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Carbon Glacier

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Though the trail is lovely, it's not exactly a thrill--not until you reach the end of the route. There, you'll find yourself swinging on a cable suspension bridge and cooling your heels on an actual glacier. Getting to those highlights, you'll trek along an old miners' road paralleling the Carbon River upstream. This frothy river boasts some serious white water, but it's not because of the rapids (which are generally small and not too frothy). Rather, the whiteness of the water comes from all the powder-fine silt ground up by the moving glacier. This water, known as "glacier milk," is deathly cold (remember, it's melted glacier ice from just a few miles upstream), so regardless of the heat, steer clear of the river itself.

The trail follows an old road built by early twentieth-century miners up the south bank of the Carbon River. The broad trail leads gradually upward 2 miles from Ipsut Creek Campground to a junction with the Northern Loop Trail. This side trail drops off the left side of the main trail, into the river channel. Trail crews replace or realign a series of precarious footlogs and narrow bridges each season as the braided river shifts each year.

Don't worry about those crossings, though, as our trail continues south along the bank of the Carbon. In another mile, you encounter another fork in the trail. To the right, the trail climbs up the Cataract Creek valley. Take the trail to the left, which rolls up onto a narrow bridge suspended over the Carbon. Thick steel cables hold the bridge deck suspended over the rushing ice water, but the long span is still a bouncing adventure. The bridge is well anchored, however, so cross in confidence. Be sure to stop midbridge, however, to look upstream to the stark face of the Carbon Glacier.

Once safely across, turn right and follow the moraine steeply upward to an excellent viewpoint of the glacier, the lowest-elevation glacier in the Lower 48 states and one of the more melt-resistant ice fingers on Rainier. Most people stop here at about 3.25 miles; the trail beyond shows why, as it gets steep, rocky, and downright ornery for approximately the next mile up to Dick Creek Camp.
Driving Directions:

From Puyallup, drive 13 miles east on State Route 410 to Buckley. Turn right (south) onto SR 165. Proceed to the bridge over the Carbon River Gorge and then bear left to Mount Rainier National Park's Carbon River Entrance. Proceed 5 miles to the trailhead at the road's end at Ipsut Creek Campground. Note: Due to 2006 flood damage, it may be necessary to walk the road from the point of the first damage, just inside the park boundary. Please contact the park service for current information prior to your hike.

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Recent Trip Reports

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There are 29 trip reports for this hike. See all trip reports for this hike.
Carbon River, Carbon Glacier — Apr 14, 2014 — Stuke Sowle
Day hike
Issues: Bridge out | Mud/Rockslide | Washouts
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I had intended to do a trail run along the Carbon River to the suspension bridge at the upper crossi...
I had intended to do a trail run along the Carbon River to the suspension bridge at the upper crossing right below the Carbon Glacier moraine. However, at the junction of the lower crossing, the bridge is washed out. I attempted to use the trail on the south side despite the signage saying it was closed (I know, I know but I hate being stopped short of a goal) but there are several washouts along that trail and I eventually turned around after a about a quarter of a mile due to a slide/washout that wasn't really safe to cross with only trail running gear with me.

Not much in pictures but just wanted to get the info out there for those looking to get farther upstream.

Plus side, no snow on trail throughout the trip!
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Carbon Glacier — Mar 22, 2014 — Mr_big_willy_styles
Day hike
Issues: Blowdowns | Bridge out | Mud/Rockslide | Mudholes | Washouts | Snow on trail | Road to trailhead inaccessible
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The trail to carbon glacier is still blown out on the south side of the valley (same as last year). ...
The trail to carbon glacier is still blown out on the south side of the valley (same as last year). The "trail detour" starts with a bridge out crossing the river and leads to a snow covered trail that I could not follow despite my many hikes on this trail. I instead hiked up the river bed the last couple miles to the suspension bridge. After the bridge I tried the trail again and it appears that a small avalanche has covered the trail along with many trees. After sinking up to my waist in snow on several occasions I gave up the trail again and went back to the river bed to hike up to the glacier.

The trail has sustained much damage over the past couple of years. Short seasons have not given the repair crews time to fix the damage from last year let alone the new damage from this year.

On a positive note I haven't seen that much snowpack on the glacier in over ten years

I honestly believe I was the first to make it all the way to the glacier this season. I saw no signs of other hikers.

