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Carbon River

During one of the worst winters for avalanche conditions in recent memory, it's nice to find a trail that is snowy yet safe. This week's best bet is the Carbon River Road. Some winters the snow barely touches this place. This winter is different! And the white stuff makes walking this road quite a bit of fun.

Hike of the Week:

February 11, 2008

Carbon River
Winter is a great time to walk the Carbon River Road. This winter there is plenty of snow, solitude and great scenery. Photo by Roger & Kym.

Mt. Rainier Nat'l Park
Distance:  9.2 miles r.t. to Ipsut Creek Campground
Elevation:  Start 1700'; Campground 2300'
Maps: Green Trails No. 269 Mount Rainier West

Why Go?

During one of the worst winters for avalanche conditions in recent memory, it's nice to find a trail that is snowy yet safe.  This week's best bet is the Carbon River Road.  Some winters the snow barely touches this place.  This winter is different!  And the white stuff makes walking this road quite a bit of fun.

As a bit of background, Mt. Rainier National Park's Carbon River Road was washed out in several places due to torrential rains in 2006.  This wasn't the Carbon River Road's first wash-out, but it was it's worst. 

As a result, the road is gated at the ranger station, 4.6 miles short of Ipsut Creek Campground and the trailheads to several favorite hiking trails.  Feet and bikes are now allowed on the road and the new portions of trail that bypass the wash-outs.

Carbon River Crew
WTA volunteers spent a week on the Carbon River in March 2007 removing large obstacles and building a reroute that skirts the washed out road. Photo by Dave H.

This area was an absolute mess a year ago.  But thanks to the efforts of lots of volunteers, the major blow-downs are gone and new trail has been built to the campground.  A WTA Volunteer Vacation crew spent a week building new tread here last March (see photo), and a new crew will be back in '08.

Now is a great time to enjoy this easy stroll along the Carbon River and beneath huge old growth Douglas Fir and cedar.  It's snowy, serene and beautiful.  And it's also humbling to witness what a powerful storm can do.  Check out the diameter of the trees that trail crews sawed through and how it is hard to recognize in places that this was ever a road.

Go as far as you'd like - or use this road as a hoping off point to longer hikes to Green Lake (10 miles r.t.), the Carbon River Glacier (about 16 miles r.t. - read up on the reroute before going!), or other trails out of Ipsut Campground.  As of this writing, snowshoes are advised along the road.

For More Information:

Guidebook:  50 Hikes in Mount Rainier National Park (Mountaineers - Spring & Manning). Call Mt. Rainier National Park for updated conditions: (360) 569-2211.  Mt. Rainier weather forecast.  Also, check out WTA's Hiking Guide and Trip Reports for Carbon River - there are several winter write-ups.


From state Route 164 in Enumclaw, turn right on Route 410 and follow signs to state Route 165 (south) through Buckley and Wilkeson. At the Mowich Lake/Carbon River junction, turn left on the Carbon River Road.  The road is closed and gated at the ranger station, approximately 4.6 miles shy of the Ipsut Creek Campground. 

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