You are here: Home Find a Hike Hiking Guide Carter Falls

Carter Falls

» REI » Amazon

A portion of all book sales from the links above benefits WTA and helps protect and maintain our trails.

This route follows the Wonderland Trail east of Longmire through some of the oldest, most beautiful ancient forest left in Washington's Cascades, while providing views of the crashing waters of the milky Nisqually River. Families appreciate the nearly flat, easy trek through the trees along the first half of the route, while those with an appetite for more adventure enjoy the last half of the hike as it turns to follow the Paradise River upstream to a pair of pretty waterfalls. Note: The bridge over the Nisqually River was completely wiped out by the 2006 floods. A footlog was put in place in July 2007, but always check with the ranger before venturing out to make sure you can safely cross the river.

Find the trailhead to the right; you want the path that heads east on the Wonderland. The trail is nestled alongside Paradise Road for the first 0.5 mile and then is pinched tight between the road and the Nisqually River for a few hundred feet before the road angles left away from the river and trail. The forest around the trail is Douglas fir and cedar.

An assortment of wildlife thrives in this rich forest environment, and the most visible member of the forest community is the fearless gray jay, a.k.a. camp-robber jay, a.k.a. whiskey jack. These birds act as if they are all starving as they flit from limb to limb in the trees around the trail whenever hikers are near. The brazen beggars will even go so far as to land on a raised arm, a shoulder, or a head if there is a chance of a quick bite of bread or granola. The chittering, flittering chaps are harmless, and if you can resist their piteous begging, they will leave you alone. But be warned: feed one, and all will want a bite.

At 0.75 mile, the trail skirts the line between forest and riparian environments, with the Nisqually River just a stone's throw away to the right. The trail stays fairly level alongside the river to the 2-mile mark, where it passes the picnic area of Cougar Rock Campground. This is the last time the trail approaches the road, because the trail crosses the wide Nisqually on a stout bridge or footlog and climbs up the Paradise River valley, while the road sticks to the Nisqually valley. (Be sure to check with the ranger to make sure the Nisqually River bridge safely crosses the river.)

The Paradise River is a smaller, more scenic stream, and the trail sticks close to its banks as it skirts along the base of the steep slope of a narrow gorge for 0.5 mile. The gorge slowly opens up; at 3.3 miles, the trail passes Carter Falls and at 3.6 miles, Madcap Falls. Both cascades are pretty plunges of the Paradise and are worthy of a photo and leisurely contemplation. Turn around after visiting Mapcap for a modest day's outing.
Driving Directions:

From Tacoma, drive east on State Route 7 to Elbe, then veer left onto SR 706 to enter the park at the Nisqually Entrance near Ashford. Continue east to Longmire. Park in the large lot behind the hotel, and find the trailhead on the south side of the road.

Improve or add to this guidebook entry

Note: the description and driving directions for this Mountaineers Books entry are copyrighted and can't be changed.

Recent Trip Reports

Hiked here recently? Submit a trip report!
There are 18 trip reports for this hike. See all trip reports for this hike.
Carter Falls — Nov 10, 2013 — northwest27
Day hike
Issues: Water on trail | Snow on trail
Expand report text Hide report text
I stumbled upon this trail because the road past Longmire was gated off till 9am(I arrived at about ...
I stumbled upon this trail because the road past Longmire was gated off till 9am(I arrived at about 7am). I pretty much picked this because there was the clearing over the Nisqually and looked a little eerie. Maybe it's because I had the park to myself.
Crossing the Nisqually River was the best part because you could get a perfect glimpse of Mt Rainier, especially standing on the wooden bridge.
The trail was mostly uphill (which made for the most fun running back down). It was very peaceful. I encountered snow that gradually got deeper on the trail..around the 3rd bridge is where I stopped and there was a few inches or so of it. If you keep going it takes you to Reflection lake which is about 6 miles or so.
The path was pretty well maintained. I hate to say but if the road wouldn't have been closed I would have ended up at my destination, which was Van Trump Park. I'm glad I found it and I look forward to completing the whole trail when I plan my visit out a little more. This was a last minute thing for me and I didn't allow myself enough time to complete.
Read full report with photos
Carter Falls — Jul 13, 2013 — jnewton
Day hike
Expand report text Hide report text
We were pressed for time, so instead of starting at Longmire, we started at the Cougar Rock campgrou...
We were pressed for time, so instead of starting at Longmire, we started at the Cougar Rock campground. It is marked as “Carter Falls” trailhead, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to find.

The short distance turned out to be lucky for us– the guidebook had mentioned 7.2 miles roundtrip, which we did not have time to complete. This trip from this upper trailhead was probably closer to 2.5 miles (?) round trip.

