Here’s an easy hike that’s long, and a short hike that’s harder than it used to be.
I was on the fence about recommending either of these, but my husband convinced me to. More on that in a minute.
Both of these hikes start at the Carbon/Mowich entrance to Mount Rainier National Park, the least visited of the park’s gateways.
It took us just about 40 minutes to get to the trailhead from Puyallup, which isn’t bad at all. You do go through some slow zones, and you have to navigate curvy roads and a tall, ONE LANE bridge over the Carbon River Gorge (Do not attempt this outing if your driver is afraid of heights)! My husband thought it was no big deal. I thought it was more of a trek than I’d bargained for to get to a nature walk. The WTA.org site has directions plus recent trip reports on the hikes described here.
You can stop at the Ranger’s Center to get a day pass if you don’t have one and maps if you need them.
You keep going on from here to the trailhead-follow the Carbon River/Ipsut signs. There is a bathroom here, and we found ample parking. Note that you’re right along the river, and your children will likely want to go down and play. The water is very shallow right now, but it is swift moving and bone chilling, so supervise your little ones.
The short hike is the Rainforest Loop Trail or the Rainforest Nature Trail. It’s right across the road from the restrooms, and it has excellent interpretive signs and a magical boardwalk through towering trees. This is the only true inland rainforest in the park and a unique opportunity to see a rainforest without heading to the coast. It’s just .3 of a mile.
What’s not to like? Well, about halfway through, there is a washout. Big kids and grown-ups can scramble over it, but I think it would be too difficult for young children. You could go back and then do the 2nd segment starting with the piece that is normally the end of the loop. That would add some time, but it’s still a super short, interpretive walk. The other issue, though, is that the boardwalk is also not in great condition-there are lots of slick and loose places where younger children would trip, especially in wet weather, and I don’t think I’d trust my feet on them if I had someone in a pack. To sum it up: It’s totally worth doing, but iffy enough for young ones that I don’t think I’d trek here with preschoolers if this was my only destination. I am a bit of a chicken, though, so take a look at the pic below and decide for yourself!
The 2nd option is a wide, flat path that used to be a road that went right to the Ipsut Campground. After flooding, a decision was made to close the Carbon River Road to traffic. It’s now a flat, easy hike or a terrific option for a family mountain bike ride. Seriously-look how nice that path is!
What’s not to like about this one? Well, it’s long….5 miles to the campground, to be exact, and although it’s totally flat, I think that distance is too much for most young hikers. It also looks the SAME the whole way. You’re walking through temperate rainforest, so the trees are super cool to look at, but after a while, you do kind of feel like you’re walking down someone’s really long driveway. Of course, you can turn around at any point, but there aren’t any natural turn-arounds to speak of.
You could do the Chenuis Falls Trail, which starts about 3,5 miles down the road, before you reach the campground. It sounds do-able to me EXCEPT that you have to cross a log footbridge over the Carbon River-not something I would have done with my boys when they were small.
I know……I’m not really selling this one.But, when I told my husband I didn’t think I’d share these hikes, he thought I was nuts. So, I reconsidered, and here’s my verdict. I think this is a good outing for some of you. Who?
- Go if you’ve, “Been there and done that,” with Mt.Rainier, and you’re looking to visit its less discovered places.
- Go if you’re looking for a good place to try mountain biking as a family.
- Go if you’re looking for a first backpacking destination. The path/road ends in the Ipsut Campground, and now that you have to walk/bike into it, it’s not hard to get a spot. There are also several family friendly hikes that leave from the campground. You might not want to do them after you’ve walked 5 miles, but you could totally walk or bike the 5 miles, set up camp, and then visit them the next day after you’ve rested. You’ll need to get a permit to camp.
- Go if it’s an overcast day, and you want somewhere closer. No point in going all the way to Paradise if the mountain is socked in by clouds!
- and, finally, Go if you’ve recently studied rainforests and you’d like to see an example up close without heading to the Olympic Peninsula.
Another option is to go towards Mowich Lake rather than Carbon River/Ipsut (You will see a sign). I’ll have a post (shorter, I swear) on that option for you tomorrow! You might also like to check out this round up of kid friendly hikes at Mt.Rainier.