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!


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