Eastside Trail — Big trees, big waterfalls, and lots of tranquility

Quick Facts:

Location: Mount Rainier National park

Land Agency: National Park Service

One way: 9.0 miles

Elevation Loss: 2,200 feet

Contact: Mount Rainier National Park 

Green Trails Maps: Mount Rainier National Park 269S

Notes: National Park entry fee; Dogs prohibited; Keep children nearby around waterfalls and creek sides as a slip or fall can lead to injury or worse.

Access: For Hike Start at Owyhigh Lakes East Trailhead: From Enumclaw, follow SR 410 east for 41 miles to Cayuse Pass. Turn right and continue south on SR 123 for 4.9 miles to trailhead on right—parking at small turnout on the left.

For Hike Finish at Ohanapecosh Campground: From Packwood, follow US 12 east for 7.5 miles. Turn left onto SR 123 and continue 3.6 miles. Turn left and proceed to Ohanapecosh

Good to Know: kid-friendly, exemplary old-growth, impressive waterfalls, solitude, Practice Leave No Trace Principles, Backpacking possibilities (permits required)

One of the longest trails within Mount Rainier National Park, the Eastside Trail is also one of the park’s quieter trails. Spanning the park’s eastern reaches from Chinook Pass to the Ohanapecosh Campground, the Eastside Trail traverses alpine meadows, primeval forest and a valley that thunders from catapulting creeks and crashing cascades.  With several trailheads and access points, the 13.4-mile trail can be hiked in sections. The lower two-thirds of this trail makes for an excellent early and late season hike when the numerous waterfalls along the way are at their finest. If you can arrange a shuttle, do this hike as a downhill one-way.

Starting from the eastern trailhead for the Owyhigh Lakes, enter thick forest and immediately begin descending. Via tight switchbacks the trail steeply loses elevation. Soon reach the first of several impressive waterfalls. From a precipitous (use caution) overlook, peer down on 60-plus foot Deer Creek Falls crashing down a tight rocky cleft.        Now continue hiking, losing more elevation and coming to a junction at .4 mile. Here the lower Eastside Trail heads left down valley—your route. The Owyhigh Lakes Trail continues straight, crossing Chinook Creek near its confluence with Deer Creek. The upper Eastside Trail diverges from this trail 0.1 mile west. Definitely walk upon the bridge spanning the crashing waterway before beginning your hike down valley.

Then begin sauntering down miles of rarely hiked trail passing groves of towering ancient firs, hemlocks and cedars. Pass the Deer Creek backcountry campground—a great place to let the sound of crashing water serenade you to sleep. The Eastside Trail winds gently down the valley following alongside Chinook Creek. The creek is often visible and always audible. The trail is a pure delight. Most of the way is a gentle descent—but there are a few little uphill sections here and there.

At about 1.4 miles come to the next big attraction. Here the trail reaches a high bridge spanning Chinook Creek at a thundering chasm. From the bridge stare down at roiling and swirling waters in rocky potholes and flumes. Then continue hiking through breathtaking primeval forest paying attention left bot to miss Stafford Falls. While only 25 feet tall, these falls roar. The plunge pool below is also stunning with its glacial blue tint.

Keep hiking passing impressive cathedral groves of towering timber. At 3.3 miles reach yet another highlight—Ohanapecosh Falls. Here walk across another sturdy bridge spanning high above a crashing waterway. Look right up an impressive chasm and catch cool breezes riding above the glacier-fed river. Then look left at the lip of a double tier waterfall. Here the river plunges 50 feet over a shelved ledge. A little farther down the trail you can get a sneak peek frontal view of this pretty cascade. This is a good spot to turn around if you couldn’t arrange a shuttle. Otherwise, keep following the trail downriver.

The trail now follows the Ohanapecosh River, often high above its floodplain which is prone to autumn flooding. While the river is often out of sight, it is always heard. And while the trail remains away from the river, it continues to cross numerous tumbling creeks. At 6.7 miles reach a junction—and lots of fellow hikers. Your lonely roaming is now over. Here a trail leaves left for a suspension bridge to the Grove of the Patriarchs; one of the most impressive old-growth forest groves in the park—and one of the park’s most visited attractions.

