By Sara Graham
The Carbon River Road, located in Carbonado, Washington, has all the makings for the perfect Pacific Northwest adventure. From melting glaciers to rushing waterfalls, raging rivers, pristine lakes to abandoned mines, historic patrol cabins and hiking trails galore. Depending on how much time and energy you have, you can create a bike and hike experience you will not forget!
Start your adventure at the Carbon River Ranger Station at the entrance to Mount Rainier National Park in Carbonado or drive a little further down the road and look for available parking. The Carbon River entrance is often forgotten but is the quickest way from Woodinville to get into the park. It is located just south of Buckley, outside of Enumclaw, a 90-minute drive.
The Carbon River Road, built in 1925, is a six-mile drive leading to the Ipsut Creek Campground. The campground provides families a beautiful lowland forest experience on the skirts of Mount Rainier. The road was intended to connect to other routes to encircle the mountain. But by the 1930’s the focus/funding of Mount Rainier National Park changed and the road past the campground left incomplete, leaving it a mecca for hikers to explore.
Today the Carbon River Road is closed to cars due to a storm in 2006 that caused a massive washout. It is now only open to bikers and hikers. The road is in good condition and has numerous side trails to explore along the way. It parallels the Carbon River and the backdrop scenery is beautiful! Mountain biking the road allows you to cover more ground in less time, allowing you to see more sites. There are several washout sections you will need to dismount and walk your bike, depending on your skill level.
Start your ride and head slightly uphill six miles to the Ipsut Creek Campground, now used as a backcountry campground for hikers on the Wonderland Trail. The ride will take you about one hour. Park and lock your bike to the giant log bike racks. There’s an old patrol cabin built in 1933 where you can sit on the front steps to take a short break. From here, you can choose to hike to the Carbon Glacier on Mount Rainier. It is a 6.6-mile roundtrip hike with impressive, close-up views of the glacier. Or, if you’d rather, hike just .3 miles to the beautiful Ipsut Falls, where backcountry hikers replenish their water supplies.
Mount your bike and start heading back to your start. I highly recommend the following sites on the way down. The first stop is the Chenuis Falls trailhead, 1.5 miles from the campground. Park and lock your bike, then walk a short, easy but thrilling .2 miles across the raging Carbon River on log bridges.
The snowmelt will dictate the speed of the falls. It is a great photo spot.
The next stop is another half mile down the road from Chenuis Falls to the Green Lake/Ranger Falls trailhead. Lock your bikes to the log bike rack and start the one-mile trek uphill 600 feet to Ranger Falls. This short hike will get your heart rate up, but the climb is worth the work!
There is a great lookout area to take in the gushing shower of snowmelt. If you are up for it, hike another .8 miles, 400 feet elevation to serene Green Lake. Stop and take in the magical moment of quiet solitude in the deep Forest.
Now for the grand finale. Get back on your bike and head two easy miles downhill to your final hike on the Carbon River Road. The Old Mine Trail is a .3 mile steep but short climb to an old mineshaft blast out of a rock on the hillside.
Imagine the miners digging for ore, hoping for riches. The kids will love this one if you can motivate them to climb to the top.
No matter what you pick and choose for your adventure on the Carbon River Road, you are guaranteed to experience the Pacific Northwest to its fullest! Enjoy!
On your way home, be sure to stop in Wilkeson at the Carlson Block restaurant for a slice of Washington State’s best pizza. Make sure you check the hours of operation before you, so you get there before they sell out of dough – they sell out fast!
Visit Trailcrossings.com for more hiking ideas.