Silver Falls Loop at Mt. Rainier NP

On Monday we woke up to great hiking weather – warm but not hot and those awesome blue skies. I talked Kirk into driving us up to Rainier. Snow levels are still pretty deep in the South Cascades so I dug through my books trying to think of a snow free hike that everyone in the family would enjoy.

My mind thought of Silver Falls Loop. It is a great late spring hike once the mountain passes are open, along the Ohanapecosh River. It isn’t hard but you do get your legs stretched and it has a nice payoff halfway through, but without the crowds you normally see in Rainier on a holiday.

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The access to the trail is off of Hwy 123, the connector road between Hwy 12 and Hwy 410. Normally one can drive up and over from Paradise down to Ohana, but the Steve Canyons Road is closed in areas due to damage. So that has kept the area a little quieter.

The best way (IMO) is counter clockwise, you will see less people on the way back!

We went into the Ohanapecosh Campground and parked in the day use area parking (which is in campground loop B, behind the small but great little visitor center). The trail starts off the connector trail that goes to the visitor center, though there is another connector trail from the other end of loop B.  If you go our way you get to pass the restored hot springs of Ohana. Long ago there was a resort of sorts there with soaking areas and whatnot. Now the land is back to natural with seeps and some stink. I would hedge on windy days many visitors have no idea there are hot springs there.

After passing the springs you pass by a couple streams that in late spring are gushing. All are nicely bridged, Rainier’s rangers do a great job of making the trails friendly and safer for families.

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The last creek crossing is marked, which is Laughingwater Creek and is the biggest (no photos though!). The new super wide and safe bridge was built just this past summer as well. Laughingwater Creek originates high up from the snow pack on the ridge you can see through the trees. This is where the Laughingwater Creek Trail starts as well, you pass the start. Most people (and not many hike that trail!) start that one on the Highway though, saving a little distance. I hiked Laughingwater Creek Trail downhill from the PCT last summer and hope to never “enjoy” that experience again. Dry, windless forest with a steep descent.

Sorry for the ramblings….

Quickly enough the trail comes to an end and you have Silver Falls in front of you. This is the Ohanapecosh River, that originates off of the Ohanapecosh Glacier above Indian Bar, on the Wonderland Trail which is sadly nearly a dead glacier now. Due to the dying glacier the river is much clearer than most in the park. It doesn’t have the glacial till like the White, or the Nisqually. The Paradise River is a good comparison, in flat spots the river is clear as glass.

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A short video of the falls, I didn’t have my HD camera with me though….sorry about that! It is loud so lower your volume.

The trail switchbacks tightly under the viewpoint and then crosses the river on a bridge that was rebuilt a couple years ago – it used to be super narrow and covered in moss. This bridge is gorgeous!

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The bridge crosses the narrow canyon of the river with a great view in all directions. OK, maybe not if you hate heights.

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We crossed the bridge and headed uphill, taking the junction to the left. The second half of the loop is on the end/start of the Cowlitz Divide Trail. This trail starts/ends at the campground in loop C and goes all the way to the Wonderland Trail. Also at that junction is the start/end of the East Side Trail, which goes from Silver Falls to Chinook Pass up in alpine. A couple years ago we did a one way walk downhill from Chinook. Fun! Alpine to deep virgin forest. Sadly there are two bridges gone/damaged so the trail up higher is not walkable right now. But so many options in summer!

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The trail goes uphill for awhile, though never steep, through lots of sun lit forest, Vine Maples and Huckleberry bushes. One of my favorite parts of the trail are these rock faces that the trail walks by/under.

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After that the trail levels out, passes a couple shallow ponds/meadows that in later months become mosquito breeding zones of hell. Reason why late spring is best for hiking this one! We had a number of blow downs to go over/under but never any real issues and no snow made it great.

You drop down and then come out into Loop C, cross the car bridge over the river and walk back to your car. An easy 3 mile loop with a lazy 500 feet of gain and loss.

If one wants more hiking they can always extend the hike and head uphill on the Eastside Trail and go visit the Grove of Patriachs, then head back downhill.

The hike was nearly perfect besides the group with 2 lap rats who felt their dogs had the right to be on the trail. Grrrr. I love how people decide the ‘no dog’ rule of the NP does not apply to them. Ah well!

~Sarah

PS: Kirk took many gorgeous photos that we will post later. Until then, you can look at my lousy snapshots 😉

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