The hike to Stafford Falls drops steeply from the road, requiring a climb to return to your vehicle. But after 0.4 miles, it follows crystal-clear Chinook Creek as it cascades down a gentle slope, with small plunges, narrow chutes, beautiful blue-green pools, and a 25-foot punch-bowl waterfall. Such beauty and serenity are seldom this easy to get to.
This hike is listed as “via Deer Creek” in an attempt to clarify that, while this trail utilizes the Owyhigh Lakes trailhead, it is not the same Owyhigh Lakes trailhead near the White River entrance to Mount Rainier National Park. This end of the Owyhigh Lakes Trail follows Deer Creek down to where it merges into Chinook Creek, and where the trail intersects the Eastside Trail. The other ends of the Owyhigh Lakes Trail and Eastside Trail are both inside of Park entrance gates (White River entrance and Stevens Canyon entrance, respectively), but not this trailhead. No pass or entry fee is required for this hike, though National Park rules are in effect.
From the shoulder parking, carefully cross the road to the "Owyhigh Lakes" trailhead sign. The trail enters pleasant forest, dropping almost 300 feet in 0.4 mile. As you descend, trade in the sounds of traffic for the sound of Deer Creek, tumbling down its canyon on your right.
At the bottom, the trail intersects the Eastside Trail. It’s worth a quick detour to go to your right about 225 feet, crossing the footbridge over Deer Creek to a second span, where Chinook Creek crashes into a pretty pool. When ready, reverse direction and go south on the Eastside Trail, passing the junction again. A short distance beyond is Deer Creek Camp, with backcountry camping (by permit only) and a backcountry privy.
Continue following Chinook Creek downstream. At 0.8 miles from the junction, have your camera ready. A bridge crosses the creek where it pours out of a clear blue-green pool, and cascades through a rocky chute. At one mile, another beautiful pool is visible, with a crude side trail leading down to its shore. If you don’t mind sitting on the rocky shore, this is a delightful lunch spot.
And finally, at 1.5 miles is a short side trail to gorgeous Stafford Falls. The falls plunges 25 feet into a “punch bowl” of vertical-walled basalt. Your vantage point is the same height as the top of the falls, and has the same vertical walls. Use caution.
This is the turnaround point for this hike. If you were to continue, the next significant sight is wildly churning Ohanapecosh Falls, another 1.5 miles further downstream. If you turn around now and return to your car, the round trip mileage is 4 miles. You will need to regain 75 feet in elevation to the junction, then the final 300 foot climb to State Route 123.