Now follow a well beaten path coming to the Grove of the Patriarchs trailhead parking lot on the Stevens Canyon Road at 7.1 miles. If you have a car waiting for you here, you’re done! Otherwise carefully cross the road and continue on the Eastside Trail soon crossing a creek and passing the Cowlitz Divide Trail. Then come up to a series of ledges hemming in a furious Ohanapecosh River. It’s quite a dramatic scene—only to be topped by Silver Falls just down river.

At 7.6 miles come to a junction. You can go left for an up-close and personal view of Silver Falls. Then continue on a busy path passing the historic Ohanapecosh Hot Springs returning to the Ohanapecosh Campground. You’re other option is to go right on a quieter path returning to the Ohanapecosh Campground at 9.0 miles. Cross the river one more time for one last satisfying view of this beautiful waterway before heading home.


For detailed information on many great hikes in and around Mount Rainier National Park, pick up a copy of my 100 Classic Hikes Washington (Mountaineers Books). Get your copy today and start exploring some of the best trails in the state!


Jay Lake — Solitude and camping at Wallace Falls State Park

Quick Facts:

Location: Skykomish River Valley, US 2

Land Agency: Washington State Parks

Roundtrip: 11.5 miles

Elevation gain: 1,575 feet

Green Trails Map: 

Contact: Wallace Falls State Park 

Notes: Discover Pass required; Dogs must be leashed; Camping requires a permit-attain from park prior to trip.

Access: From Everett, follow US 2 for 28 miles east to Gold Bar. Turn left onto 1st Street and proceed for .4 mile. Then turn right onto May Creek Road and continue for 1.5 miles to Wallace Falls State Park and trailhead.

Good to Know: dog-friendly, kid-friendly, snow free winter hiking; waterfalls; backpacking opportunities



Peaceful Jay Lake on a quiet spring day.

Wallace Falls is one of Washington’s busiest and most popular state parks. You’d be hard pressed to find solitude there even on a rainy day in winter. Yet, while thousands of hikers each month take to trails to the park’s spectacular series of thundering waterfalls, you can still find solitude here. But, you’ll have leave the waterfalls and work for it!

There are miles of trails and old woods roads within this state park and adjacent DNR-property. And several of these routes are lightly traveled. One of the loneliest spots in the park is Jay Lake, reached by a long but enjoyable hike. To reach it, follow hordes of happy hikers to the Woody Trail. Then continue to the Railroad Cut-off Trail taking this short but steep path 0.1 mile to an old logging railroad grade now a wide trail. Turn right and after a third of a mile reach the Greg Ball Trail.

A former board member and director of the Washington Trails Association (WTA), Ball launched WTA’s volunteer trail maintenance program back in 1993. It has since grown into the largest state-based program of its kind. In 2004 at the age of 60, Ball passed away after battling cancer. He had designed this trail to Wallace Lake.

Paralleling the North Fork of the Wallace River, this trail gracefully meanders through mature second growth. After a half mile the way steepens and the forest grows darker. But an agreeable grade and forest soon returns. At about 3.0 miles from the trailhead the river can be seen cascading through a narrow chasm. About a half mile farther the trail terminates at a DNR Road. Turn right on the road for a short 0.1 mile to a junction with an old road taking off left. Then follow this near level forested way for .5 mile to the southern tip of large and tranquil Wallace Lake.


One of two potentially tricky creek crossings.

Continue left .7 mile on an old road along the lake’s forested shoreline to where the North Fork Wallace River (here more of a creek) flows into the lake at inviting Pebble Beach. Now cross the North Fork (good luck keeping your boots dry) and continue on a lonely stretch of trail to Jay Lake. Pass some moisture loving Sitka Spruce, a rarity this far inland from the coast—then hop across another creek.

One more boot soaking creek crossing must be negotiated before you arrive at the quiet and more than likely deserted Jay Lake. Find a backcountry camping area (inquire within the park for a camping permit) and picnic table set amidst a grove of hemlocks. The lake’s shoreline is brushy making it difficult to reach its waters. But none-the-less, the location is soothing and feels quite remote. Pretty amazing too when you consider that while you listen to quiet breezes and thrush and wren song here at Jay Lake, hundreds of hikers are wearing down the tread near the waterfalls!

