Tag Archives: nature

In the Rain: Carter Falls and Madcap Falls

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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.

Cathedral Falls

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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!

Trail of Shadows

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Summer has officially begun as of the solstice on June 22nd, and Mt. Rainier’s trails are beginning to thaw out.  An easy and accessible trail to avoid the snow and learn about Mt. Rainier’s earliest history is the Trail of Shadows, directly across from Longmire National Inn.

A flat and wide .7 mile loop, the Trail of Shadows allows families of every age to stroll together and admire the lush vegetation, babbling brooks that circle a beaver pond and Longmire Meadow.  The area is great for viewing wildlife, particularly at dusk and dawn, and children and adults alike will be enchanted by the vibrant green foliage that nests itself at the feet of old growth trees. On a clear day from the West side of the meadow, you can see Mt. Rainier towering over the hillside to the Northeast.

Aside from natural delights, the walk also allows visitors a glimpse into vestiges of the past.  James Longmire discovered the pond while his horses wandered off for a bit of water during a hiking expedition.  To his delight, he saw that the pond was fed in part by bubbling mineral springs, which can still be seen today.  Longmire laid his claim to the land, built a thirteen-mile wagon trail to the springs, and erected cabins and in 1890, a hotel for his late-19th Century “therapeutic” spa.

While the cedar tubs that visitors once soaked in at the turn of the century are now long gone, visitors can still admire Soda Springs, which are springs enclosed by a ring of stones and including a seating area and high stone wall.  Of the 49 total mineral springs discovered in the Longmire area, “Iron Mike” is another spring enclosed by rudimentary rock walls that visitors can behold.

The trail also passes by the oldest building in the park – a cabin built in 1888 by James Longmire’s son, Elcaine Longmire, where he often would live during the summertime.  Everyone loves to peer inside and wonder at how the small, simple interior of the cabin, and imagine a life so different from our own.

Rainier National Park introduced a competing hotel in 1906, and eventually bought the Longmire’s out of their property in 1939. The springs were tested and found that they did not have any medicinal value, and the springs were ceased to exist as a tourist attraction, yet remained an important part of Mt. Rainier history.

The Trail of Shadows beckons you and yours.  Enjoy!