Because of its location in the far northwest corner of the park, the Carbon River area of Mount Rainier National Park sees considerably less visitation than others. The region is named for the coal deposits that once attracted miners, but it is best known today for its magnificent temperate rainforest.
Access is via Highway 165 south from Enumclaw and Buckley. Unfortunately, the 4.8-mile Carbon River Road leading from the park boundary past the Carbon River Ranger Station (360/829-9639) to Ipsut Creek Campground, was badly blown out by the river due to heavy storms that hit the Cascades in fall of 2006. Park officials are still figuring out what to do with the road and it could be years before damage is repaired.
A second (intact) gravel road enters the park south of here and climbs to Mowich Lake, located in a high glacial cirque. Get details at the Information Center (360/829-5127) in the town of Wilkeson.
The Carbon River Road is still open to hikers and bikers, so consider schlepping your stuff into the Ipsut Creek Campground and planning to explore via day hikes. From there, take the quarter-mile Carbon River Rain Forest Trail for a quick taste of Mt. Rainier’s only true rain forest.
The Carbon Glacier extends northwest from Mt. Rainier, reaching just 1,100 feet in elevation at its terminus, the lowest of any glacier in the U.S. outside Alaska. A section of the Wonderland Trail leads from Ipsut Creek Campground to the snout of the glacier, 3.5 miles each way. Watch out for rocks falling off the glacier.
From Mowich Lake, hike the three-mile trail past pretty Eunice Lake and on to the historic Tolmie Peak fire lookout at 5,939 feet in elevation.
© Ericka Chickowski from Moon Washington, 8th edition