Mount Rainier National Park: Ranger Falls via Carbon River Road

Explore the once-bustling Carbon River Road by foot on this 11.2-mile hike that winds through mossy forest and visits a multi-tiered waterfall in Mount Rainier National Park.
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Explore the once-bustling Carbon River Road by foot on this 11.2-mile hike that winds through mossy forest and visits a multi-tiered waterfall in Mount Rainier National Park.

This 11.2-mile hike follows Carbon River Road along the northwest boundary of Mount Rainier National Park to the Ipsut Creek Campground. Damaged by floods in November 2006, Carbon River Road is closed to motor vehicles, which gives hikers and bikers a traffic-free trail through lush, old-growth forest. From the parking area by the ranger station, walk past the gate onto Carbon River Road (listen for the roar of the Carbon River in the background).
After 1.5 miles, bear right onto the newly built side trail that bypasses the old roadbed, which is now a finger channel of the Carbon River. Hike past massive tangles of trees and roots where the road was once lay. In less than half a mile, the route merges back onto the road, passing yellow violets and trilliums.
Roughly 3 miles in, round an open bend in the road; Ranger Creek flows down the mountainside on the right. Turn right for a 1.6-mile out-and-back on Greek Lake Trail to Ranger Falls, a spectacular, multi-tiered waterfall flanked by silver firs. Continue up Carbon River Road after the side trip to the falls. The last mile to the turnaround point skirts several washouts—the last washout is now an eroded 10-foot-deep channel lined with massive boulders.
The road ends at the old trailhead near Ipsut Creek Campground (a great base for further exploration up the Wonderland Trail to the Carbon Glacier). Take some time to explore this area—look for the old guard station surrounded by severely eroded ground. When you're ready, turn around and follow the same route back to the trailhead.

INFO For information on permits, current trail and camp conditions, and wilderness guidelines, go to nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/wilderness-camping-and-hiking.htm.

PERMIT A wilderness permit is required for all overnight camping in the backcountry. Reservations requests accepted by fax or mail, starting on March 15th of each year ($20/reservation). Download form at nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/wilderness-reservation-information.htm.

CONTACT Mt. Rainier National Park, (360) 569-2211; nps.gov/mora

-Mapped by Alan Bauer, Alan Bauer Photography

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 18.0

Waypoints

RAN001

Location: 46.994927, -121.9153542

From the parking area by the ranger station, walk past the gate onto Carbon River Road. Hikers used to be able to drive to the end of the road to access the Carbon Glacier and Wonderland Trail before floods in November 2006 damaged the road. The first 1.5-mile stretch travels through mossy, old-growth forest; listen for the roar of the Carbon River in the background.

RAN002

Location: 46.9949706, -121.8854333

Follow the newly built side trail that leaves the road on the right. The side trail reveals views of the old roadbed, now a finger channel of the Carbon River (15 feet below the old roadbed level). Hike past massive tangles of trees and roots where the road once lay.

RAN003

Location: 46.9960833, -121.8758516

The route merges back onto the road again and passes huge trees and the occasional glimpse of the river. Yellow violets and trilliums speckle the moss-covered landscape.

RAN004

Location: 46.9931295, -121.8531605

Round an open bend in the road with river views. Ranger Creek flows down the mountainside on the right (south). Turn right for a side trip on the well-signed Green Lake Trail, which climbs to its namesake lake. For a shorter side trip, hike halfway to the lake to Ranger Falls, a spectacular waterfall.

RAN005

Location: 46.9846801, -121.8539514

Ranger Falls: Drop your pack at this picturesque locale overlooking silver firs and this multi-tiered waterfall. Relax and enjoy, then continue on to the lake, or turn around and return to Waypoint 4 (turn right at the T-junction).

RAN006

Location: 46.990526, -121.843946

This spot was once a picnic area along the Carbon River (look for the interpretive signs and picnic tables). May-October: Hike across the Carbon River on the seasonally installed foot-logs for a short side trip to Chenuis Falls (do not attempt this if the foot-logs are not installed). Next, continue up the road to the next washout.

RAN007

Location: 46.9882838, -121.8419199

The last mile to the turnaround point skirts several washouts. The last washout is now an eroded 10-foot-deep channel lined with massive boulders and a fallen speed limit sign.

RAN008

Location: 46.9756894, -121.8323508

The route's turnaround point is located at the old trailhead near Ipsut Creek Campground. The bridge over the creek is gone (replaced by a foot-log). Take some time to explore this area. The guard station is surrounded by severely eroded ground. The campground is a great base for further exploration up the Wonderland Trail to the Carbon Glacier (another 3.5 miles away). Follow the same route back to the trailhead.

Ranger Falls

Location: 46.9847026, -121.853528