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What's the Future for the Carbon River Road?

Posted by Jonathan Guzzo at Sep 27, 2010 04:10 PM |

On Friday, the National Park Service released its Environmental Assessment for managing access to the Carbon River area in Mount Rainier National Park's northwest corner. They're seeking review and comment from the public.

Carbon River Crew

In November 2006, severe storms washed out Mount Rainier National Park's Carbon River Road, closing it to vehicle traffic at the Park boundary. The road leads to the Ipsut Creek Campground and the trailhead for the Wonderland and Carbon Glacier trails.

The Carbon River area is historically important to hikers in Washington; it provides the opportunity to walk through immense old-growth trees along a frothy river to the snout of a glacier--the lowest-elevation glacier in the lower 48 states. The 2006 closure of this road, 5 miles from the trailhead, places the Carbon Glacier out of reach for many day hikers.

The Carbon River Road will not be rebuilt. The Park Service’s "Preferred Alternative" is Alternative 2 - convert the Carbon River Road into a 4.8-mile hiking and biking trail to the Ipsut Creek Campground. WTA supports Alternative 5 -temporary use of the road as a hiking and bicycling trail while a wilderness reroute trail is constructed. This alternative would still allow long-term access to this corner of the Park, while creating a trail that will not be within the flood zone of the river.

One of the most significant issues on the future of the Carbon River Road is that it sits at a lower elevation than the river. This is because steady accretion of material from the high mountains and the glacier has built up the river bed over time. The fact that it's aligned lower than the river makes the road very vulnerable to flooding.

That's why, when the Park initially asked the public for comment back in 2008 on how to best manage the road for the future, WTA reluctantly supported the closure of the road and the development of an upslope wilderness trail with continued hiking and biking access on the existing road. 

We encourage you to review the Carbon River Road Environmental Assessment for yourself, and attend one of the Park Service's public meetings on the EA or submit written comments.

Written comments: Superintendent, Mount Rainier National park, 55210 238th Avenue East, Ashford, WA  98304-9751.  You can also comment by email at

Attend a public meeting on the EA on the following dates and times:

  • September 27, 7:00 pm, City of Buckley Multi-Purpose Building, 811 Main Street, Buckley, WA
  • September 29, 7:00 pm, Tacoma Mountaineers Clubhouse, 2302 N. 30th Street, Tacoma, WA
  • September 30, 7:00 pm, REI Flagship Store, Second Floor South Conference Room, 222 Yale Avenue North, Seattle, WA
For more information on WTA's position on the Carbon River Road, feel free to contact me at