This was once one of my favorite hike but now that it is 17.5 miles I'm hard pressed to hike it twice a season in spite of its awesome features and lack of people.
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Carbon Glacier — Aug 29, 2013 — npuser
Day hike
Features: Fall foliage
Issues: Mud/Rockslide | Mudholes | Washouts | Water on trail | Road to trailhead inaccessible
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I last hiked this trail 8-9 years ago prior to the road being washed out and Wow! What a change! The...
I last hiked this trail 8-9 years ago prior to the road being washed out and Wow! What a change! The dynamic and destructive forces of the Carbon River and Mother Nature are quite dramatic and clearly visible from this trail.

It was pouring down rain the entire way up and sunny and warm on the way down, so a little bit of both worlds (no views of the mountain though). We rode the bikes up to Ipsut Campground, took 45-50 mins. A few large puddles, but otherwise very easy and beautiful ride. First part of trail in decent shape. At times, the river flows right next to the trail and almost crosses the banks. About half way up, the trail is washed out and you have to cross the raging river on a scary log bridge. There was no mention of this at the ranger station or anywhere at the trailhead, so I was quite surprised. You can still cross the suspension bridge further up the trail, but you can only go as far north as the Carbon River Camp. When I say scary bridge crossing, this is an understatement. The river was flowing incredibly high and fast and the rapids were making thunder, booming noises. I felt quit uneasy crossing on a small log. Nevertheless, we made it across and hiked up the trail on the east side of the river bed. The trail up to the glacier on the east side is in great shape. There was a small stream flowing down the trail near the glacier viewpoint, but easy to navigate. The way back down was uneventful (except for that dreaded river crossing again). The bike ride down was much quicker, maybe 20-25 mins.

This part of the national park is simply beautiful. Thick, green moss-covered forests dominate most of your views on the trail and seeing a glacier up close like this is pretty stunning. For these reasons alone, I would strongly recommended this hike. On top of that, this area provides great examples of Mother Nature's power. The river has simply destroyed everything in its path. The river bed is more than a quarter mile wide at times and seems to be growing, it has already taken part of the road and trail out. Hike this trail while you can, it may not be accessible in the future.
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Carbon Glacier — Jun 17, 2013 — Ryan
Day hike
Features: Wildflowers blooming
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Was a great day for a hike. We arrived at the Carbon River ranger station at about 8:30, picke...
     Was a great day for a hike. We arrived at the Carbon River ranger station at about 8:30, picked up a annual pass and drove to the end of the road (old Ranger Station). Was one other vehicle there. We road our bikes up to Ipsut Campground. Road/Trail is in decent shape. Only a couple places where we got off our bikes to walk through some of the areas with the larger rocks.
     Took about an hour to get to Ipsut Campground. Locked our bikes up and began our hike to the glacier. Took a couple pics at Ipsut falls and back on the trail. Didn't see any big game, was a little disappointed as I wouldn't have minded seeing a bear. Oh well.
     Arrived a the glacier a little after noon. Had some lunch in the sun and began our trip back down. Took a little bit of time to go across the suspension bridge, even though we didn't have to.
     Bike ride back was fun (not much pedaling)
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Carbon Glacier — Jun 02, 2013 — 1BLESSEDX3
Day hike
Features: Wildflowers blooming
Issues: Bugs
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We got a later start than we had wanted. We stopped at the Carbon River Ranger Station before headi...
We got a later start than we had wanted. We stopped at the Carbon River Ranger Station before heading up the road. We talked with the Rangers for a few minutes and it was great. Definately enjoyed being able to talk to them without the huge crowds like there usually is at Paradise, Longmire or Sunrise. The Ranger had mentioned that there had been reports of a Black Bear in the area so to just keep our eyes out.

We arrived at the parking area just outside the Park boundary. Then we biked the 5 miles to the Ipsut Creek Campground to the Trailhead for the Carbon River Glacier trail. First, let me say not a good time to reintroduce yourself to riding a bike. I hadn't ridden a bike since Junior High and I'm now 41. I can only say it was a misserable ride to the trailhead. I had to get off and walk the mountain bike over the areas of large river rock on the trail. I'm in decent shape and never thought it would be so difficult. But I was not going to give up.....LOL I finally made it to the trailhead where my boyfriend was waiting. We took a few minutes to get drinks and have a quick snack before starting our hike.

