Washington Trails Association
Trails for everyone, forever
Snoquera offers endless opportunities for outdoor recreation | By Christina Hickman
Mount Rainier is an iconic feature of Washington’s landscape. Each year the national park receives more than 2 million visitors. It’s a beautiful area and popular for a reason. Right next door, however, is an area with all of the perks of Mount Rainier National Park — but with none of the wait times that can plague the park on nice days.
That area is called Snoquera, and because of its enormous potential for outdoor recreation, it is one of the pilot projects for our Trails Rebooted campaign. Nearly 5 million people live within a 1-hour drive of Snoquera, meaning it is an ideal place to focus our work to disperse hikers and ensure quality hiking experiences in one of our state’s most iconic areas.
Snoquera offers sweeping volcanic vistas, riverfront campgrounds and once-in-a-lifetime wildlife encounters. With our partners, we’re working to thoughtfully plan for the future of outdoor recreation in this treasured landscape.
There’s a good chance that you’ve driven through the Snoquera area on your way to somewhere else. Northeast of Mount Rainier, the landscape is mainly national forest land. If you’ve ever driven through Enumclaw and Greenwater on Highway 410 when heading to Crystal Mountain or the Sunrise entrance of the national park, you’ve driven through Snoquera. You might also recall the 2017 Norse Peak fires. The Norse Peak Wilderness abuts the Snoquera area at its southeast boundary.
Recent fires and an ongoing landscape analysis by the U.S. Forest Service offer excellent opportunities to think decades into the future about what recreation could look like for this region. In 2019, WTA co-hosted a field tour of the area with Conservation Northwest and WildEarth Guardians. The 26 participants represented a wide variety of interests — from issues like salmon, fish and water (Trout Unlimited and Puget Sound Partnership) to tribes (the Tulalip Tribes of Washington and Muckleshoot Indian Tribe) to recreation groups (Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance and Back Country Horsemen of Washington). Pierce County Conservation District, Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and U.S. Rep. Kim Schrier’s office were also present.
This tour came on the heels of work the Forest Service has been doing over the last several years, conducting a landscape analysis of the region in order to work toward balancing a variety of recreational opportunities with resource protection and improvements of ecological conditions.
In mid-March, the Snoquera Landscape Analysis was officially approved. It includes, in part, “a suite of other restoration and recreation projects such as stream improvements, dispersed camping site improvements and trailhead enhancements.”
WTA has been working on the future of the Snoquera area for the past 5 years and we’re excited about this newest phase of the work. Since the field tour last year, WTA has worked closely with the Forest Service, WildEarth Guardians and Conservation Northwest to continue envisioning what the future of this landscape could hold. As the area becomes more popular, we are looking to ensure that sustainable opportunities exist for trail systems and campgrounds (both developed and dispersed) and that we are able to do this in a way that protects the environment, especially for wildlife and water quality.
“Nonprofits bring capacity, expertise and innovative approaches to help tackle the challenges of managing our public lands. We achieve our best outcomes when we work together with partners,” said Dan Kipervaser, shared stewardship coordinator for the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
Through this sort of creative collaboration, we have been able to collectively identify some bottlenecks and gaps where we can work together and pool resources to meet the needs of the area, both now and in the future.
Together with our partners, WTA will be continuing the conversation with additional organizations and agencies to figure out where their knowledge and expertise aligns with the needs of the area. These ongoing discussions allow for us to continue to build on each other’s strengths to create a comprehensive vision for the future.
Greenwater and the surrounding Snoquera area are not only a gateway into Rainier National Park but a destination in their own right. Snoquera’s unique and rugged topography is set to the backdrop of Rainier in full prominence,” said Zachary McBride, Puget Sound field manager. “The Norse Peak and Clearwater wilderness are a refuge for people who want the magic of hiking in the most awesome part of the Cascades without the crowds.”
The Snoquera area features some incredible roadside stops, recreation opportunities and hikes. If you are coming to the area from the north, you’ll drive right through the town of Enumclaw, which has everything you might need pre-and post-hike. Farther south, and closer to your hiking and camping spots, you’ll also find the town of Greenwater, which boasts a couple of restaurants, a general store and a gas station.
Camping: For overnight trips, check out The Dalles and Silver Springs campgrounds. They tend to book up fairly quickly because of their ease of access and their idyllic setting on the banks of the White River. If you can’t find a site at either, dispersed camping is allowed on Forest Service roads, but if you decide to camp there, make sure you follow Leave No Trace guidelines.
Snoquera Falls: See old-growth and a beautiful waterfall on this family-friendly hike just off highway 410 — and you can make it a loop!
Noble Knob: With minimal elevation gain to this former fire lookout, the payoff is huge: all-around views of meadows, alpine lakes and snow-capped peaks and, of course, Mount Rainier.
Kelly Butte: Enjoy volcano views from this short but steep fire lookout.
Grand Park via Lake Eleanor: Perhaps one of the most beautiful places in Mount Rainier National Park can be accessed through this backdoor route in Snoquera.