutely.  A hundred times over.

In an interview with the backcountry carpenter at Mt. Rainier, see blog here: (https://mtrainierblog.com/2013/07/07/stories-from-the-mountain-meet-mt-rainiers-backcountry-carpenter/)  he said that Indian Bar is one of his favorite places in the park.  Furthermore, he said that he had never NOT seen a bear at Indian Bar (sorry for the double negative), and sightings included a mother bear with three cubs, and a six-bears-in-one-day day.  Bears, wildflowers, dozens of waterfalls, and a babbling brook all in a private, wide-open valley.  YES PLEASE!

Indian Bar can be reached from two different access points – beginning from Box Canyon or from Fryingpan Creek Bridge (taking the the Summerland Trail from the White River side of the park).  I’ve done the Box Canyon route, and will focus on this route for all intensive purposes.  The Box Canyon trailhead is on Stevens Canyon Road, 11 miles east of the Longmire-Paradise Road. The gravel trail (with a sign) is directly across from the parking lot.

The first mile-and-a-half allow hikers to pass alongside Nickel Creek and another small creek with a mild grade. The next mile and a half are tough – there is a lot of elevation grade without much reprieve, and the area is all forested – not allowing for scenic overlooks until the 3-mile mark. At three miles, hikers will reach the crest of the Cowlitz Divide, which hikers will follow for the next four-and-a-half miles. Off the right hikers can settle themselves into a moderate sized field of wildflowers with nice views southwards, to drink and eat trail mix before continuing north and climbing onward.

As hikers continue onwards on the ridge, the trail gradually opens up.  Mt. Rainier will start to show its southeast side ahead and to the left through the trees, and the trail will follow the contours of the ridge, at times quite steep, but allowing hikers to rest on some flat stretches, and enjoy the wildflower meadows as they widen and beckon. Finally, the trail widens to show Mt. Rainier in all of its glory, with a colorful valley in the foreground. This is the high point of the trail at 5,914′ and from here, hikers will descend 800′ into the valley where Indian Bar sits in a huge open meadow.

The Ohanapecosh river splits the meadow in two, and the Indian Bar shelter beautifully sits to the west side of the river, its open side facing the flowing water.  Animals frequent the meadows north of the shelter and camping areas, and in late spring there are many waterfalls pouring down the lava cliff faces high above the valley. The backcountry camping area is southeast of the shelter about 100 feet, and sits right above Wauhaukaupauken Falls, which are small but beautiful.

Once you’ve set up your camp and rested a bit, it is recommended to clamber up the hill above the camp.  Elk sightings are almost guaranteed when the animals are in rut in September.  Remember always to give animals plenty of space.  Bull elk can be extremely aggressive in mating season, and you should take care never to surprise a black bear.  Take extra precautions around the black bear if there are cubs around.  Never get between a mother and her cub, and make sure to make plenty of noise when hiking at dusk and dawn, so as not to catch a bear unaware and on the defense.

This hike is generally snow-free from late July – September, and the wildflowers are out in full effect late-July to mid-August. If hikers arrange for a car drop-off, the Box Canyon hike can be combined with the Summerland trail to the trailhead at Frying Creek bridge (another 8.7 mile hike), for a one-way 17 mile hike through some of Mt. Rainier’s most beautiful country.

If you choose to do the Box Canyon trail in and out of Indian Bar, it is most definitely recommended as a two-day hike, so make sure that you apply for the appropriate backcountry camping permit, which must be arranged in person. Wilderness Camping and Climbing permits are available at the Longmire, White River, and Carbon River Wilderness Information Centers (WICs) and at the Paradise Climbing Information Center during the summer season. Permits are also available at visitor centers.

Cathedral Falls

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Nisqually Valley is an amazing and wonderful place, and Mt. Rainier is arguably one of the most beautiful places on earth.  Sometimes it is hard to wonder why we’d ever venture out of the valley for more beauty, but sometimes a short day trip can have spectacular results.  Cathedral Falls, located in the Cowlitz Valley – is just such one of these places.

Mt. Rainier has waterfalls galore.  But Catheral Falls is spectacular.  It feels like you could be in Costa Rica or in Western Africa, but with huckleberry bushes and pine and cedar trees surrounding you.  What’s more, the drive to Cathedral Falls is only about 1.5 hours from Ashford, and about 45 minutes if you are staying in Packwood or Morton – which happens often to folks who don’t make reservations on busy summer weekends. The hike is easy, and you get to traverse behind the waterfalls on the trail! Family friendly, and dogs are welcome. Read on for the details!

To get there, you’ll need to head towards Riffe Lake.  From the Ashford Visitor’s Center, head west 6 miles to Elbe, and take a left on Hwy 7 to Morton.  Once in Morton, take a left on Hwy 12. Head east for about 8 miles, and take a right on Kosmos Road, and take your next main left on to Champion Haul Road.  Follow this road along Riffe Lake and over the bridge, and continue following the road to the right onto a dirt road.  Follow this for a bit less than a mile, and take a left on another dirt road.  This road has a gate that should be open, posting that it is privately owned by a timber company, but publicly accessible.  Rules and regulations are posted.  Carry on, and the dirt road will take you into Gifford Pinchot National Forest! You’re almost there.

Drive for about 4.5 miles, keeping on the main dirt road and curving uphill and to the left.  Just when you’ve thought your lost your way, you’ll see the cars parked at the trail-head.  Unload your kids, dogs, snacks and packs, and hit the trail! The path is wide, well-maintained, and obstacle free.  The shady forest is cool and sweet smelling, huckleberry bushes are everywhere, and wildflowers liven the trail in late spring/early summer.

After about a mile, you’re there! And it will take your breath away. The falls launch 248 feet above, pummeling over an overhang high above, and creating a sheet of water that visitors can walk behind, or marvel at from various viewpoints to either side/front of the falls.  The trail takes all hikers behind the falls, and aside from a spactacular vantage point, visitors can linger in the cavernous hollow in the rocks that gave Cathedral Falls its appropriate name. At the bottom of the falls, the water has pounded the rock into a gentle swoop that loops the water around in a semi-circle before continuing it on its way.

The falls are most spectacular when the falls are running when the water is at its highest, from early May to mid-June, or after a heavy rain in the fall.  The falls will lose most of their power by late-June, but a trickle should continue through the year.  This is a great hike for a rainy day – hikers are protected by the tall cedars and pine trees, and hikers can continue their hike after the falls if they are interested in exploring further.

A wonderful family outing awaits at Cathedral Falls – enjoy!