I’ve definitely been on more fun/better strolls in Mount Rainier National Park, but this does have a few nice features, including a log bridge (with a view!) near the trail head, and two waterfalls –Carter and Madcap.

There is a incline on the way up to the falls, though if you are in okay shape, you should be able to handle these with no problem. The falls are within 0.3 miles of each other. They are interesting, but they’re no Multnomah Falls.

Sadly, we missed the golden hour by the time we got back to the opening near the trail head, resulting in “blue” hour shots like the one you see below. Still working on my photography skills.
Read full report with photos
Carter Falls — Jul 07, 2013 — TsuKata
Day hike
Expand report text Hide report text
We started at the Cougar Rock campground trailhead, dropping into the Paradise River valley from the...
We started at the Cougar Rock campground trailhead, dropping into the Paradise River valley from the parking area and nearly immediately crossing the river via the footlog. Trail was well maintained and in good shape throughout.

While the sign at the trailhead notes that Carter Falls is 1.1mi away, our GPS tracked it at more like 1.5mi (possibly just an anomaly), so be aware. We started wondering if we'd passed it accidentally. However, you can't miss it. There's a railing for its overlook (though you get a slightly better view a few feet down, where a cutdown tree provides welcome seating in the shade) and slightly further up a small sign marks the falls.

Madcap is a good bit closer than the description above implies, only a few hundred feet (1-2 minute walk) from the Carter Falls marker. Madcap Falls is not signed, but there is an overlook with a railing. We decided to keep going up the trail for awhile, figuring we'd either come to the river crossing (which seemed like it might be a fun bridge) or another overlook (since the descriptions implied a farther distance), but after encountering a group who had come in from Narada Falls and confirmed the river crossing is a good bit farther up than our map showed, we decided to turn around.

We saw one chipmunk, but otherwise no wildlife or prominent wildflowers. Lots of other hikers were on the trail. Great hike, and terrific views of Rainier from the Nisqually valley!
Read full report with photos
Narada Falls, Narada Falls to Reflection Lakes, Carter Falls — Jul 06, 2013 — YuliaK
Day hike
Features: Wildflowers blooming
Expand report text Hide report text
Started from the Carter Falls trailhead a few miles past Longmire and continued past Carter, Madcap,...
Started from the Carter Falls trailhead a few miles past Longmire and continued past Carter, Madcap, and Narada falls to the drive-up area of Reflection lakes - 8 miles round trip. Beautiful hike with perfect weather conditions. The only portions of trail covered in snow were around Reflection Lakes. Otherwise a few patches of wet trail, but completely passable. Saw lots of avalanche lilies blooming in the last mile leading up to the lakes.
Read full report
Carter Falls by Bonnie Shamblin.jpg
Carter Falls. Photo by Bonnie Shamblin.
Location
Mt. Rainier -- SE - Longmire / Paradise
Statistics
Roundtrip 7.2 miles
Elevation Gain 900 ft
Highest Point 3650 ft
Features
Rivers
Waterfalls
Old growth
User info
Good for kids
Dogs not allowed
Guidebooks & Maps
Day Hiking: Mt. Rainier National Park Trails (Nelson & Bauer - Mountaineers Books)
Green Trails Mount Rainier West
No. 269

Improve or add to this guidebook entry

Note: the description and driving directions for this Mountaineers Books entry are copyrighted and can't be changed.

Map it
Red MarkerCarter Falls
46.7496666667 -121.81065
(46.7497, -121.8106) Open in new window
Document Actions
  • Print this
  • Share
Get the Guidebooks

Mountaineers three booksSelect content from The Mountaineers Books' guidebooks is featured in this Hiking Guide. Sales of the books from this website help protect and maintain trails.

> Shop Now

More hikes » Hike of the Week
Lewis River Trail (Apr 10)

Lewis River Trail

South Cascades

We're at the cusp of waterfall season! With five waterfalls in a 7-mile roundtrip, this Lewis River hike is one to keep on your April-June to-do list. If you're hiking with creaky knees or kiddos, take in the magnificent, close-in Lower Lewis River Falls. If you want a longer hike with some ups and downs, venture all the way to Taidnapum Falls, 3.5 miles in.

Get Trail News

Subscribe to our free email newsletter for hiking news, events, gear reviews and more.

What's Happening
Trails and Ales - Spokane 2014 Apr 22, 2014 Meet fellow hikers and raise a glass for trails!
Hiker Potluck in Vancouver May 28, 2014 Come out for an evening of great food, meet other hikers and learn what is happening on trails near you.
More »