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Carbon River Road Hike

Estimated time-frame for the day: 9:00AM-4:00PM

{We will also be making a stop to meet up with other hikers around 9:45 at the Orting McDonald's}

(321 Washington Ave N Orting, WA 98360)

Please bring: water, energy snacks/lunch, day-hike essentials, clothing/gear according to the forecast, sturdy/comfortable footwear + bag for soiled/wet pairs, camera, binoculars. Be prepared! You just never know what the weather will decide to do :-)

Rated: Easy Elevation Gain/Loss: Minimal RT Mileage: 5-10

+This is a RAIN or SHINE event+

As snow levels drop and hikers find roads to trailheads gated, you may wonder where can you hike in winter. Some people hike urban trails close to home; others take up snowshoeing in lieu of hiking. There is another option - when access roads to trailheads are closed, why not hike the road to the trailhead? The five-mile stretch of Carbon River Road inside Mount Rainier National Park is especially scenic – the road bisects the park’s only rain forest and at times parallels the river.

Though the road inside the park is closed to public vehicles, it has been repaired to the extent that it makes for a scenic hike or easy snowshoe trip.

It might sound boring to hike a road but we were enchanted; hiking a road is so different than driving, especially this road. You get to see what you’d miss if you were driving - the old-growth trees beside the road and the Carbon River personify grandeur, and mossy cliffs sit partially hidden behind a scrim of evergreens while undulating ribbons of mist rise from the moisture-saturated river valley gouged out long ago by the Carbon Glacier.

It wasn’t long before we reached the Chenius Falls trailhead (2,200 feet), a picnic area in summer. Snow-covered picnic tables and an interpretive sign partially buried by snow added a touch of surrealism. The sign is captioned “Wandering River” and gives a brief explanation of how weather-related events affect the course of the river.

Chenius Falls is on the other side of the Carbon River, an easy hike in summer. A series of footbridges crosses the braided channels of the river. In winter the bridges are removed by park rangers as conditions become treacherous. On our trip, only the footbridge leading to the river bar remained in place. On a clear day the picnic area is an ideal setting from which to view the many moods of the river and identify minor peaks above the river (you’ll need the map to do so).

Incidentally there is a half-mile nature loop through the rain forest just inside the entrance; it adds a nice touch for the first-time visitor as well and is especially pretty in the fall when the leaves of vine maple turn crimson.

The future of Carbon River Road inside the park remains unclear at this point though it is likely that it will revert to a hiking and mountain biking trail. Rerouting the road to higher ground to avoid floods was an option but that was not feasible given the expense and challenges of doing so. In fact according to some park officials, there is concern that future floods will destroy roads, especially where rivers are higher than the roads.

Letting the road revert to trail will make it difficult for some users to experience trails beyond the Carbon River entrance including the Carbon Glacier trail, the trail to Ipsut Pass and wonders beyond. Those trails will be out of reach for many day hikers, as they must walk 10 additional miles round trip to get to those trailheads.

To get there from Enumclaw: Take State Route 410 and follow signs to State Route 165 (south) to Buckley and Wilkeson. Continue to the Mowich/Carbon River junction and turn left on the Carbon River Road to the Carbon River entrance of the park (elevation 1,750 feet). It costs $15 per vehicle to enter the park unless you have a pass.

Trail Stats: The Rain Forest Nature Loop is a 0.5-mile loop with no elevation gain. It is six miles round-trip to the Green Lake trailhead with 350 feet elevation gain, and seven miles round trip to the Chenius Falls picnic area with about 450 feet elevation gain. The recommended map for Mount Rainier National Park is Green Trails (Mount Rainier Wonderland Map 269S).

Mike's cell|[masked]

(call or text)

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  • Lin

    beautiful in the snow :)

    January 28, 2013

  • Cristi

    What a wonderfully carefree day spent in the great outdoors with beautiful scenery to lift the spirits! Thanks to Mike for making it special with his warmth & hospitality! Thank you to Julie for driving & the great company that rode along!
    Dinner at the Spagetti Factory was a lot of fun as we ate & laughed ourselves silly!

    January 27, 2013

  • Julie L

    Was a great day full of fun and laughter with wonderful friends, Thanks All! :)

    January 27, 2013

  • Tom B

    Had lots of fun and hope to see everyone real soon. Thanks Mike for getting a great group of people together

    January 26, 2013

    • Mike T.

      Thank you Tom for joining us!!!

      January 26, 2013

    • Mike T.

      I appreciate yet another hiker with an amazing sense of humor!!! ;-)

      January 26, 2013

  • Tom B

    Best outing ever with a great group!

    2 · January 26, 2013

  • Mike T.

    Great day!!!

    1 · January 26, 2013

  • Mike T.

    Hi Molly! No worries..glad to have you!! See you in the morning :-)

    January 25, 2013

    • Molly T.

      Great! Hey are we meeting at 8 or 9? This event says 9, but the e-mail says 8...

      January 25, 2013

    • Mike T.

      We (the ones hiking the Carbon River Road) are meeting up at 9AM in Tacoma. The group heading to Little Mashel Falls is meeting up at 8AM in Lakewood. See you at Stadium Tully's tomorrow morning around 9AM :-)

      1 · January 25, 2013

  • Mike T.

    At Tully's, I'll have a sign on a table with our group name on it :-)

    January 24, 2013

    • Tom B

      Cool. See you then

      January 24, 2013

  • Mike T.

    Drivers: Please bring your National Parks/Federal Lands Pass. We will be carpooling as best we can from both meet-up points. The fewer cars the better. Passengers can bring their pass anyways to place on the dash of the car they are riding in :)

    January 24, 2013

  • Renee M

    Can I meet you in Bonney Lake? How about at the McDonalds on Hwy 410 (in the Fred Myers parking lot). What time do you think we would meet there if that works for everyone?

    January 23, 2013

    • Renee M

      Sure. That works for me. I'll see you there at 9:45.

      January 23, 2013

    • Mike T.

      Awesome! See you then!

      January 23, 2013

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