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