For information on lodging and other attractions near Jay Lake visit  www.snohomish.orgSnohomish-NEW

For more information on hiking Wallace Falls State Park and other snow-free hiking destinations throughout Western Washington, consult my Winter Hikes of Western Washington Deck.Winter Hikes Card DeckGet your copy today!

Glacier Basin─Strike it rich with great views on this tough hike

QIMG_3342uick Facts:

Location: Mountain Loop Highway near Barlow Pass

Land Agency: Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Roundtrip: 13.4 miles

Elevation Gain: 2,050 feet

Green Trails Map: Mountain Loop Highway 111SX

Access: From Granite Falls follow the Mountain Loop Highway east for 30 miles to Barlow Pass. Hike begins by walking up gated Monte Cristo Road.

Note: Northwest Forest Pass required.

Contact: Darrington Ranger District: Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest  

Glacier Basin sits high above the old mining town of Monte Cristo. It’s a place of rugged breathtaking beauty, where snow-fed braided creeks cascade through mounds of giant talus ringed with wildflowers. Reaching this spectacular spot however, isn’t easy. The trail to it is one of the roughest, rockiest, and steepest around.

From Barlow Pass, start by hiking or mountain-biking the closed-to-vehicles road to Monte Cristo. At one mile, reach the South Fork of the Sauk River. It must be forded, which usually isn’t too difficult this time of year. There is however a log crossing nearby which is plenty sturdy and offering a dry foot option..

Beyond the river, continue another 3.0 miles to a campground at the edge of the historic Monte Cristo town site. Cross the South Fork Sauk on good bridge where a handful of have-seen-better-days structures, remnants of a booming town, greet you. IMG_3332Walk across a grassy flat (once a rail yard) to the trailhead for Glacier Basin located near a US Forest Service cabin.

Now cross 76 Creek on a good bridge and head up what was once Dumas Street, the commercial artery of Monte Cristo. Pass where hotels, brothels, a mercantile, and residences once stood. President Trump’s, grandfather–an immigrant fro Germany–Frederick Drumpf was the justice of the peace here and ran a hotel that offered more than clean towels (no joke on any of this!)

The forest has reclaimed much of the old town. Continue straight at a four-way junction eventually leaving forest for avalanche chutes. The trail which was once a road, heads up an increasingly tighter and wilder valley. It then turns downright mean heading straight up a worn-to-the-bedrock gully. This is one tough stretch of trail. There is even a section with a rope to aid your ascent.

Take a break at a ledge above a waterfall; then resume climbing. Sanity eventually returns with good tread and an easing grade. Rounding a ridge, Glacier Basin’s guardian peaks come into view. Glacier Creek crashes below through rock and snow, and then disappears under mounds of talus. Now on a near level course, the creek appears once again snaking through willow flats.

If the creek allows, continue alongside it on grassy bottomlands. If flooded pick your way through talus on the original miner’s road. A small cascade marks the entrance to Glacier Basin; a wide expanse of boulder, moraine, snowfields, bubbling creeks, and wildflowers beneath a cluster of jagged ice-adorned peaks. Work your way up to Ray’s Knoll where the trail end and further explorations just begin–or take a nap–and head back when you must

For information on lodging and other attractions near Glacier Basin
visit www.snohomish.org.Snohomish-NEW

For more detailed information on this hike and many other off of the Mountain Loop Highway, pick up a copy of my best selling Day Hiking North Cascades (Mountaineers Books)!0486

Cora Lake– Emerald lake cradled beneath craggy High Rock


DSC01624Quick Facts:

Location: Nisqually River Valley

Land Agency: National Forest Service

Roundtrip: 1.4 miles

Elevation Gain: 400 feet

Contact: Gifford Pinchot National Forest

Green Trails Map: Randle, WA no. 301

Notes: no pass needed; creek crossing might be challenging early in the season; trail is open to mountain and motor bikes

Access: From Elbe, follow SR 706 east for 10.1 miles. Turn right onto Skate Creek Road (FR 52) and follow for 4.7 miles. Turn right onto graveled FR 84 and follow for 4.2 miles tuning right onto FR 8420. Continue 1.5 miles to trailhead.

