Oddly enough it only took me 13 or so years of living here to visit Mud Mountain Dam. Why I hadn’t been before, I don’t know. It was a great stop on our way up Hwy 410, to Mount Rainier. For one, I had no idea that the dam had been put into control floods and nothing more. Not what you think of when you ponder dams and the PNW. You normally think hydro power and water for irrigation.
While there are plenty of trails to explore around the U.S. Army of Corps Engineers run facility, the key one to do is the 1/3 mile Vista Point, which is at the end of the parking lot.
With plenty of educational plaques, it talks about the history of the area and how the dam was built. The trail goes out onto a large viewing platform, with views of the river to one side, and the damn to the other. If feeling strong, take the stairs down and onto the trail to the much lower viewpoint (which is wooden), at the end of the trail. Yes, it is steep – and a natural setting. But it is worth it, and short.
Not knowing this is just really a retention pond, I was at first shocked how little water was back there. After reading up, it made sense.
This is looking at the White River, coming towards the dam. Notice the color? Well, the White River starts up at Mt. Rainier, off the Inter and Emmons Glaciers:
See the river coming out of the glacier? That is the headwaters of the White. It isn’t a long run either, most Washington rivers are not. But what it does hold is a lot of glacial “flour”. It is nearly opaque. So when it hits the Mud Mountain Dam, it is beyond thick. Eventually, it joins the Puyallup River (which at that point the Carbon River has fed into, and both those are glacier fed from Rainier), and dumps out into the Puget Sound in Commencement Bay, in the city of Tacoma. So the dam was important for those huge melt offs every spring.
While hiking back up, Walker and I found a number of Red Huckleberry bushes and happily noshed while sweating up that short but steep hill.
Bonus points: The dam has a park that is simply awesome for kids. Multiple playgrounds, covered picnic tables and a huge water feature for kids to play in, to cool off. Close in, but it doesn’t feel that way.
Although one warning: in off-season be wary parking for hiking. I know there have been issues with car breakins. Summer seems to be mostly fine, as there is a camp host on site and workers.