The hike was just beautiful. The coolness of the forest was refreshing. It was so green and new growth sprouting up everwhere. We stopped to view Ipsut Falls. It was beautiful. We proceeded on. We began to hear what sounded like chain saws in the near distance, which had us perplexed for a moment. Then we noticed there was members of the WTA working on the trail. Men were cutting away at a fallen tree, and another group was working the trail. They were doing an amazing job and it didn't look like an easy mission. We had to hike over the rocks and debris as they worked. They were all happy they had to halt for a minute to let us pass. They said, it gives em a chance to take a break :) Glad we could help in that regard.

About 1/2 mile past where the workers were we crossed 3-4 log bridges kind of connected. We met two hikers that warned us of a bear just off the trail up ahead and said just look for the fresh scat and described the area. We kept an eye out. The we approached an area with alot of vegitation on each side of the trail with lots of new growth. we noticed the first pile of bear scat (very fresh). Then we proceeded cautiousely. Then we happened to look to the left down in this little valley area close to the river and there it was a big beautiful cinnimon colored black bear. It was laying in some downed trees napping. We took a couple pictures and then it appeared to be looking at something (not us as it knew we were there and wasn't bothered with our presence). It kept looking down stream past us when all of a sudden it got up and started running. All fine and dandy except it was running in our direction. That was a bit scary trying to determine it's route and trying to make sure we were out of it's way. It ended up running past us and climbed a tree. That was pretty neat to watch.

We proceeded onto the Carbon River Glacier Trail. It was a nice easy hike for the most part. We passed some beautiful waterfalls and crossed some log bridges over the river. Then we made our way up through some switchbacks and up to the Carbon River Glacier. We stopped at the Suspension Bridge for drinks and fruit. Walked accross and got some nice pictures and it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be (I'm afraid of heights and bridges that bounce). After a few minutes we hiked up to the viewpoint. We had to cross a couple of small snow patches. We made it to the glacier and sat in awe. What a magnificant site. We sat and listened as rocks tumbled down the glaciers face into the rocks below. As we sat there taking it all in, we noticed three mountain goats on the rocks on the other side of the river. It was kind of over cast, so we didn't get to see much of the mountain today.

On the return, we had a nice stroll back as we approached the area we had seen the bear earlier, we began to make some noise calling out "Hey bear" and clapping loudly, as we didn't want to suprise it. Unfortunately, we did just that. We came around a corner and my boyfriend who was in front of me put his arms out to stop me and said "Stop and slowly back up NOW" right in front of us maybe five feet from us was the same bear we had seen earlier. This time much closer a not so good feeling. The bear was up on a log hair standing straight up on his back looking at us. I carry bear spray and let me tell you it was out and safety was off and it was ready as we were way to close. We continued to back up and give it some space. After what seemed like forever (maybe 3 minutes), it came down off the log and onto the trail in front of us. It was walking the trail in the direction we needed to go. We gave it a few minutes and proceeded cautiously. It eventually moved off trail to the right and went back to foraging. It was quite the experience. Not one I care to repeat (at least not so closely).

On a bright side, the bike ride back was smooth sailing for me. It was all down hill. We made it back to the car in about 20-30 minutes from Ipsut Creek Campground. We passed a deer as we rode by.

On our way through Wilkeson, we saw a large heard of elk in a big field. It was a great day for seeing wildlife.

The Ranger station was closed when we returned, but I called them this morning to inform them of the two very close encounters with this bear. I recommended that they place a sign at Ipsut Creek Campground warning other hikers that there was a bear frequenting the area. I said, as hikers we all need to be vigilant, but not everone stops at a Ranger Station to check on conditions and due to this bear foraging right there on/next to the trail it would be good to let hikers know to keep an eye out and be more alert.
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Carbon Glacier david souza.jpg
Carbon Glacier. Photo by David Souza.
WTA worked here!
Mt. Rainier -- NW - Carbon River / Mowich
Mount Rainier National Park
Roundtrip 6.5 miles
Elevation Gain 1000 ft
Highest Point 3400 ft
Old growth
Mountain views
Established campsites
User info
Good for kids
Dogs not allowed
National Park/Refuge entry fee required
Guidebooks & Maps
Day Hiking: Mt. Rainier National Park Trails (Nelson & Bauer - Mountaineers Books)
Green Trails Mount Rainier West
No. 269; Contact: Carbon River Ranger Station
(360) 829-9639;

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