By Jessi Loerch
I have a weakness for Mount Rainier National Park.
My first long backpack was there, on the Wonderland Trail. My husband and I took our daughter on her first backpacking trip there when she was a year old. I’ve been there every summer (and some winters) for years running and I always crave more time there.
So, on Sunday I made the drive down so I could hike with a friend and my daughter, who is almost 4.
We decided to go to Green Lake, an easy hike, but with a decent length of 9.6 miles. The majority of the trip, 6 miles, is on the Carbon River Road. That road has been closed to cars for years since it washed out in 2006. It makes access to that area of the park longer, but it also makes for some lovely, peaceful walking.
I put my daughter on my back in a pack for most of the road. She’s a decent hiker, but it’s hard to motivate her if there’s no challenge. Flat roads don’t really do it for her.
So we wandered up the 3 miles to the start of the actual trail, enjoying the lush green of the surrounding vegetation and admiring the water of the Carbon River when it came into view.
The walk is easy and just very slightly uphill. At 3 miles, the trail to Green Lake is clearly marked. From here, it’s 1.8 miles and 1,100 feet up to the lake.
On the way, don’t miss the short side trip to Ranger Falls. (A sign points you in the correct direction. Ignore the earlier side trail, it only offers a spotty view.) It’s a pretty, two-tiered falls with some cooling mist floating up.
After the falls, I was able to convince my daughter to hike. She likes to clamber over things.
Once at the lake, there are some floating logs that make a handy lunch spot, or walk around the lake to the left for another small lunch spot.
The logs are fun to walk along (be careful if you have kids). They also make an excellent diving board for those who would like to take a refreshing dip. I tried and it’s refreshing, all right. It didn’t actually seize up my lungs, though, so it’s not as cold as some lakes I’ve jumped in.
The logs are wide and flat, and I was able to sit on them with my daughter while she dangled her toes in the water. She liked the idea of jumping in, but contented herself with counting “1, 2, 3!” for my friend and me to jump in for her entertainment.
The trip back is all downhill, so it’s a quick one.
If you’d like, bikes are allowed on the Carbon River Road. You can take them to the start of the actual trail, where there is a wooden rack to lock up your bike. A bike would make the trip a lot faster. That said, there’s a lot to say for a nice, leisurely walk in the woods.
If you go
To get to the trail, you’ll need to head to the northwest corner of Mount Rainier National Park. Take Highway 410 to Buckley then head south on Highway 165, following the signs for Rainier and the Carbon River entrance. The ranger station is on the left, where you can get a park pass if you don’t have one. You can also pay at the self-service station at the trailhead. The fee is $5 per person, up to $15 per car. The road ends a couple miles after the ranger station. There are privies at the trailhead.