Good to Know: dog-friendly, kid-friendly, old-growth, waterfalls

To hikers who have peered out over the Nisqually Valley from various summits in the area, the serrated Sawtooth Ridge just

Waterfall along the trail.

Waterfall along the trail.

south of the Nisqually entrance to Mount Rainier National Park is a familiar sight. The jagged ridge is quite distinct; and more than a handful of hikers have made the grunt to the High Rock Lookout on the aptly named Sawtooth ridge and marveled at its sweeping and dramatic views. But that is about the extent of what most hikers have experienced and know about of this finned ridgeline within the shadow of Mount Rainier.

While all of the Sawtooth summits are off limits to trails except for High Rock, a network of trails traverses the ridgeline. Hike these trails and you will soon discover that beneath the imposing triangular peaks, lie tranquil lakes, primeval forest, cascading creeks and plenty of other natural delights. One of the easiest of hikes within the Sawtooth Ridge is the one to Cora Lake.

It’s a mere .7 mile hike along Big Creek and through groves of big trees to the fairly decent sized Cora Lake. After the snow melts and before the autumn rains swell Big Creek, this hike is ideal for young children. The scenic and wild payoffs are big for such a short hike.

Immediately enter an impressive forest of big and old trees. Come to your first crossing of Big Creek—a ford early in the season—a rock hop afterward. Delight in the creek cascading both above and below you. Now continue upward on a wide switchback and come to your second crossing of Big Creek. Here the crossing is wider and poses the same challenges in high water.  And here there is a waterfall too, but a much more impressive one fanning down a wide ledge hemmed in by giant hemlocks.

Cross the creek at the foot of this cascade trying to keep your balance on rocks and logs and trying to keep your boots dry! Once across—you’re in the clear. The trail makes a short steep climb to the basin cradling Cora Lake. A short spur splits left from the trail for the lakeshore passing some inviting campsites.

A shallow lake not appealing for swimming (except for dogs), Cora does offer some fair fishing and some excellent scenery. Surrounded by towering old-growth conifers and situated at the base of cliffy and imposing High Rock, the setting feels quite wild and remote. Look straight up High Rock and see if you can locate its teetering Lookout. It’s hovering over 1,600 vertical feet above! When the winds are calm, this impressive sight is reflected nicely on the lake’s waters.

Linger long or if you desire more exercise, you can continue following the Big Creek Trail farther. Reach the junction with the Teely Creek Trail after .6 mile. This trail takes off right rounding basins and ridges on its way to Granite and Bertha May Lakes. It’s a rewarding up-and-down romp through beautiful forests to beautiful lakes.

The Big Creek Trail takes off left across brushy avalanche slopes beneath the cliffs of High Rock. The going is a little rough, but negotiable. Follow the trail for just over a half mile to a 4,580-foot gap where you can take in a great view of Mount Rainier. Beyond this point the trail continues for .9 mile dropping 500 feet through gorgeous old-growth forest reaching FR 8440 about .8 mile north of the High Rock Trailhead.

For detailed information on many great hikes in and around Mount Rainier National Park, pick up a copy of my 100 Classic Hikes Washington (Mountaineers Books). Get your copy today and start exploring this incredible region!9fe142a9-db8e-4f6f-aaec-ce9adf30c1e0


Green Lake and Ranger Falls –Towering trees and a three-tiered cataract


IMG_3147Quick Facts:

Location: Carbon River Valley, Mount Rainier National Park

Land Agency: National Park Service

Roundtrip: 9.6 miles

Elevation Gain: 1,350 feet

Contact: Mount Rainier National Park

Green Trails Map: Mount Rainier National Park 269SX

Notes: National Park entrance fee; Dogs Prohibited; Practice Leave No Trace Principles; camping only in designated spots and with a permit

Access: From Buckley, follow SR 165 south. At 10.4 miles (just beyond Fairfax Bridge) bear left onto the Carbon River Road and continue for 7.7 miles to trailhead.

