Tag Archives: Wonderland Trail

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.

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.

Reflection Lakes

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It is that time again.  The wildflowers are in full bloom, and every person visiting Paradise leaves dazzled and in full comprehension of how the name came to be.  There are many fantastic wildflower hikes to do, but one of the stunners to be sure is the Lakes Trail, which passes by the famous Reflection Lakes. Reflection Lakes are beauty unto themselves when Mt. Rainier is out and reflecting in the lakes (hence the name), but the wow-factor only increases when the wildflowers are out in all their glory.

You can get to Reflection Lakes two ways.  Either approach from Paradise on the Lakes Trail, or you can take a shorter route from the Reflection Lakes trailhead on the Stevens Canyon Highway.  I prefer to enjoy my wildflowers and mountain scenery a bit longer, and the longer version is OUTSTANDING, so I opted to begin my stroll at Paradise.  This loop begins and ends in the Paradise Visitor Center Parking Lot, and is 5.4 miles roundtrip with a 1,300 elevation gain (and a 1,300 foot elevation drop).  Walking sticks are advised for those with sore joints.

Doing the walk counterclockwise is highly recommended, for the stunning Rainier views during the latter portion. From Paradise, you’ll begin by parking in the Visitor Center Lot.  The trailhead is where the one-way Paradise Valley Road driving loop begins, just below the Paradise Lodge.  I recommend starting early in the morning, when the cool air feels fresh and smells sweet, and before the bugs come out.  The insects can be really intense one it warms up, and are particularly bad at dusk. I was lucky enough to see a fox, four deer, and six marmots on my walk, so keep an eye out for animals!

You’ll begin be descending fairly steeply (this is the only rocky portion of the trail) into beautiful subalpine firs and fabulous meadows. The trail flattens out a bit at the bottom, and you’ll cross over the Paradise River and pass by some beautiful little falls.  After a few hundred yards, you’ll cross the Paradise Valley Road and head uphill up over Mazama ridge, before heading downwards again towards Reflection Lake. The Lakes Trail joins the Wonderland Trail for a short way while passing by Reflection Lake.

You’ll reach Reflection Lake 1.7 miles from the trailhead. After passing Reflection Lake and a pond alongside it (this .2 miles is alongside the Stevens Canyon Road before you dip back into nature), you’ll curve around to the left and have the option of following the Wonderland Trail towards Paradise River Camp, or continuing on the Lakes Trail.  I opted to continue on the Wonderland Trail for a few hundred feet, and was rewarded with a beautiful view of Louise Lake.  After snapping a photo, return to the Lakes Trail and head upwards for a half mile, before arriving at Faraway Rock for an excellent view of the Tatoosh Peaks and Louise Lake.

A short uphill grade from Faraway Rock (.2miles) will have you passing by two ponds on the right, and a lovely marshy area to the left before bringing you to a decision on whether to continue on the Lakes Trail for 2.6 miles, or to take the High Lake Trail for 2.2 miles.  The High Lake Trail cuts to the left through the trees and rejoins up with the initial first mile leg of your walk.  I opted to stay with the longer Lakes Trail (following Mazama Ridge) so I could avoid re-tracing. This loop continues above Paradise and comes back down by the Paradise Lodge, ending the hike in fields of wildflowers with Mt. Rainier spectacular in the background.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  As you head right at the ‘Y’ in the road to continue on the Lakes Trail, you’ll pass by a vibrant green meadow to your left and then round the corner to have Rainier literally in your face.  She is too large and beautiful and close to capture in all of her beauty, but you’ll snap a hundred photos trying! Every step the next mile for me was a spiritual experience. I was wading through rippling oceans of Lupine, my eyes darting across fields to take in the fireworks of Magenta and Harsh Paintbrush, American Bistort, Yellow Arnica, Rosy Spirea, White and Pink Heather, Subalpine Daisies, and Sitka Valerian  – all identified using the Mount Rainier Subalpine flower gallery . There were countless others weaving together the landscape, with stunted firs framing the mountain.

The climb is a pleasant gradual incline and mesmerizing at every step.  After about a mile, the trail meets with the Skyline Trail for the final 1.4 miles. From here on, you’ll begin running into considerably more people.  The marmots abound, and the wildflowers change with every dip and turn.  You’ll have a llittle ascent into a watershed, then have a bit of a climb, before the path definitely turns itself downwards and gently propels your feet towards the Paradise Lodge/Visitor Center Parking Lot.

There are more stunning photos in every direction – of the mountain, wildflowers, waterfalls, and the Tatoosh Range. The earlier hikers hit the trail, the less people there will be sharing the popular Skyline Trail at the end of the walk.  Set an alarm and get out there by 7 am and enjoy – I’m getting excited for you and this fabulous adventure you’re going to have.

Read more about accessing Reflection Lakes from the Stevens Canyons Road trailhead here: http://www.visitrainier.com/pg/hike/9/Reflection%20Lakes

Indian Bar

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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.