Good to Know: kid-friendly, exceptional waterfall, exceptional old growth forest, bike-hike possibility

 Roam through miles of some of the largest and oldest trees in Mount Rainier National Park to a placid lake and a stunning waterfall. While Green Lake is a pretty sight—it’s triple-tiered Ranger Falls and the surrounding primeval forest that are the real treats on this hike. Amble up the Carbon River Valley before briskly climbing to the small lake tucked beneath Tolmie Peak. And try to keep your neck from straining while constantly tilting your head upward admiring towering firs, cedars and hemlocks.

Before 2007 the hike to Green Lake was a mere 3.4 miles roundtrip. But late in the autumn of 2006, heavy rainfall caused theIMG_3160 Carbon River to flood and washout large sections of the Carbon River Road. Rather than reopen this prone-to-washouts road, park officials decided to permanently convert it to a trail. The bad news—many popular short day hikes became much longer and the Ipsut Creek Campground was no longer car accessible. The good news is that the Carbon River road-trail makes for a pleasant hike year round and is also open to mountain bikes. Consider biking the first 3.1 miles of this hike to the old Green Lake Trailhead. Here you’ll find a bike rack and a much shorter hike to the lake.

The trailhead has limited parking, so plan to possibly park on the side of the road leading to it. Now start walking up the old Carbon River Road. The road-trail pulls away from the roaring glacier-fed river, but never far enough away that you lose sound of it. The walking is easy with very little elevation gain. The surrounding forest is stunning—an emerald cathedral of towering ancient conifers. On sunny days, the thick canopy will do its best to keep you well shaded. And on overcast days the layered tree crowns will spare you from a soaking. At about 1.2 miles you’ll come to a junction with the indiscreet Washington Mine Trail. This path takes off south on a steep short jaunt to an old copper mine on the northern flanks of Florence Peak.

You want to continue east on the road-trail soon coming upon a channel of the Carbon River. Pass through more groves IMG_3116of impressive arboreal giants and cross Falls Creek on a wide bridge. Continue upriver eventually coming to a bank high above the raging river. Here enjoy excellent views of the cloudy silty pounding river below and of Tirzah Peak across the wild waterway. Just after leaving the open river bank you’ll come to the Green Lake Trailhead. Now 3.1 miles into your hike, you’ve climbed a mere 350 feet. You’ll now subdue close to a 1,000 vertical feet in almost half the distance.

The well-built trail immediately climbs darting around massive old-growth giants. Some of the trees here are more than 800 years old—mere saplings when the Crusades were in full swing in Europe and Genghis Khan was sweeping across Asia. You’ll pass beneath a few fallen giants too—just as impressive as their vertical kindred. The trail marches up steep lush slopes undulating between short switchbacks and short traverses.

Eventually come to a junction. The way left is a short spur leading to an up-close and sure to get mist in your face viewpoint of Ranger Falls. By far the prettiest waterfalls in the Carbon River Valley, in early season they are mesmerizing. Here Ranger Creek plunges down mossy ledges for more than 170 feet. The falls are triple tiered and fan into twin falls before converging back into one. Your view of them is unobstructed. Stay for a while—especially on a warm summer’s day.

Then continue hiking commencing up another stretch of switchbacks. The climb then eases followed by a slope traverse before coming to Ranger Creek. Cross the creek on a high log bridge—then make one last climb—before descending a tad and coming to Green Lake. Here next to the placid lake’s outlet is a small opening graced with several large weather-bleached logs. Prop yourself up on one, grab some snacks, take a break and enjoy the view.

The lake sits in an emerald basin. Its green tinted waters reflecting the surrounding verdant forests. No surprise—though quite unimaginative where this lake got its name. Much of the lakeshore is lined with thick vegetation—so don’t expect to find a sandy beach or sunning area. Instead hang out for a little while on one of the logs and watch for resident birds. Then make your return—with a mandatory second viewing of Ranger Falls.

For detailed information on many great hikes in and around Mount Rainier National Park, pick up a copy of my 100 Classic Hikes Washington (Mountaineers Books). Get your copy today and start exploring this incredible region!9fe142a9-db8e-4f6f-aaec-ce9adf30c1e0